27 November 2023 Story

We heard you: what Laudes Foundation takes away from its latest Partner Perception Report

Two years after the launch of Laudes Foundation, we commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to survey our partners to understand where we could continue to improve as a funder. This was the third time we used this tried and tested methodology (which has benchmarked more than 300 foundations and over 40,000 partners), with the first two surveys commissioned during our C&A Foundation days. I am extremely grateful for the thoughtful responses shared by 74 partners (representing 68% of those surveyed) because these insights have informed many of the actions we are prioritising. The full report is found here and our management response here.

In short, there is much to celebrate in how we brought Laudes Foundation to life in early 2020. Our strategic pivot from the fashion industry to multiple industries and the holistic systems lens we have embedded is seen positively by many partners. As one said, “The foundation has developed a system change approach which is iconic and extremely inspiring in our field.”

We have also been working on improving how we operate in order to reduce the onus on partners, strengthen their own organisations, and provide longer-term and core funding. In the survey, we received high marks for our non-monetary support to partners as well as the size (96th percentile) and duration (90th percentile) of our grants. In the past year alone, we have deepened our suite of support services to partners, including launching several funds: Emergency and Resilience Fund, Partner Fund (covering learning; Gender Equity and Social Inclusion) and wellbeing support, to help these important frontline organisations maintain their strength.

To me, this is welcome progress, but still not good enough. Our core support is currently only 27.4% of our grantmaking; clearly, there is room for improvement.

Further, based on our partners’ inputs, CEP offered four specific recommendations for Laudes, all of which we accepted.

Continue to develop “high-quality interactions” with partners and deepen our understanding of partners’ fields, organisations and challenges.

We received feedback that we do not always understand our partners’ own challenges or contexts in which they work. At the same time, we are trying to balance how we can be a supportive and knowledgeable funder (so, more hands-on) yet give partners the space to do their magic (so, more hands-off). This means several things to us. First, we need to right-size what we ask of our partners. What does this mean? Remove the multiple formal and regular ‘check-ins’ and move to annual learning moments, and ideally do this with co-funders. The suite of services in our improved partner portal also contributes to partner learning. Second, we need to be guided by our partners, all of whom have the depth of knowledge, experience, networks, etc. to help us understand how change happens. This is particularly important during our annual strategy adaptation process and the evidence of change they provide. What can we learn from our partners’ own learning to help us make better strategic decisions?

Seek opportunities to improve the clarity and consistency of the foundation’s communications about its goals and strategy.

As we have increased the breadth (multi-industry) and depth (just transition) scope of our work, it’s not always clear to our partners how they contribute to our larger, integrated strategy. With that in mind, we hosted many of our partners in March this year for an extraordinary gathering where they connected, collaborated and learned from each other as well as understood better how each contributes to our larger strategy. While we initially intended for this meeting to be a one-off, we are considering making it a recurring gathering every two or three years. This approach will enable us will to better understand and appreciate how change happens.

At the same time, in early 2024, we will update our website to better communicate our ambition and strategic choices. It will differ from our current website in two ways. First, we will more deeply integrate a partner-first approach so their work, successes, and lessons are front and center. Second, we will better communicate how our partners (and the challenges each works on) come together in our ambition to accelerate the transition to a green, fair and inclusive economy.

Streamline the foundation’s grantmaking process, where possible.

Over the nearly four years of Laudes Foundation’s life, we have been refining our processes and systems to reduce the burden on partners. But as one partner said, “The approach to systems change and rubrics is very welcome and strategic, but there is sometimes the impression that the internal processes are heavier than necessary”. We take this comment seriously and are working to simplify what may still be an overly complicated process. This includes 1) further reducing requirements for small grants, 2) reducing reporting to an annual reflection on learning, and 3) experimenting with alternative approaches (e.g., video-based grant applications). All these actions are in progress, and we welcome feedback from our partners on whether we are getting the balance right.

Consider holding an internal reflection process on the foundation’s role and commitment in combatting racism.

While Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) has been a lens through which we do all of our grantmaking (and our ambition is to move from ‘GESI conscious’ to ‘GESI transformative’), there is more we can do internally to ‘walk the talk’. We have since launched an internal working group along with our sister foundations to assess how we can more deeply embed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) into how we operate at every level – from employees to governance.

As Laudes Foundation reaches the mid-point of its first five-year strategy, we are only as effective as our partners who are on the frontlines of change. We remain committed to doing everything we can to help these brave and bold organisations remain strong, particularly in light of the continued polycrisis moment we find ourselves in. And we will continue to invest in the suite of non-monetary and monetary services to keep the field strong.

  • Leslie Johnston

    By Leslie Johnston

    CEO, Laudes Foundation