M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

The Murdock Trust is grateful to partner with hundreds of nonprofit organizations each year who are committed to working for the common good in the Pacific Northwest. We see each of these organizations as strategic partners in the communities and regions we serve. Like any community or team, we want to ensure we are working to serve and support them as best we can, and have several ways we gather their feedback and input.

Through nearly 47 years of service to the nonprofit sector, we’ve developed a robust playbook of effective practices that contribute positively to those we support. However, we recognize that growth and improvement must be ongoing. The needs of our communities evolve. Business tools and strategies change. And as such, we seek to regularly assess our own work and performance to ensure we are continuing to constructively and positively partner with our constituents.

Photo by LilArtsy on Unsplash

One way we go about this is by utilizing a variety of channels to gather candid feedback from our applicants, grantees, and the broader nonprofit sector. We recognize that not every channel necessarily works for every individual so to increase accessibility we offer multiple ways for gathering this input. We also recognize that there is unfortunately an inherent power imbalance in the funder/grantee relationship, and one of the ways we seek to mitigate this imbalance is to allow our constituents to speak honestly and candidly as often as possible.

A few of these platforms for gathering input include:

  • Every grant applicant is assigned a program director who walks with them through the application process, and with whom applicants are encouraged to share their thoughts on our process.
  • A sampling of grantees each quarter receive a “Seven-Minute Survey” which gathers an ongoing pulse of anonymous feedback.
  • Approximately every three years, we conduct a Grantee and Applicant Perception Report with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (see below).
  • We periodically convene development consultants, contract grant writers, and leaders to test new online systems and features and provide feedback.
  • We also pay attention to and participate in online conversations and websites where nonprofits can share their feedback, such as our statewide nonprofit associations.

Throughout 2021, the Trust completed our most recent Grantee and Applicant Perception Report administered by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). The report gathers anonymous hard data from grantees and applicants about our process, communication, accessibility, relational interactions, and more. In addition to providing benchmarks for the Trust to assess over a multi-year horizon, a particular strength of this survey is that it provides comparable data from other foundations that CEP has surveyed, giving us a glimpse into how we compare to other foundations our grantees and applicants might be working with. Today, we wanted to share some of the key takeaways from this report.

Key Findings: What’s Working Well

  • The Murdock Trust approach serves grantees well.  Consistent with results from our last two surveys, the Trust was rated in the top 10% amongst cohort foundations for impact on the grantee organization. Many grantees shared that Trust support went beyond just funding, and included non-monetary support, a more credible reputation thanks to the backing of a Trust grant, and increased chances for collaboration. For example, survey participants shared:
    • Many organizations just want to fund programs. Murdock Trust sees beyond the program to the needs of the organization as a whole.”
    • “To get approved for a Murdock grant, I feel, gets the attention, and often support, of other donors. The support they give reaches well beyond the borders of just our organization but allows us to collaborate with others.”
  • Grantees appreciate the Trust’s relational approach to grantmaking. Rather than feeling transactional, grantees shared that they felt supported and cared for during the application process. The Trust was rated within the top 6% amongst cohort foundations for transparency and communication of its goals and strategies. As one participant shared:
    • “If a problem arises, they answer my questions in a very timely manner and are very approachable. They guided me along the way and I never felt pressured or that I was asking silly questions.”
  • Grantees feel that Trust staff are committed to understanding and serving the unique needs of their communities. 90% of grantees indicated that Trust staff embodied a strong commitment to serving and understanding the people, culture, and communities their organizations served. We were encouraged to hear this because it reflects our deep commitment to understanding and responding to the diverse needs in our region.

Key Findings: Where We Can Improve

  • We will continue to streamline our application process. Many grantees shared that while our application process does help them think strategically about their project and their work, the process was time-intensive, which presents challenges, especially for smaller organizations without dedicated grant staff. This was helpful feedback, as we are currently piloting a simplified means to capture financial data as well as updated materials for the application process, which will be informed by what we have learned. We are also exploring a new grant program for smaller organizations that would complement our Strategic Grants program.
  • We will continue to refine our vetting process. While we frequently hear how much helpful information is on the website, we are in the process of updating application instructions and examples of the types of organizations we fund on our website. This, in addition to our Letter of Inquiry process, is part of our ongoing work to reduce the number of applicants who go through the whole process only to be declined because they do not fall within Trust funding priorities, guidelines, and practices.
  • We could more clearly communicate our commitment to cultural competency. While grantees largely felt that Trust staff were committed to understanding the varied needs and cultures of their communities, we heard from a few respondents that they would appreciate hearing about the Trust’s journey to build its own cultural competency.

Every one of these responses will help us refine our processes and practices moving forward, and for that, we are deeply appreciative of all respondents. While we are grateful to learn ways we can better serve our constituents, we are equally heartened to hear the positive ways our work is serving our region. Thank you for engaging in these conversations with us and helping us all work together better as we seek the common good in the Pacific Northwest.   

If you have feedback about our grants application and evaluation process you would like to share, please email feedback@murdocktrust.org.

Photo by LilArtsy on Unsplash.

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