#Feedback4Equity Stories | A Series From The Fund For Shared Insight | June 16, 2021
When a client at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) wrote on a Listen4Good survey that he would have preferred to go through the organization’s intake process in person rather than by phone, staff members were surprised; they thought they had been accommodating his work schedule by not asking him to come in.
But then came the feedback, says Susan Hegel, an attorney at GBLS’s Cambridge office, and it “taught us not to make assumptions about our clients and what their schedules and preferences are.”
Clients at GBLS, which provides free legal assistance in non-criminal matters, reported they felt respected by the organization and well informed about their legal cases. But the feedback also provided staff some things to consider, including being mindful about offering clients options about how they would like to connect.
Jennifer Aronson, associate vice president for programs at the Boston Foundation — L4G co-funder for GBLS and seven other Massachusetts nonprofits — sees in this response what a well-executed feedback loop is all about: improving programs, impacting the culture of an organization, and valuing the lived experience of those accessing services.
She has also been encouraged about how taking the extra feedback-loop step — funders talking to grantees about their findings — may move the needle on these positive outcomes even more. As the programs department of the Boston Foundation has in recent years defined a set of guiding principles for its work, leadership, and allocation of resources, participating in L4G has been a “tangible manifestation” of those commitments, she says. What the department calls its action-based principles include using a racial equity lens in grantmaking and a commitment to listening and learning from the communities it serves.
“Listen4Good offers an opportunity to have different kinds of conversations with our grantees about how they listen and how we can support them,” Aronson says. “It has led to a deeper understanding on my part of what it means to operate these programs well.”
And, she says, L4G aligns with the values and goals of a growing number of activities at the foundation, especially those meant to “lift up the voices of those who are least heard.”
The funder supports a neighborhood fellows program, which recognizes and connects community leaders; a strategy to support nonprofits that lists “a commitment to racial equity” as a top priority for effective organizations; and an upcoming organization-wide strategic planning process incorporating the voices of residents who may not be structural or institutional power-holders. It has also recently created a staff position to focus on participatory grantmaking practices, including a new $2-million-a-year grants program designed to be informed by community voice.
At Greater Boston Legal Services’ Cambridge office, listening to and acting on client voice has given clients more choice around how they would like to engage with their advisers; a development that has benefits for everyone. With more face-to-face time, GBLS’s Hegel says, the lawyers feel they are able to more easily build trust with their clients; and clients appear to appreciate the deeper relationships that grow as a result.
Watching and being a part of the feedback-loop process at GBLS, says Aronson at the Boston Foundation, “demonstrates how important it is for all of us to serve, listen to, and partner with clients in a way that values the whole person.”
More about Greater Boston Legal Services
Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) helps more than 10,000 low-income families and individuals solve their civil (non-criminal) legal problems each year, representing clients in court, at appeals, in hearings before administrative law judges, and with advice and paperwork, both as individuals and through partnerships with community organizations. GBLS has a special focus on “impact litigation” and their attorneys have frequently submitted appellate briefs and appeared before the state’s highest court.
Additionally, GBLS staff provide trainings across the state and at national conferences to low-income families, social services agencies, and legal aid organizations. In addition to direct client services, GBLS engages in legislative and systemic law reform advocacy in an effort to help all residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
More about Fund for Shared Insight
Fund for Shared Insight is a national funder collaborative promoting high-quality listening and feedback in service of equity. Their signature initiative, Listen4Good, advances constituent feedback as a complement to monitoring and evaluation with the goal of helping nonprofits and foundations be more responsive to the needs, preferences, and opinions of the people and communities they seek to benefit and serve. You can learn more about the work they support at fundforsharedinsight.org.