What we learned from MAVA’s 2018 Foundation Review

Strong support for our new approach

What do MAVA’s partners have to say about us? How have they experienced the recent changes at MAVA and the prospect of our closing in 2022? We conducted a review over the past months to get an answer to these questions. Karin Jestin, a philanthropy consultant, carried out the review which focused on three main areas:

1. working under MAVA’s new strategy and approach

2. working with MAVA in general

3. learnings from previous MAVA partners

The review yielded several insights for us, with overwhelming support for what we are doing along with some suggestions for improvement.

MAVA’s new strategy and approach

A strong majority of MAVA partners have positive feedback on working under MAVA’s new ‘outcome action plan’ approach. This approach is highly collaborative with partners jointly defining action plans and is found to be unusual and much appreciated. Between 80-95% of respondents agreed that the approach enables greater focus on strategic priorities, builds a strong voice for common work, reinforces the capacity of individual members and allows for strong, more sustainable conservation impact. This is music to our ears since we have invested heavily in this approach and are banking on ambitious achievements by the time of our exit in 2022.

On the less positive side, we take note that the development of the action plans was time-consuming and sometimes confusing or even stressful. Partners expressed the desire to ensure that the tools used are used adaptively rather than being used as straight-jackets. (Note – This is clearly our intention, so we conclude that we need to communicate better about this.)

What’s it like to work with MAVA?

We are pleased to note that partners appreciate working with MAVA staff and find them responsive to their needs. It is our aim to be supportive of our partners and their specific needs, remaining flexible when needed and this is recognized by our partners. Respondents highlighted MAVA’s strong points as strategic vision, openness, adaptive management, understanding of conservation and long-term perspective.

In relation to MAVA’s closing in 2022, partners all understand that MAVA is closing and 80% have or will undertake remedial actions to cope without MAVA funding after 2022. This indicates that our communications around our exit have been effective to date. However, our partners’ high level of confidence in carrying on the work when MAVA is gone is not matched by results from partners that we have stopped funding. Previous partners report that in a majority of cases, work has had to be scaled back at least to some extent. This would indicate that current partners should start early to meet their optimistic projections.

When asked what partners would most like from MAVA, the consistent request is for support for fundraising capacity building and introductions to potential donors. In response to this request, in early 2019 MAVA will launch a call for proposals to support joint fundraising for outcome actions plans, favoring collective approaches to fundraising. In all cases we urge our partners to begin thinking early about diversifying funding sources rather than waiting until 2022 to address the absence of MAVA funding. MAVA is also becoming more active in reaching out to other donors who could potentially be interested in co-funding and when appropriate, making introductions to some of our partners.

Good advice from previous partners

There is always a lot to learn from previous experiences, so we reached out to partners for whom MAVA funding has recently ended. They had some excellent advice for both other MAVA partners and for MAVA itself.

For current MAVA partners, echoing my plea above, their strong advice is to face reality early and begin planning ahead making early effort to diversify funding sources.

For MAVA, they urge us to openly discuss exit strategies and to lengthen the transition time as much as possible to ease the drop-off in funding. Echoing calls from current partners, they also urge us to invest in fundraising capacity for our partners.

Recommended actions

The review resulted in a set of recommendations, each of which MAVA is taking action on:

1. Continue to support teams in turning action plan frameworks and theories of change into live management tools (this is our clear intent)

2. Simplify and stabilize reporting tools (we are testing simplified versions of our templates)

3. Keep monitoring the pulse of each action plan and be ready to intervene if implementation challenges are perceived, to avoid unnecessary implementation delays (ongoing)

4. Pursue efforts to grow single-entity as well as collective fundraising capabilities in view of MAVA’s exit (call for proposals in 2019)

5. Amplify communications to the community of partners on action plan progress (we will increase our communications efforts)

6. Consider investing in active facilitation of knowledge sharing within the MAVA community of partners (we are developing a learning framework and have identified first actions)

7. Consider formalizing the outcome action plan methodology and sharing it with the funders field at large (we will do this next year)

8. Engage in targeted and discrete advocacy towards select funders of critical importance to sustain MAVA’s legacy (analysis under way)

Lastly, we heard a hunger for more news and information on MAVA’s action plans and partners. We are looking to ramp up our communications efforts to meet this demand.

Feedback is precious and I’d like to thank all those who took the time to give us input for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. None of this would be possible without the engagement and excellent work of our partners who are on the front lines of conservation and who have earned our admiration and support.

Download the summary of the review here.

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