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Funders need to make the change on feedback

30 June 2016

Like many grant-making trusts which are open to applications from across the charitable sector, we read Warren Carter's article with a heavy heart. 

We know that applying to foundations can be frustrating, even "soul-destroying". We receive over 3,000 applications each year, and make about 300 grants. If we just consider applications who haven't been funded by us or introduced to us before, the success rate of online "cold" applications to Esmee Fairbairn Foundation drops even further.

This isn't good enough. As Warren suggests, we have made our first stage application process as short and, we hope, as clear as possible. But we are still taking up too much time of too many valuable organisations within our sectors. We need to cut down the number of wasted applications. 

We are an open funder. We have no deadlines, and if organisations are turned down they can apply again straight away.  Because of our high application numbers , we chose to spend our time and resources on assessing those applications and on supporting those we fund in a meaningful way, rather than providing individual tailored feedback on first stage applications. This was not an easy decision, and it is one we we find increasingly challenging, as the sector has struggled with funding cuts. 

Feedback is vital, if anyone is to improve. In January 2016 we began asking every organisation we declined to tell us what they thought of our application process, and 55 people kindly took the time to give us some feedback.

A few (5%) said we could have clearer criteria,  or said we should talk to people about their proposals (7%). More than half (51%) asked for feedback on why we turned them down. "It's a good day or two's work filling in even your initial application, and it is very frustrating not to know which elements could be improved. I appreciate your grant officers' time is valuable - but so is your applicants' time. " 

So what are we doing in response to this? Four things:

  • Coding each application by the main reason we turn it down
  • Offering feedback to each applicant on that main reason
  • Using this data to improve our funding guidance, with the aim of cutting down the number of applications
  • Taking up a tool developed by the Peery Foundation - Funder Feedback - to seek anonymised instant feedback on all aspects of our work

Honest feedback, which we will publish here, learn from and use to change, is vital.  We want to remain an open and responsive funder, but the price of doing so should not be paid by those we turn down.