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Foundation Operations: Grantmaking-> Gathering Community Input-> Listening Tours

What are listening tours and are there examples of foundations that have conducted them?

Listening tours are a mechanism for foundations to gather information directly from those intended to benefit from its activities. Typically, this involves foundation staff touring their service area and convening stakeholders in order to “listen” directly to the community's concerns and ideas. Examples of foundations that have conducted such tours are provided.

In June and July 2002, the Healthcare Georgia Foundation conducted a statewide listening tour designed to hear directly from Georgians about the issues affecting their health and well-being. The listening tour included 10 facilitated discussions in nine communities across the state and included representatives from public health, health care, social services, mental health, aging, legal services, community foundations, school systems, community health centers, and other local nonprofit organizations. Group sizes ranged from seven to 12 people, for a total of 95 participants overall. The average meeting time was 2.5 hours. Participants were asked a number of key questions, such as: what are the most important health problems in your community and why, what is working well, which groups in your community are at greatest health risk, what programs exist to serve them, and what collaborative efforts are taking place? The tour provided the foundation with a ground-level view of the issues facing Georgians, and this information helped shape the structure, process, and desired outcomes of the foundation's grantmaking program. The foundation has chronicled the results of its listening tour, including summaries for each tour city in a publication entitled, “Health Access in Georgia: Voices from the 2002 Listening Tour.”

The Kansas Health Foundation conducted its first listening tour in 1988 and conducted a subsequent tour in 1995. Foundation staff traveled the state for a period of two weeks, visiting 17 communities. A diverse group of community stakeholders participated in these tours, including health care providers, teachers, entrepreneurs, public officials, historians, and health care consumers. Meetings typically lasted for 1.5 hours, and participants were asked a broad range of questions, including: what do you think are the major health issues in your community, which diseases are you most concerned with, what are some barriers to addressing these diseases, are there any examples of public/private partnerships in your community, who are your community leaders, and what resources are currently available to your community? The foundation then used the information gathered from these tours to create and fund new grant initiatives and prioritize future health spending.

Thinking about sponsoring a listening tour for your foundation? Consider the following tips:

  • Engage organizations that provide services to or advocate for disenfranchised and vulnerable groups in their communities. These organizations often have close ties with the community, have gained its trust, and understand its unique needs. They may be able to help with outreach or even host or cosponsor meetings to increase participation by their members and constituents.

  • Ensure that meetings are accessible and take into account the special needs of the community. This may include providing language translation, child care, services for those with physical disabilities, and other assistance.

  • Consider using outside consultants to arrange the logistics in order to focus more on the programmatic content of the listening tours. Foundations have hired consultants to make initial contacts in target areas; send out invitations; arrange for transportation, housing, and meals; and assemble briefing books for listening tour facilitators.

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