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Grantees flunk funders on communication

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Nonprofits believe foundations have failed to communicate clearly, if at all, their responses to the economic downturn, and have offered nonprofits little useful help in developing their own response, a new report says.

In a survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy of over 6,000 grantees of 37 U.S. foundations, 30 percent indicate no such communication occurred.

And of grantees that did report communication from foundations, 22 percent indicate their funder’s response to the current economic climate was not clear.

That was almost three times the number of grantees that rate other communications from their funders at not clear, says the report, A Time of Need: Nonprofits Report Poor Communication and Little Help from Foundations During the Economic Downturn.

In general, “foundations have not been very communicative or helpful to nonprofits in responding to the economic downturn,” the report says.

“Good communication matters,” says the report, written by Ellie Buteau, the center’s vice president for research, and Shahryar Minhas, a research analyst.

“The less clear grantees find their funders to be in communications about what they are doing in response to the downturn, the more likely they are to indicate that their funders have not helped them respond to the current economic climate.”

One-third of grantees surveyed indicate their funders have not helped them at all in responding to the economic climate, and 51 percent indicate their funder helped them respond at least somewhat.

While grantees say funders can be more helpful to them in responding to the downturn when the funders help them consider changes they can make to respond to the economy, the report says, 56 percent of grantees who made or considered changes in work directly funded by the grant, nearly half say their funder was not involved at all in considering those changes.

The Center says its research has found the relationship between funder and grantee is closely tied to grantees’ satisfaction with foundations, and the extent to which the grantees experience the foundation’s impact on their organization.

“Grantees who have found their funders to be more helpful in responding to the economic climate have stronger relationships with their funders,” the report says.

Foundation staffs’ understanding of grantees’ goals and strategies is essential to foster stronger relationships between foundations and grantees, and even more important in the current economic climate, the report says.

Foundation staff can better help grantees respond to the economic climate, it says, by clearly communicating about their own responses, being involved in helping grantees consider changes they are making to respond, and working to build better relationships with grantees, particularly by taking the time to understand grantees’ goals and strategies.

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