Grantees and Applicants Give High Marks to Great Lakes

Four years after revamping its grantmaking strategy to work with a greater number of organizations, Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation wanted to know how applicants and grantees viewed its efforts. So the funder commissioned a survey from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, and the findings are good news for Great Lakes. CEP is a nonprofit that gathers and analyzes data to help funders improve their performance.

The results indicate that applicants and grantees are generally positive about Great Lakes' efforts to boost college access for all students, especially those from underrepresented populations. CEP surveyed nearly 300 organizations, including 99 grant recipients and 179 that applied for funding, during Great Lakes' 2013-2014 grant cycle. Surveys asked the organization to rate various aspects of the funder's work, including its overall grantmaking process, communications, and impact. CEP then compared the results to grantee perceptions of more than 200 funders across the country.

Great Lakes ranked higher than its peers in the following areas: impact on the grantee or applicant's field, the funder's reporting and evaluation process, and impact on grantee organizations. In terms of impact on a grantee or applicant's field — in this case, getting more first-generation students and students of color into and through college — Great Lakes averaged in the 83rd percentile.

Respondents also gave Great Lakes high marks for its reporting requirements, which the funder concedes are more thorough than those of many other funders. Grantees indicated that Great Lakes holds high expectations, but that these standards help make their organizations better by focusing them on continuous improvement. Grantees ranked Great Lakes in the 83rd percentile for its reporting and evaluation requirements. Finally, grantees indicated that working with Great Lakes positively impacted their organizations. 

CEP also offered some areas for improvement. Applicants who were declined funding indicated they would like additional clarification on the reasons they were not selected for funding. Grantees said they would like Great Lakes program managers to engage more with the communities the grantees serve. Survey respondents also indicated that the funder frequently changes the focus of its grants.

Great Lakes responded to each of these areas of improvement, stating that it will provide more specifics in rejection letters, as well as make program managers available to offer one-to-one feedback on applications. In addition, the funder plans to have its program managers reach out to grantees more often, to learn about the students and communities they serve. They will also provide feedback to grantees on programs, sharing successful strategies from other programs. Finally, Great Lakes also pledged to explain its grantmaking strategy with greater consistency and clarity.