2010 Grantee and Applicant Perception Reports

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) has a strong institutional commitment to philanthropic excellence—efficient and responsive processes, deep engagement with grantees, and significant impact in the fields in which it funds. Key to realizing this commitment is ensuring that core stakeholders have the opportunity to provide feedback on the Fund’s performance.

During the first and second quarter of 2010, the RBF commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to conduct a series of surveys to gain insight into grantee and applicant perceptions of the Fund’s performance. This was the Fund’s second time participating in the CEP process, having commissioned a similar round of surveys in late 2004. CEP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing data and creating insight to assist foundations in defining, assessing, and improving their effectiveness, thereby increasing their grantmaking impact. RBF president Stephen Heintz chairs the CEP board of directors.

We are pleased to share the Grantee Perception Report (GPR) and Applicant Perception Report (APR), along with our insights and next steps. The overall goal was to identify effective practices and areas of perceived weakness in order to increase our effectiveness as a grantmaker. The GPR and APR surveys ask 60 and 33 questions, respectively, and cover multiple dimensions of our relationships and interactions with grantees and applicants, including:

Grantee Perception Report (GPR) Applicant Perception Report (APR)
Impact on grantee fields and local communities Impact on declined applicant fields and local communities
Impact on grantee organizations Aspects of declined applicant experience
Aspects of grantee experience Application processes and administration
Grant processes and administration  
Non-monetary assistance  


The Fund had a 66 percent response rate for the GPR, and a 39 percent response rate for the APR—both of these represent a slight increase from our previous round of surveying and are typical response rates seen by CEP. The surveys also capture grantee and applicant comments and suggestions for the Fund.

Our program teams and two internal working groups, one that looked at the GPR and another at the APR, reviewed the results with an eye to understanding the RBF practices that appear to have yielded strong results and suggestions for responding to perceived weaknesses.

Overview of Results

The following is a summary of the results from the Grantee and Applicant Perception reports.  For the complete results, please download the reports.

  • The Fund receives high ratings for its impact on and understanding of grantee fields and organizations, a substantial improvement since the 2004 survey. 
  • The RBF is also rated positively for its impact on and understanding of grantee organizations.
  • Grantees perceive the Fund as being extremely fair in its treatment of grantees. On a scale of one to seven with seven being ‘extremely fair,’ the Fund received a 6.6; this is an improvement from 2004 and is above our selected group of comparable foundations (cohort).
  • Declined applicants rate the Fund more positively than the typical funder on its impact on declined applicants’ fields and significantly higher than in 2004 on the responsiveness of Fund staff and the clarity of the Fund’s communication of its goals and strategy. Although some declined applicants indicate having “a very positive experience” with the “accessible [and] considerate” staff, others consider the RBF to be “impersonal” and “intimidating.” 
  • Grantees rate the Fund less positively than typical for the clarity of its communication of its goals and strategy as well as for the consistency of its communication resources—both personal and written (in contrast to the declined applicants who saw substantial improvement). Grantees comment that communication from the RBF and its staff is sometimes “unclear” and “inconsistent.”
  • Grantees view the provision of comprehensive and field-focused non-monetary assistance as helpful and effective.  The Fund offers a larger than typical proportion of its grantees more concentrated patterns of non-monetary assistance.
  • The administrative processes associated with RBF funding are seen as helpful as typical in strengthening grantee organizations, but experiences are inconsistent across RBF programs. 
  • More than three-fourths of the RBF declined applicants surveyed report receiving no detailed feedback on their grant applications and these declined applicants rate the Fund significantly lower on many dimensions within the report, including the Fund’s understanding of their organizations’ goals and strategies.


While the results vary considerably among RBF programs, the less favorable perceptions are marked enough on some dimensions to warrant a systematic response.  We have considered the structure and dynamics of our programs and staffing to interpret the results and identify specific issues to be addressed in two areas.  The key weaknesses to address include:

Aspects of the grantee experience: interactions/communications

  • Consistency between published and oral presentations of guidelines
  • Insufficient information on our grantmaking approach
  • Overall utility of the RBF’s Web site and its presentation of our grantmaking
  • Lack of clarity around who to contact

Grant processes and administration

  • Management of staff transitions and guidelines revisions
  • Lack of clarity of reporting requirements
  • Administrative requirements for reporting and equivalency determination for non-U.S. grantees  
  • Clarity and timeliness of declinations

Two other areas to address related to our grantmaking, attention to diversity and impact on fields and communities, were rated on par with our cohort or very highly, respectively. However, in light of other institutional priorities, the information will be used to guide additional work on these topics. We will address both short- and long-term actions to address grantee and applicant feedback and will establish a process for continuing the dialogue among staff on the broader grantmaking practice issues that arose in the CEP perception reports.

Grantee Perception Report (GPR) .PDF

Applicant Perception Report (APR) .PDF