How our partners are making us be better funders

In November 2020, Small Foundation conducted our first ever partner survey. We were seeking open, honest feedback from a representative cross-section of our partners on what we are doing well, where we have room to improve, and perceptions regarding the value added by the various strands of support we offer.

Image: Small Foundation

Among other things, we heard that our flexible funding and support was highly valued, but there was more work we could do to speed up our decision-making and improve communications. We have a strength in providing thought partnership and constructive feedback, but there is scope for us to strengthen and deepen our partnerships. We have found the responses incredibly useful as we review and assess how we work.

We would like to take this opportunity to share more detailed data and findings from the survey.

Participation was requested from 84 individuals across 36 partner organisations including:

  • investment partners

  • network partners

  • research partners

  • service providers

  • organisations we are members of

We received 54 responses (a 64% completion rate). Survey responses were collected anonymously.

Small Foundation’s offer

When asked how our offerings were ranked, we found our partners most valued the financial support we provided, followed by technical assistance (coaching and strategic support by SF partners Converge and Creative Metier), Converge’s Network Leadership Series, and other support by Small Foundation, including governance and IMM support.

Image: SmallFoundation

When asked what additional types of support we should offer, the top answers were:

  • Introductions to other funders

  • Provide more networking opportunities

  • Support more research

What we do well

When asked what Small Foundation is doing well, the answers ranged broadly, with notable clusters around the following:

  • A flexible and innovative investment approach

  • Understanding of markets and entrepreneur needs

  • Open and thoughtful engagement

  • Commitment to impact

  • Guidance and thought partnership; good “critical friend”

  • “Filling the gaps” in support

  • Commitment to network leadership

  • Lean approach to investee reporting requirements.

How we can improve

When asked what we could do better, answers clustered mainly around the following:

  • Slow investment decision-making, and lack of clarity around process

  • Provide networking opportunities / leverage our network on behalf of partners

  • Increase communications and influencing activities

  • Serve as a role model for other funders – particularly in the networks space

  • Provide further clarity around our investment thesis.

When asked what we could do to improve our relationship with the respondent in the future, the top answers were:

  • To provide clarity around our strategy

  • To engage in more joint strategy development with the partner

  • To promote the partner’s work

  • To discuss the partner’s strategy and plans with them.

We also sought feedback on how we managed our communication at different stages of engagement; on our demeanour and approaches to working together; and on areas the partner felt their work had been affected (positively or negatively) by their engagement with us. This feedback was invaluable in helping us reflect on the dynamic of our partner relationships – an aspect of our work we feel warrants consistent monitoring, given the power imbalances inherent to funding relationships.

Taking action

As a result of this survey, we have reflected on how we can better build and manage our funding partnerships. Throughout 2021 we are refreshing our overall strategy, building our approach to external communications, and continuing to invest in our network activities. The insights that our partners have generously provided will be invaluable in shaping these workstreams.

Our partners are our impact, and it is vital to us that we are enabling and additive rather than encumbering. We so appreciate the time and energy spent by our partners in feeding back to us, particularly those messages falling into the “critical friend” category. We plan to refine and repeat this survey annually and look forward to the valuable insights ahead as we strive to improve.

This article was originally published by Small Foundation.