GrantAdvisor: A TripAdvisor for Funder Feedback

For funders, hearing what grantseekers think about your practices and their experience working with you is a critical component of effective grantmaking. Up to this point, funders have needed to initiate the request for feedback via surveys, conversations, and third party evaluators.  Now, a collaboration of funders, nonprofits, and others interested in improving philanthropy are exploring a new approach—GrantAdvisor, which is launching in California and Minnesota this week with a goal of eventually reaching the entire country.

GrantAdvisor is like TripAdvisor—it’s a website that allows individuals (in this case, grant applicants, grantees, and others) to share their first-hand experiences with organizations (funders) and for funders to respond publicly.  The idea is that just as a traveler would check TripAdvisor when planning a trip, a nonprofit would check GrantAdvisor before applying to a funder. And, just as a hotel monitors TripAdvisor to see what your customers like best and least about them, funders can see how grantees and colleagues are experiencing working with them.

It works by collecting anonymous feedback from grantseekers and grantees. When five reviews have been submitted, the data will be shared publicly. Funders are encouraged to register with GrantAdvisor in order to receive automatic notices when reviews are posted about their organization and to be able to post responses when new reviews are submitted.

As a grants manager, this concept was a little scary to me at first—what if the feedback isn’t all positive?  How would it affect an organization’s reputation?  But the reality is that an organization’s reputation is already affected if grantseekers are having poor experiences with a funder. I want to know, and I believe most grants managers would agree, about any issues and be able to address them.  Especially since the alternative is allowing any problems to build and multiply as bad practice impacts more and more grantees.

I also considered this through another critical lens—aligning values with practices.  In PEAK Grantmaking’s recent research, the top three common values held by grantmakers were Collaboration, Respect, and Integrity.  Being open to feedback, even difficult feedback, is a concrete way to show that grantmakers are “walking the talk” by bringing those values to life through our practices.

Jessamyn Shams-Lau, executive director of Peery Foundation, and Maya Winkelstein, executive director of the Open Road Alliance, who are supporting this work see four reasons that GrantAdvisor.org is useful to funders:

  1. Feedback: Listening to unfettered feedback from grantees can help funders build more efficient processes and more effective partnerships, which ultimately increases impact.
  2. Benchmarking: With a common set of questions for every foundation, funders can benchmark the effectiveness of their grantmaking practices from the perspective of the grantee experience.
  3. Honest and Accurate Data. When foundations directly solicit feedback (even anonymously) respondents give different answers. Since GrantAdvisor.org collects reviews with or without funder prompting, this unsolicited feedback is the most honest feedback and honest reviews mean accurate data.
  4. Saving Time. Over time, the hope is that the sharing of information via GrantAdvisor.org will help potential grantees better self-select for which foundations to approach and which are not great fits. This will result in a higher-quality pipeline for foundations, which saves everyone time and gets funders closer to impact faster.

Given the promise and potential of this new feedback mechanism to strengthen grantmaking practice, I was honored to have been invited to serve on the GrantAdvisor national advisory committee, and I will share more information about this effort as it progresses and look forward to hearing from the profession, particularly those in California and Minnesota where GrantAdvisor will be initially active, on their reactions to this tool.

Michelle Greanias

Michelle Greanias is executive director of PEAK Grantmaking. Follow her on Twitter @mgreanias.