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Peer Review: A Reflective Look at Our Grantmaking Operations

May 2017

Louis J. Beccaria, PhD, President & CEO, Phoenixville Community Health Foundation
Lynn Hartman, Vice President for Programs, Phoenixville Community Health Foundation

The Phoenixville Community Health Foundation (PCHF) was approaching its 20th anniversary and a leadership succession via CEO retirement. The foundation’s board and staff thought that it was a good time to take stock in where we started, where we were, and where we were going. Had we been fulfilling our mission the best that we can? Were we having a tangible impact on the communities we serve? Were we the best that we could be in our pursuit of excellence?

Gazing into the looking glass, we realized we could not possibly get an accurate and complete image back. These questions could only be answered by a neutral, third party, with clear and unbiased eyes.

The foundation turned to Grantmakers In Health (GIH) about the prospect of arranging an objective peer review from knowledgeable and experienced grantmakers. GIH President & CEO, Faith Mitchell and her staff jumped at the opportunity to provide this service for us as a Funding Partner.

We engaged two philanthropic professionals: Ann Monroe from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, and Edward Meehan from The Rider-Pool Foundation. They, along with then GIH Program Director Nicole Dreisbach, spent two full days at PCHF talking with stakeholders from all segments of the foundation’s activities, and looking at our business model and governance structure.

Three questions guided their review:

  • Is the foundation engaging in mission creep?
  • How can the foundation increase efficiency both with grantmaking and relation-building with grantees?
  • Is the foundation staffed properly for both grantmaking and working in the community?

The feedback the foundation board and staff received through this process has been invaluable.

Since its inception, the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation staff and trustees have built a proud tradition of working to revitalize the community, improve the health and wellness of its neighbors, and serve as a trusted resource. The foundation is a permanent fixture in the community. But change is taking place—both now and in the near future. The greater Phoenixville region is growing, and the foundation’s leadership will be transitioning. Some of the organizational challenges that PCHF faces are part of the natural maturation and evolutionary process experienced by many foundations of similar history and size. Other challenges are ones that organizations of all kinds continually face.”

Several of the peer review team’s recommendations have been implemented, and more are being actively planned for and scheduled. The process provided us with a number of action items, including to:

Conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment. The foundation is currently taking on the most exhaustive and comprehensive needs assessment that we have done in the past 19 years. This assessment involves key informant interviews, and nine focus groups composed of clients and agency professionals who work in varied fields, including mental health, homelessness, and poverty, and with a number of populations, including youth, senior citizens, and veterans. in.

In addition, our board members have been interviewed, and an extensive review of health mapping data pertaining to the greater Phoenixville area is being done through the Chester County Health Department. A review of national health data is also involved.

Place more emphasis on program outcomes in what we require of our grantees in their reporting. We have employed the services of Dr. John Kelley, former Director of Institutional Research at Villanova University and a nationally known consultant in program evaluation, as well as the professional that our foundation has employed for many years to evaluate our pilot program initiatives, to conduct over 12 months, mandatory training for all of our grantees on how they can develop measurable logic model program outcomes for their programs. 

Implement an online, computerized grant application system. We have purchased and implemented the FOUNDANT grants management system, and are now into our second grant cycle of utilizing this system. Staff have worked closely with FOUNDANT representatives to receive technical assistance, and have consulted with a number of local colleague foundations that have used this online system. 

The peer review process is the looking glass gazing back at you and sharing what it sees. This was a positive and invigorating process for the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. Our gratitude and thanks go out to GIH for being such a ready partner and making the Peer Review possible. As for PCHF, we recommend this looking glass for all in pursuit of excellence.