Is money enough on its own? We now know what grantees expect from the Foundation

In addition to funding, at Kone Foundation we do our best to provide grantees with targeted support to ensure their success. What people most hope the Foundation will provide are free meeting rooms, visibility, healthcare and networks. Heljä Franssila, our Head of Communications, gives insight into the development of the Grants+ services during the past year.

Dear reader, are you a Kone Foundation grantee? I wonder if you are Silmu, who called us a couple of weeks ago to ask about taxation and said they are just starting their career. Or maybe you’re Leimu – we met at a discussion event before the spread of the coronavirus!

Last spring when the coronavirus pandemic swept away the majority of the events we had planned, my colleagues and I realised it was a great time to work on projects for which we usually have very little time.

One such project is the development of the services for grantees. Grants+ (“Grants plus”) is a service designed to support the skills, resources and work of our grantees within their projects. This is known as capacity building and was introduced to the Foundation by my colleagues Anna Talasniemi and Kalle Korhonen after their travels to meetings of the European Foundation Centre .

Many European and US foundations have been working on capacity building for a long time, and its growth as part of foundations’ overall funding has also been explored in the United States . Capacity building can take many forms: for example, the peer learning of various organisations, the strengthening of leadership or funding capacity, networking or comprehensive sustainability development.

Kone Foundation has been carrying out Grants+ activities for several years. The work is characterised by its experimental and small-scale nature. The planning of services has been based on an understanding of the needs of grantees, accumulated through everyday encounters. Our most popular service by far is the possibility to book the Chamber facilities (Kamari in Finnish) located on Tehtaankatu, Helsinki for workshops and other small events. In addition, we have organised, for example, communication training in cooperation with the Nessling Foundation, peer mentoring and creativity incubators and have produced Bold Makers events at the Lauttasaari Manor together with grantees.

Helsinki residents born in the 80s

Are people satisfied with the Grants+ services? As a rule, yes; at least if you look at the feedback we have received and which we have rigorously collected from all our events. However, we have to admit that we haven’t really included our grantees in the development of our services and, in fact, we didn’t know what kinds of services they wanted the Foundation to provide. Actually, we realised that if we were asked who our grantees were, we wouldn’t be able to give a very detailed answer. They are researchers and artists, of course, and in some cases journalists and activists, but what else do we know about them?

All in all, it was an opportune moment to start developing the service more systematically. Shortly before the pandemic began, we had organised two workshops in collaboration with Kenno Consulting, a company that specialises in ethnographic customer understanding. In the first workshop, our grantees told us about their needs and brainstormed potential services. The second one was for Foundation staff members who assembled to determine the concrete objectives the Foundation should set for itself for implementing its services.

We continued this collaboration with Kenno Consulting with the goal of figuring out who our grantees are and what they need and expect from the Foundation. In service design, such work is often performed by building personas of users or customers, i.e. profiles that typify various groups of customers and describe their background, situation in life, behaviour and needs. In order to create these personas, you need information about the customers – in this case, about the Foundation’s grantees.

We compiled information from our grant system about the people we have funded. Apart from the statistics related to grants awarded, Kone Foundation does not have a similar tradition of compiling thorough statistics as, for example, the Finnish Cultural Foundation has, and in fact we have never previously explored our grantees – that’s you! – in terms of age, place of residence, communication language, level of education, experience, etc.

We now know the following: the majority of the people involved in projects between 2018 and 2019 were born in the 1980s (46%) and 57% of them applied for the lowest level grant. Of the grantees, 27% live in Helsinki and the majority of those in the eastern city centre. Only about 5% of grantees live abroad. 89% of grantees communicate with us in Finnish. Approximately 40 % of the people involved in research projects represent the humanities, 30 % social sciences, 25 % environmental science, and 5 % artistic research. In arts projects, the majority of the grantees are performing arts professionals.

Some people only need money

Based on this data, we selected a representative sample of grantees to interview. We wanted to hear more about their expectations and needs as grantees. Before the pandemic, we mostly encountered grantees who live in the Helsinki metropolitan area and who have participated in our events. During the interviews we organised, we were able to talk for the first time to grantees who don’t know Kone Foundation particularly well and don’t use the Foundation’s services. They may not have any need for them. Understanding this reality was eye-opening for us in itself!

In addition to the interviews and statistical data, my colleagues who serve our grantees have gained a deep understanding of the kinds of issues grantees need the Foundation to help them with. All this work resulted in a comprehensive package of materials to help us work out grantee personas. Of the five personas, two are grantees at the beginning of their careers, and we named them Silmu and Pyry. The other three personas are the empathetic networker Leimu, the independent and ideological Paju and the experienced Varma.

We first made use of these personas when planning the Grants+ services for this year. These personas have very different needs, depending on their situation in life and the stage of their career. One will contact the Foundation without hesitation to ask practical questions, while another one will find the information independently on our website. One will actively seek to join discussions about their field, while another already has all the networks they need. Then there’s the persona who doesn’t need anything from anyone. For one person, the grant is not a merit, while for another it’s an important form of recognition. For all of them, the grant is an important source of livelihood, and many of the personas also share the aim of creating visibility and building networks.

We decided to focus on grantees at the beginning of their careers

Serving the needs of all the personas would be an impossible goal for us, which is why we realised that we have to make some choices about who we want to serve and who we are able to serve in the best way possible. We decided that over the coming years we will focus especially on supporting grantees who are just starting their careers and will emphasise the realisation of needs related to visibility and a sense of community.

By the way, if you are a Kone Foundation grantee, based on the limited information provided, you may already recognise yourself in one of the personas described here, or you may feel that none of them describe you. Obviously, these personas won’t cover all of our grantees. However, using them in our internal planning helps us to see the big picture better.

No need for an excessive number of services – the main thing is to give everyone access

At the end of the year, we began to wonder: did our development work really provide us with a comprehensive view of what our grantees need from the Foundation? To answer this question, we carried out an open survey for all our grantees in November and December to confirm our findings and we received 213 responses. It was a relief to find out that the methods used in our service design had worked: the results of the survey provided strong support for the observations we had made when creating the personas.

What did the survey reveal?

  • 45% of the respondents didn’t think they had used the Grants+ service at all.
  • Nevertheless, 79% of the respondents considered the services either useful or extremely useful.
  • One third of the respondents felt that, in addition to funding, the Foundation should provide grantees with a lot or very much support – the majority (62%) believed that the Foundation should provide some services.
  • The will to use the services is therefore high, as is people’s opinion of them: 92% of the respondents graded the services “good” or “excellent”.
  • However, people don’t have a lot of time to use the services: only 9% of the respondents said they want to use the services several times a year, while once or a few times a year is enough for others.
  • 54% of the respondents consider it important that the services can be accessed also outside the Helsinki metropolitan area.

According to the survey, the most important things for our grantees are:

  • The opportunity to use free meeting rooms and workspaces
  • Gaining visibility for their projects
  • Occupational health care
  • The opportunity to network with decision-makers, opinion-leaders and cooperation partners.

We will bear this wish list in mind. Some of the issues on the list are easier to resolve than others. In our opinion, the best way to approach visibility for a project is through skill development, i.e. capacity building: by providing communication training, we give our grantees permanent tools to talk about their work and make it visible. This is partly because the Foundation doesn’t have sufficient communication channels or resources to make hundreds of projects visible. What we can offer effectually and methodically are networking opportunities for a portion of our grantees. The past year has shown that we can carry out most of our activities online, which makes our services more accessible also outside the Helsinki metropolitan area.

In addition to the Chamber, we may be able to offer meeting rooms by renting them from a cooperation partner and then making them available to our grantees. Occupational health care is a more complex issue that is linked, in particular, to the role of grant researchers at universities. There are signs  that the position of researchers who have received funding from foundations and who work at universities may be slowly improving, and this may lead to occupational health care being made available to them in the future. At the same time, university reforms will not benefit artists. The Finnish Cultural Foundation and some other foundations offer their grantees health insurance which makes occupational health care possible, meaning that a functional model for the service already exists. However, we cannot promise a service like this at this stage.

We will announce Kone Foundation’s new strategy in April. What we can say now is that the new strategy will ensure that we will continue supporting grantees’ work and to develop our services. The Foundation and its staff will continue to care about its grantees comprehensively also in the future.