Doing Good Better - Deepening Philanthropic and Nonprofit Partnerships in NJ

Doing Good Better - Nonprofit Survey Results

For many years, but particularly in the context of the pandemic, natural disasters, and the heightened outcry for racial and social justice, funders have been urged to embrace more flexibility and transparency in their grantmaking. Practices such as unrestricted support, simplified application and reporting procedures, multi-year funding and others help to level power imbalances, advance equity, strengthen relationships between funders and their nonprofit partners, and improve community impact.

As part of the New Jersey Center for Nonprofits’ 2022 Trends and Outlook survey of the state’s nonprofit community, nonprofits were asked about the extent to which their own funders engage in these practices. A similar survey of philanthropic entities by the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers is forthcoming.   

Room for Growth

A shared goal of the Doing Good Better project is to encourage philanthropic practices that show particular promise for more effective, equitable partnerships between funders and nonprofit partners, and stronger community impact. When looked at through this lens, the survey data underscore the work before us.

Only a small portion of respondents – less than 20% – indicated that “many or most” of their funders engaged in any of the named practices.  Sixteen percent said that most of their funders aligned grantmaking with the funder’s values and that these values were transparent to existing or prospective grantees. Fifteen percent felt that most of their funders displayed a a commitment to advancing diversity and equity. One in ten said that most funders’ grants were unrestricted, and fewer than 10% reported that most of their funders were engaged in any other listed practice.

Bar chart summarizing the percent of nonprofits that say that their funders engage in a series of philanthropic practices such as values-based practices, diversity and equity, general operating support and others.

In their own words: select quotes from survey respondents

“ONE funder does most of the above; another funder does some of the above. We have seen no change in the rest of our funders and it is truly frustrating.”

“Right-sizing applications would be a game-changer.”

“Open dialogue and multi-year funding so we can budget more accurately and spend less time fundraising and more time focused on programs.  More grants for general operating costs. Upfront dialogue about funding intentions (ie, don’t ask for an application if funding priorities have changed and there is no intention of giving funds).”

“Follow the same rules of adhering to mission, board term limits and method of delivery as we are required to do perform as a 501(c)(3) agency.”

“Be more understanding of organizational/administrative costs; Be less demanding of immediate results (the youth we serve have suffered severe trauma and most funders want them to perform like trained animals).”

“Basic technology access – like spent half an hour copying, scanning, loading an compressing a document for uploading because could only be in one format;  also spent time wordsmithing when page limit did not really match number of words (so done with spending time on this!)”

“Simplify the process and the volume of supportive information asked to provide, especially if the funder is a long term supporter of a specific project, and/or we provided the supportive information recently.” 

“As many funders elevate or add DEI to their websites, applications, etc., it can feel confusing (particularly to legacy grantees).  Do you want to support something different? Or learn about our existing work through the DEI lens? Or are you just trying to “check a box” or have your own optics look better by asking for a lot of stuff in an application, the value or purpose of which is not clear to the applicant.”

“Really try to understand the needs of the organization.  As one funder once put it, ‘We wanted to be the cherry on the cake until we realized that would be no good if there were no cake!’”

“I would like funders to take meetings with non-profits that they do not yet fund. This would help raise visibility and make connections for new, innovative programs AND help the funders stay current on what new is happening in the non-profit arena.”

Funders willingness to support true indirect costs and not limit indirect costs to “2%” or some other arbitrary number that doesn’t relate to program operations.

“I would love the feedback of what we could be doing better.”

“Simplify the process and the volume of supportive information asked to provide, especially if the funder is a long term supporter of a specific project, and/or we provided the supportive information recently.” 

“Talking to a grant officer about whether a grant is possible would be nice.  Currently, the grants have become extremely difficult and time consuming.  They are all so different. Each grant asks different questions. If they don’t want to talk with perspective grantees, it would be nice if they all agreed on the same questions.”    

“Some funders are interested funding projects but require an amount of work that does not align with the funding amount.”

“Wage equity across the sector; funding COL increases for salary and healthcare to help us retain good staff.”

“Recognition that program overhead is a vital piece of program funding. It’s not possible to run a program or organization without overhead.”

“The State does none of the above.  It is not the Contract Managers, it is the state bureaucracy. We need communication.  We need fair contracts, timely payments, full cost funding, cost of living increases. If they won’t provide COLAS, then decrease the Level of Service. Please allow us to pay our employees a living wage.  Buy vehicles when transportation is part of the contract.  Pay for sanitation when it is required.  When making increasing technological demands, please provide equipment.  When making increasing service demand, increase payment or lower level of service….We send the same supporting documents every year.   Give us credit for staying open and serving the state’s families, even when the State was closed and needed our contact reports.  We feel so unappreciated….The agencies are not supported.”

Doing Good Better, a partnership of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and the New Jersey Center for Nonprofits, is a community of funders and nonprofits taking action against the power imbalances and racial inequities in philanthropy, nonprofits and government.