Key Findings and Recommendations From ECMC Foundation’s 2023 Grantee and Applicant Perception Report
By Lynn Alvarez, Vice President of Programs and Strategy
September 27, 2023
As a postsecondary funder focused on systemic change, ECMC Foundation assumes a deep responsibility to its grantees, whom the Foundation considers to be true partners in innovation. As such, the Foundation proactively seeks feedback to analyze how it is serving the field. Over the past several years, the Foundation has partnered with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), an organization that surveys grantees and applicants to help funders continue to improve philanthropic practices. This year marked the Foundation's third biennial Grantee Perception Report (GPR) and second Applicant Perception Report (APR) with CEP.
Survey responses show that even in this time of the Foundation’s strategic evolution and recent leadership transition, ratings largely remain strong since the last survey in 2021. Throughout the survey findings report, grantees and applicants highlight ECMC Foundation’s position as a leader in the field of postsecondary education and also offer actionable recommendations for continued growth.
Survey Overview and Context
In this year’s cycle, CEP surveyed over 300 funders, garnering more than 50,000 grantee responses. ECMC Foundation survey responses were compared to this large group as well as to a more tailored cohort of 10 funders with a postsecondary education focus that give large, multiyear grants.
In addition to asking grantees a broad range of questions, CEP also polls applicants who did not receive grants to help provide a deeper understanding of funders’ effectiveness.
Strong Thought Partnership
ECMC Foundation is seen as a thought partner, and grantees report that they feel comfortable approaching staff with questions and find them compassionate and excited about the work. As one grantee noted, “What I love about ECMC’s approach [is] that they all seem to show up with a general mood of support and warmth. Yet, by digging into the work with great interest, they create a kind of positive and motivating accountability that I believe likely strengthens the impact of funded projects.” About 15% of respondents suggested the Foundation could further foster collaboration among grantees. This specific feedback is crucial to the Foundation’s success, and we intend to increase such collaboration.
Impact Rooted in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Respondents also recognize the Foundation’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. CEP found that the large majority of ECMC Foundation grantees intend to benefit historically disadvantaged groups, and 94% agree, many very strongly, that ECMC Foundation’s funding allowed them “to contribute significantly to the ability of historically underrepresented populations to be successful in postsecondary education.” Likewise, grantees and applicants agree more strongly than typical that the Foundation demonstrates an explicit commitment to DEI, as an organization and across staff interactions.
Across surveys of both grantees and applicants, respondents agree that ECMC Foundation successfully communicates its strategy and goals—a significant improvement over previous years and a finding notably observed during the Foundation’s strategic evolution. Indeed, CEP found, “Even in this moment of transition, across the topics of grantee experience and perception, ratings largely remained steadily high relative to other funders, with only a small handful of measures significantly declining since 2021.” Though some report lingering questions about the impact on them as grantees, a vast majority were informed of the strategic transition and generally agree that the changes were well-communicated.
ECMC Foundation remains in the 70th percentile compared with peers on how well and clearly it communicates with applicants—both successful and declined. Similarly, respondents note that the Foundation does strongly advance the state of knowledge in the field, and while those ratings fell somewhat from 2021, they also saw overall improvement from 2019.
Opportunity to Improve Engagement
The Foundation is also reviewing the level of responsiveness and amount of proactive outreach grantees experience based on survey results. A significant number of grantees have experienced a recent change in their primary contact, and that change appears to have an impact on their relationship with the Foundation. Since 2021, a larger proportion of grantees note that they tend to initiate most contact, and 12% suggested more regular check-ins, candid feedback and other changes to improve.
Helpful But Intensive Grant Processes
While grantees and applicants highly rate ECMC Foundation’s review process, the grant proposal stage has room to be simplified. Grantees remarked on the high level of effort and time required to submit a final proposal for funding. We were not surprised to see that our project-based funding approach and desire for articulated measures of success resulted in a more complex and time-consuming proposal process. Time spent on ECMC Foundation’s processes has not changed since 2021, compared to a decrease in hours noted at many foundations. However, the desire for a simplified process is valid, and a review of the proposal process is underway.
Declined applicants rate the Foundation positively, providing higher than typical ratings for understanding of their organization, awareness of their challenges and how responsive, fair and accessible it is to applicants. Applicants also report that they appreciate receiving honest feedback on why they were turned down. That said, feedback about the time staff spends reviewing ultimately declined applications and the pressure some respondents felt to conform their priorities to the Foundation’s (however moderate) is important to take into account. CEP also recommended better guidance on applicants’ fit, noting that encouraging those with a better likelihood of success would be a more efficient use of everyone’s time.
Looking ahead, the Foundation plans to continue to leverage its strengths and embrace its role as a philanthropic leader in the postsecondary field. By surveying such a broad audience and showing how ECMC Foundation compares both to itself in previous years and to peer funders, CEP has provided rich food for thought, alongside specific, actionable recommendations for improvement. The Foundation deeply appreciates each and every respondent’s thoughtful feedback and looks forward to continuing to demonstrate its commitment to fulfilling its mission through partnership and collaboration.