Why we all need to Listen for Good


Melinda Tuan


Non-profits that work directly with individuals want to improve their services, and recognize the power of hearing directly from those they seek to help. In a recent Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) survey, 99 per cent of non-profits responding gathered such data. But uptake is harder – and translating that uptake into concrete programme improvements is even harder. One obstacle seems to be an easy, ready-made solution for quickly and reliably gathering beneficiary voice and translating it into better practice. A new idea shows promise in this regard and is receiving a sizable push from a number of foundations.

On Wednesday 20 May  at the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s 2015 conference in San Francisco, Fay Twersky, co-chair of the Fund for Shared Insight, announced its partnership with SurveyMonkey on a new experimental initiative: Listen for Good.

The standing-room only crowd of 78 funders listened intently as Twersky described Shared Insight’s work to date to promote foundation and non-profit adoption of high quality feedback practices and openness. She spoke about the inspiring work of inaugural grantees including Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, which is studying foster youth in California and working to close the loop with the young people by having them help interpret the findings; Exponent Philanthropy, which is making a series of videos that highlight members who have failed at something in their philanthropy; YouthTruth, which surveys over 275,000 students in districts and networks across the country; and the Center for Employment Opportunities, which is piloting a feedback system for people who are coming home from prison whom they help to enter the workforce.

The Fund for Shared Insight is thrilled to support these and its other year 1 grantees, and is also interested in reaching smaller non-profits that want to do a better job of listening. In its second year, Shared Insight aims to create a ripple effect to broaden the feedback movement and create something simple enough to be implemented by a large number of non-profits and also be meaningful and actionable, benchmarked and systematic.

Listen for Good is inspired by the spirit of the Net Promoter System (NPS) – a tool that has caught fire in the business world to predict customer loyalty and future company growth. NPS is as simple as three questions – and enables closing the loop and building benchmarks. A variation on the NPS for the non-profit sector might ask:

  1. If you had a friend who needed _____, how likely on a scale of 0 – 10 would you be to recommend our programme?
  2. What is the reason for your score?
  3. How can we improve?

In the NPS system, the most powerful feedback is in the verbatim responses – they explain the numeric rating and, most importantly, describe how the organization can improve. Through participation in Listen for Good, Shared Insight hopes that over time, the simple three questions will serve as a gateway to non-profits collecting more feedback on how to improve their practice and ideally someday demonstrate a correlation between feedback measures and ultimate outcomes for individuals.

The purpose of the initiative is to: 1) Expand the practice of high quality feedback loops with those we are seeking to help by making grants to 50 or more customer-facing non-profits from around the country to implement a simple, high quality feedback loop mechanism; and 2) Learn with both grantees and funders – in person and virtually – to share what works and what doesn’t regarding creating and implementing high quality feedback loops.

The simple mechanism will be to ask a version of the three-question NPS using SurveyMonkey as the technology platform. Non-profit grantees will receive funding, training and technical assistance about how to set up the feedback collection as well as use the data to close the loop and inform practice change. There is no set timeline for when Listen for Good will start or the first grants will be made. However, Shared Insight hopes to fund at least one cohort by the fall of 2015 for any funders who are ready to nominate non-profits.

Larry Kramer, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, closed the formal remarks about the Listen for Good launch with a direct ask to the funders present. He described the opportunity for foundations to co-fund their existing grantees for $20,000 with a 2:1 match from Shared Insight to collect feedback as ’an easy yes’. And he reiterated the Fund for Shared Insight’s message that collecting feedback from the people we seek to help is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. We all need to Listen for Good.

Melinda Tuan is project manager, Fund for Shared Insight.

For more information on Listen for Good or Fund for Shared Insight, visit http://www.fundforsharedinsight.org or contact Melinda@fundforsharedinsight.org

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