Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

We Need to Hear From You!

November 21, 2011

Today, several of our senior leaders and I are holding a conference call with more than 2,000 foundation grantees from around the world. 

Like our grantee conference call last year, I will be updating our closest partners on what we are doing to improve the way we work together.

I am often asked about the differences between my former career at Microsoft and my current leadership role at the foundation. There are some similarities and plenty of differences.

One big difference relates to external feedback. 

For 27 years, I managed a business that competed in the global productivity software market. We were reminded almost constantly how we were doing with sales figures, customer and partner satisfaction surveys, usability research, analyst reports, and news media inquiries. We received a lot of feedback, and that was essential.

At the foundation, we are working on complex, long-term strategies to address long-term challenges in the world.  

Because we work with grantee partners who are actually doing the work on the ground, it’s even more essential to get feedback.

But philanthropy is a unique sector. There are limited “natural” feedback loops built in. If you’re doing something that is not helpful or impactful, your grantee partners are not likely to tell you. It takes a long time to get meaningful data on how we’re doing.

Grantee feedback is really important. And we don’t have to wait to hear it.  Grantees are our closest and most important partners. How we work with our grantee partners can have a real bearing on how effective we are.

A woman and her children at an encampment of a nomadic community at the Millat College grounds in Darbhanga on the first day of the India national polio campaign. (Bihar, 2010)

Shortly after I started as CEO, I asked the Center for Effective Philanthropy to conduct a Grantee Perception Report for all of the grantmaking areas of our foundation. We heard some positive comments, but we also received lower than typical ratings on many other aspects of the grantee experience.

We take this feedback very seriously, because we understand that some of the barriers called out in that survey are preventing our partners and us from having our maximum impact.

Last month, several of the world’s global health leaders gathered here on our Seattle campus. The conversation focused inevitably on some of the world’s biggest challenges – disease, development, and finance – as well as our shared desire to achieve results.

Yet the question I was most anxious to ask was this: how can the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation improve?

Asking that question, listening carefully, and determining the appropriate response may well spell the difference between our shared success or our shared failure.

Today we are publishing a commitment to all foundation grantees. Specifically, if you are a grantee of the foundation, you can expect three things:

  1. Quality interactions with our staff -- I think we all know when we’ve had a quality interaction – alternative points of view are welcomed, hard questions are invited, and expectations are set about responsiveness.
  2. Clear and consistent communications – Grantees should know when and who will make the decision on a grant, and they should be provided clear communications on the foundation’s strategy and grant process. Grantees should understand the amount of time and assistance they should expect to receive from the foundation once the grant is awarded.
  3. More opportunities to provide us feedback We will continue to conduct the Grantee Perception Report, but we are also expanding ways for you to give us ongoing feedback and use this information to drive continuous improvements.

Of course, the best feedback is through rich intellectual dialogue, which we also encourage internally at the foundation. And we are providing multiple ways for grantees to give us real-time feedback, through both public and anonymous channels.

It's an honor to engage in this work with you all. We look forward to hearing from you.

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