The value of strong relationships

A recent study of the Melbourne Business School outlined five key pillars of good practice in philanthropy. One of these core elements is the strength of the relationships between grant makers and grant seekers.

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Philanthropy towards a better practice model 2018 – Liz Gillies Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre Melbourne Business School, Dr Jodi York Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre Melbourne Business School, Dr Joanna Minkiewicz Deakin University

The Forum seeks to build relationships that go beyond funding into a deeper partnership that is developed through building capacity and understanding, expanding connections and influencing positive change, together.

In our experience, trusting, genuine partnerships allow for a minimisation of the traditional power imbalance between the foundation and those we work with. This strengthens collaboration, encourages continuous learning, helps alignment and allows for the flexibility required to innovate and adapt.

But how do you know if you are building strong relationships? Are you being an effective partner and contributing to capacity and resilience in your partner organisations?

It was a conversation we began to have with other foundations who had themselves, been wrestling with how to improve their accountability and assess their effectiveness.

About the Australian Philanthropic Benchmark (APB)

In 2012 the Australian Philanthropic Benchmark (APB) was launched as a tool to measure the performance of an individual foundation while also creating an industry benchmark.

The independent research group, Pollinate, conducts a confidential online survey, focusing on the performance of philanthropic foundations from the perspective of grant recipients and partners. From these results a philanthropic benchmark score is developed, as well as individual scores for each Foundation.

Participation in the APB identifies what your organisation is doing well (and should continue), what your organisation could do better (and should improve) and your performance measured over time and against a benchmark of philanthropic industry peers.

Applying commercial world, research-best practices makes the APB easy to understand and can deliver actionable results.

In 2017 the APB had seven participating foundations. With over 515 surveys forming a significant benchmark, the APB is one of the biggest ongoing evaluation studies conducted with the Australian philanthropic sector.

Dusseldorp Forum and the APB

Dusseldorp Forum undertakes the APB every two years to provide us with the data to assess our performance and identify areas for improvement.

The anonymous feedback from partners allows us to see how we perform against pervious years and against the industry benchmark of our peers.

In 2015, APB results highlighted some areas to improve such as being clearer on our purpose and way of working as well as greater clarity of roles and funding process. There was also an opportunity to reduce bureaucracy and amount of time required by partners to engage with us. Partners wanted us to consider larger and longer financial investments and to hear more from and about us and other partners.

These insights then feed into what we call our APB improvement plan.

In response to this feedback we engaged our team, partners, board and critical friends in a review of our strategy. This process clarified our purpose, values, principles and strategic plan. One of the significant developments in our strategic plan was the shift to investing longer-term in whole of community initiatives working collaboratively to support social change. Our strategy was then communicated face-to-face with partners as well as across all of our communications platforms.

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We worked with partners to clarify their expectations of our relationships and when invited, we committed more time to participating in partner’s governance structures and working groups. This allowed us to get closer to the work on the ground and understand the challenges faced by our partners. We also increased our regular contact with partners offering ongoing mentoring and support. This meant being present in community on a regular basis.

It is important to note that the Forum has a select number of partners and are therefore able to dedicate the time it takes to build those stronger relationships.

We reduced our timeframes for issuing funding and simplified our reporting processes. These were all simple adjustments at our end that meant our partners could make the best use of their time delivering their projects.

As a key part of our new strategy we convene an annual ‘Festival of Change’ to bring together the change-makers we are working with, to share lessons and advance their work collectively.

Continuous improvement – 2015-2017

Our APB results showed that Dusseldorp Forum had shifted from 2015 to 2017 to being a more proactive organisation – moving from supportive to collaborative.

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Aligning with this shift in partnership was a significantly positive increase for all metrics.

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Partners were overwhelmingly happy with the Dusseldorp Forum of 2017 showing that our strong efforts in terms of focus, engagement and understanding had paid off.

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A key facet of building these positive increases was the work Dusseldorp Forum staff did to develop stronger personal relationships with partners.

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“Every interaction I have had with Dusseldorp has involved a genuine interest in hearing and meeting the needs of my organisation in addressing our common goals. This at times has required considerable flexibility.”

APB feedback 2017

Looking ahead

 The recommendations from the 2017 APB results see our partners encouraging us to take a greater leadership role as an agent of positive change. 

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Inspire the discussions about how government needs to change, away from polarity and competitive, shaming and dismissive to a cohesive collective vision and strategy for a better future.

2017 APB feedback – imagine a world with no constraints. What would you want Dusseldorp Forum to do?

We expect our partners to evaluate their effectiveness. It shouldn’t be any different for foundations. We owe it to our partners to make sure that we use our resources in the most effective way to support those on the ground doing the hard work.

Thanks to the APB tool our efforts are more focused, purposeful and reflect what our partners want and need to maximise their impact.

“The data provided by the APB is gold for us. Not only in checking our effectiveness as a foundation but also setting our future goals and the strategy and resources to underpin this. Without this feedback from our partners we feel we are operating blind.”

                                      Teya Dusseldorp, Executive Director

If you’re interested in joining the APB please get in touch with Garrett Parker at Pollinate.