Megan Campbell | March 8, 2021
Over the last year, thousands of nonprofits have enthusiastically shared their listening practices with How We Listen on GuideStar by Candid. Their excitement to reflect on and improve how they listen to the people they serve is palpable. So what can funders do to support and spread that enthusiasm?
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, First Peoples Fund went into listening mode. They surveyed the Native artists they support in order to understand the impact the pandemic was having on them. Almost everyone they surveyed reported major losses in income and an urgent need for help covering housing, food and healthcare costs. In response to what they heard, First Peoples Fund launched a Resilience Fund to provide emergency relief to help artists and culture bearers in their network cover urgent personal needs. First Peoples Fund is “committed to long-term, deep partnerships within Native communities all across the nation.” Listening – and responding to what they heard – helped them live that commitment.
First Peoples Fund shared this story in the How We Listen section of their GuideStar by Candid profile, and they are not alone in using feedback from the people they serve to adapt to the tumultuous events of the past year. Almost 7,500 nonprofits have shared their listening practices through How We Listen since its launch in October 2019. Their stories of improving their COVID-19 response, deepening relationships with their constituents, and centering equity by listening are inspiring. And starting March 1st, nonprofits that openly reflect on their listening practice using How We Listen will receive higher ratings within the Culture & Community Beacon of Charity Navigator’s Encompass rating system.
How We Listen invites nonprofits to openly reflect on the listening work they’re doing – and reflecting How We Listen participation in Charity Navigator’s ratings means they are celebrated for it.
At Feedback Labs, we want the thousands of nonprofits that listen well to be celebrated – and rewarded! For that, we need funders to pay attention to nonprofit listening practices through tools like How We Listen. There is promising movement in this direction – the almost 800 foundations that signed the Council on Foundations COVID-19 pledge recognize that listening is essential, and funder collaboratives like the Fund for Shared Insight are helping funders encourage their nonprofit grantees to listen better by, for example, providing feedback capacity-building support through programs like Listen4Good.
But we can do even more to celebrate and reward nonprofits that listen well. The Fund for Shared Insight’s recently released Funder Action Menu encourages foundations to use their grantee application and reporting processes to open a dialogue with grantees about the importance of feedback. They suggest that foundations ask grantees how they listen – and respond – to the people they serve on grant applications, or in grant reports. And they recommend that foundations set aside funds that grantees can access to respond to the feedback they receive from the people they serve, as the NEPA Funders Collaborative, spearheaded by the Moses Taylor Foundation, has done.
Tools like How We Listen can help funders understand current and prospective grantee listening practices without having to burden the grantee with more questions. It’s clear that tens of thousands of nonprofits around the US are listening in inventive, inspiring and effective ways. It’s also clear that they’re eager to share their listening practices openly. Funders can react with the same enthusiasm and help drive a positive cycle in which their recognition of and rewards for nonprofits that listen well increase the number of nonprofits sharing and improving how they listen.
If you’re a funder, we invite you to join us, Fund for Shared Insight, and Charity Navigator on March 24th to discuss how you can use the C&C beacon, based on How We Listen participation, in your funding decisions.