Real Talk

Author: Megan MacDavey

What applicants thought about applying to the Tower Foundation in 2018

I can’t say it enough: we love feedback. Don’t get me wrong – some of it is not easy to hear. But we truly appreciate feedback from applicants and grant partners in all its challenging, validating, and sometimes surprising forms. It helps us along the trajectory to change and improve.

It’s been two years since we rolled out our new application process, and we’ve surveyed applicants after each cycle. Across two years we received 262 survey responses – if you were one of those respondents, thank you! Here are a few takeaways from the 2018 responses (see the infographic for the simplified version):

  • Many survey respondents took advantage of our technical assistance in some way, shape, or form. Sixty percent indicated that they had called, emailed, or met with a Program Officer in advance of their application. We even saw that applicants who reached out to us prior to submitting were more likely to have successful applications.
  • Applicants continued to feel positive in 2018 about our application, including the length of the applications and the questions we ask, with few exceptions.
  • When we first included a link to schedule a call with a Program Officer for feedback in our decline email notifications, we were shocked by the high percentage of  applicants that took us up on the offer. (For the record, we have always been open to decline calls, but taking this step to make it a little easier for you to access our schedules seemed to be what was holding back the flood gates.) However, after holding steady at about 65% of applicants contacting us for feedback during 2017, the percentage steadily decreased in 2018, reaching 40% of applicants.

Here are a few takeaways from applicant comments in the surveys that are representative of many similar points of feedback (the good, the bad, and the frustrating):

  • The portal can cause headaches, in particular for people with outdated browsers. After hearing for more than a year about frustrations with attachments, we have figured out how to give applicants the ability to delete attachments themselves.
  • While many liked the new proposal, some respondents raised concerns about the generic questions not yielding the level of in-depth responses the Foundation is looking for. Unfortunately, writing for grants is both art and science – and competition. For some applications, a simpler grant request might be competitive. For others — particularly those requesting large amounts of money — we will likely need a more robust preliminary submission. We typically do not invite more applicants than we can afford to fund. This means that the preliminary grant application is the most difficult hurdle to clear.
  • We routinely hear that people appreciate the opportunity to discuss an application after we have declined it.
  • We also hear about the benefits of making time available for you to connect with Program Officers in advance of an application – whether it be a coffee shop meeting, virtual office hours, a phone call, or sending us a draft application for feedback. We’ll keep this up to the degree that our schedules allow. If you want to send in a draft, please get it to us at least two weeks before the deadline. We can’t promise to get back to you before the deadline otherwise.

This year we will only be surveying applicants to our Strengthening Partner Capacity portfolio. The guidelines for this portfolio were new this year, so we think they deserve some special focus. However, if you apply for funding from one of our other two portfolios – Programs & Services or Community Change, we still welcome your feedback. We are leaning on a wonderful community resource, Grant Advisor, to encourage applicants and grant partners alike to rate us and provide feedback. We review that feedback as a team. Check out the site, and rate us today if you like: