Nonprofit Organizations

Listen to the Least-Heard Voices

October 1, 2019  • Aspen Institute Staff

Businesses collect vast amounts of data on consumer views, experiences, and feedback in order to improve service and efficiency. Is there a parallel among foundations and nonprofits? How do those who tackle urgent economic, social, and environmental issues gather and respond to the perspectives of the local communities most affected? Fund for Shared Insight, a collaborative of 94 funders, commissioned the Institute’s Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program to investigate how nonprofits listen to and connect with the communities they serve. What does it mean to really listen to marginalized communities? How does listening strengthen the impact of social projects and policy initiatives? How do power imbalances rooted in race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and class affect an organization’s ability to listen? The Institute’s program published answers to these questions in its final report, Meaningfully Connecting with Communities in Advocacy and Policy Work. US nonprofits’ listening practices, for example, vary widely—from gathering input and feedback through surveys to processes in which community members themselves help develop solutions. The report also notes that funders’ and nonprofits’ internal cultures and strategies must genuinely value multiple forms of expertise. Fund for Shared Insight released the findings in April.