The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances informed, engaged communities – and that includes our community of grantees. Strong relationships with you are central to advancing our mission.
Periodically, we survey our grantees and other community leaders to gauge how we are perceived, both in terms of our impact and our relationships. This year, we were gratified to learn how well Knight Foundation is viewed in terms of impact, but we also saw room to improve our relationships with grantees. This letter lays out how we intend to work with you to do that.
The survey of leaders in the eight communities where Knight Foundation has resident program directors was conducted by the firm of Bendixen and Amandi. The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conducted a survey of every active Knight Foundation grant. Both firms conducted similar surveys for us in 2007 and 2009.
Community leaders who responded to the Bendixen study had high awareness of the foundation and our projects. As you can see from the chart titled “Perceptions of Knight Foundation,” they generally saw Knight as an agent of positive transformation. Many leaders recommended we work more even more closely with community organizations.
The grantees surveyed by CEP often described us as innovative. You gave us especially strong ratings for our impact on the fields of journalism/media innovation and the arts. Our community program received solid ratings on community impact. That is important, because we passionately believe, as the Knight brothers did, that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.
Grantees typically rate foundations highly on the CEP seven-point scale, as you can see from the chart titled “How grantees rate Knight Foundation.” Still, digging into the details of the ratings and reading your comments gave us a chance to look hard at how we compare with other foundations.
While the survey showed we have strong relationships with many grantees, it also revealed we need to improve relationships with many others. On benchmarks such as responsiveness, clarity, approachability and fairness, you rated us lower than other foundations and lower than in past surveys. Some of you felt we did not fully understand your strategies and goals. While it is natural for any evolving program such as Knight’s to face challenges, we don’t consider strong grantee relationships to be a luxury – they are essential to achieving our mission.
During the past three years, we have refocused Knight’s mission on building informed and engaged communities in order to equip people, in the words of co-founder Jack Knight, “to pursue their true interests.” Strengthening grantee relationships will require changes in how we work to make our processes more transparent and timely. This will require improvements in how we communicate with you.
As a set of general propositions, here is our commitment to you, our chief collaborators. We will be:
1. Clear – We will be transparent, striving to put our work into public view, and working to make our communications clear and consistent. You will know who is handling your grant request or grant and you will know when your contact at the foundation has changed. We will make our rules, strategies and goals understandable.
2. Responsive – We will be reachable. Our responses will be timely and on point. You can depend on us to meet our stated deadlines. You will know why we acted upon your requests the way we did. You will be encouraged to provide feedback to help us improve. We will use social and mobile media to seek real-time input.
3. Helpful – We’ll be clear about how much of our time and assistance you can expect, in addition to the grant. We’ll share resources, networks, perspectives and approaches. Whenever we can, we will refer you to other funders or collaborators.
4. Respectful – We will treat you with candor, humility and civility. We will listen. We’ll work to foster mutual trust.
You will be seeing changes in the coming weeks and months, including designated relationship managers, simplified paperwork, grantee tool kits and more. We have also gone over detailed survey results with each program officer, to identify what is working well and what could be done better in each of their portfolios.
All of this honors our commitment to support your work. We welcome the opportunity, because it is through exceptional relationships, built on mutual respect and shared values, that we will deliver exceptional impact.
President, Knight Foundation