Weingart Let Its Grantees Do the Talking Recently. What Did It Hear?

The Los Angeles-based Weingart Foundation prides itself on taking to heart feedback from its grantees. On January 22, 2015, for the first time, the foundation held a conference call with President and CEO Fred Ali and more than 200 grantees. The purpose was to listen to the issues that grantees were facing as the foundation started to develop its fiscal year 2016 program plan.

It should probably go without saying that not many foundations do this kind of thing. Instead, they huddle at retreat centers with board and staff, and decide where to go next. Whatever about the grantees. So kudos to the Weingart Foundation for raising the bar when it comes to listening. 

The foundation also took the time to summarize who joined the call and what they had to say. 

Forty-nine percent of the call’s participants were human service providers, followed next by education non-profits at 23 percent. Community organizers, advocacy groups, health providers and arts education providers made up the rest. Most of the participants wanted to influence the foundation’s 2016 program, and others called more to hear the views of other nonprofits than to discuss themselves. Although only 1 percent admitted that they feared that non-participation in the call might jeopardize their next grant from Weingart, it did prove to be a consideration with half of the callers.

Several themes emerged from the conversation, which offer a window into the kind of stresses that LA's nonprofits face and some of their frustrations when it comes to funding. Here are some of the themes and comments. 

Demand for help from non-profits remains high, while funding is unreliable.

  • “My organization is turning hundreds of low- income kids away from our programs each year. Our greatest challenge is facilities and expanding our facilities in the geographic area we are located in.” 
  • “Many of our long-term funders have cut back health funding because of the ACA (Affordable Care Act).”  
  • “The preschool is losing funding from LAUP (Los Angeles Universal Preschool), and in response we are looking at new funding.”

When funding is available, it is often inadequate.

  • “We feel pressure to reduce administrative costs. As a mental health provider, there is an increased partitioning for specific programs that neglects organizational capacity.”

Support for core operations is essential to deliver services effectively.

  • “I’m grateful to Weingart for prioritizing core operating support. It has enabled my organization to be more efficient and creative.”

Weingart’s other support also proved vital.

  • “The PRI (program-related investment) tool Weingart provided was very powerful to my organization, allowing us to get in a better position financially.”

Ali wrapped up the call by thanking everybody and reminding participants of new federal guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that will better support indirect costs for non-profit grants. He explained that more information is forthcoming about the changes, from the state’s nonprofit membership organization, CalNonprofits.

Most importantly, he explained that the feedback offered during the call would be brought to the Weingart board, and used to shape the Weingart Foundation’s FY 2016 Program Plan, which would be posted online this summer. Again, that's not something we see every day.