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Listening and Understanding

At December’s Continuing Education presentation, “How to listen to grantees (and still find out what we need to know),” Bobby Krause of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors made the point that we must actively and empathically listen to our grantees. His presentation to his fellow Grant Program Committee members contained good communication and relationship building advice, namely, show up, shut up, engage and interpret. This advice fits well with recent research by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives.

Here is the summary of CEP’s findings:

  1. Foundations are not as in touch with nonprofits’ needs as they think
  2. Nonprofits most desire help in fundraising, staffing, and communications
  3. Both nonprofits and foundations have a role to play in closing the gap between the support nonprofits need and the support foundations provide
  4. Nonprofit CEOs see general operating support grants as having the greatest impact on strengthening their organizations

The first finding is hardly surprising, and neither are the numbers behind it: 95% of foundation leaders believe that their foundation cares about the health of their grantees and 87% of them believe that they are aware of grantee’s needs. But only a minority of grantees (43%) believe that foundations care about strengthening their organizations and most of them (58%) say that foundations don’t ask them what they need.

It seems trite to say that funders care about the health of their grantees. It is the grantees, after all, who execute the funder’s mission. Money may be an essential ingredient, but it is the grantees who do the work. So why would they think that foundations do not care about them?

Much of the answer lies in the parties’ unequal bargaining position; the grantee asks, and the grantor decides. According to CEP’s research most grantees (64%) primarily consider what they think a foundation will fund, rather than what they really need. JSF has adopted practices to mitigate the power imbalance (listening is one of them) but nonprofits’ telling funders what they want to hear is pervasive, if understandable.

Going back to Bobby’s presentation, we must do more than listen to grantees. We must “interpret” and deeply understand them. What do they care about? Do their values and mission align with ours? What are they doing? What do they want to do? Will their work fit well with our mission and strategy? Does their leadership inspire confidence? The understanding that comes from answering these questions is the first order of business and is by far the most difficult part of the grant making process.

Our grant making process is designed to quickly decline requests that obviously do not fall within our mission and strategy and concentrate on those few that might. We frequently spend a year or more researching and meeting with a potential grantee (and its end users) before deciding whether to entertain a grant application. Implicit in our decision to accept a grant application is confidence in the grantee and a belief that its work aligns with our mission and strategy.

It follows that the grant transaction should be a simple matter of asking how we can best support a grantee or potential grantee. If we have done our work well then the grantee will trust us and tell us exactly what it needs.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 18 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

Creating Visibility and Supportive Campus Environments for Native American Students

The American Indian College Fund explored how to support higher education’s role in creating safe and welcoming environments and greater visibility for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students at a convening it hosted of students, tribal college leaders and leaders from mainstream institutions of higher education (IHE), policy organizations and funders.

What we heard affirmed what we already knew — for Native students to be successful in college the institution must be committed to their inclusion.

Native students shared they want to go to college in an environment where their unique tribal identities are recognized, where their history and current lives are included in the curriculum and in campus life, and where they are visible.

Supporting education equity for Native students takes many forms. Native students at tribal colleges and mainstream institutions have benefited from Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s support of access to higher education through scholarships. The American Indian College Fund works to expand student support to specific ways that higher education institutions can be proactive with inclusion.

Four specific approaches were identified that can have an immediate impact on the experiences of Native students with higher education:

  1. Land acknowledgment: All higher education institutions exist on land that once served as the homeland of one or more tribal nations. Westward expansion, war and removal all impacted the abilities of tribes to situate themselves or have claims on homelands. When land acknowledgment occurs, Native students’ existence and experience is validated. I’ve learned that it is also a good educational exercise because most people don’t know whose homelands they are living on.

2. Representation in curriculum, at events and functions and in public materials: The history and contemporary experiences of indigenous peoples are usually not represented in curriculum. In addition, many times Native peoples are not onstage or giving presentations and are rarely included in public-facing places like websites and brochures. IHE can examine and modify curriculum to insure inclusion. For example, any American government class that doesn’t include tribal governments as a form of governance in the U.S. should immediately remedy that. When events are organized and representatives of various populations are invited to participate, inclusion of Native speakers should be automatically considered and materials and media should be reviewed to determine if Native student photos and stories are included.

3. Data inclusion: Ensuring the institution’s leadership knows the status of Native students is critical to success, whether it is one student or 400. Often the numbers are used as an excuse for not knowing the status of Native students and for not reporting that status to the public and to enrolled students. This may require extra effort to define who will be included in that population and what reporting will look like, but it is essential to overcoming invisibility.

4. Facilitating pathways through expanded recruitment, scholarship support and student services: IHE should examine their recruitment footprint and ensure enough outreach to have a broad group of potential students. They should also ensure sufficient financial support and targeted student services are provided, including designated advisors and counselors. Students also shared that having their own space matters. Native student centers and residential housing creates visible support on campus.

It takes intentional effort and sufficient investment to create climates where Native students can succeed. Native students are themselves excellent informants about what works. Tribal colleges and universities are good resources for best practices and strategic partnerships to support success.


Cheryl Crazy Bull is a member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe and is President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. She has more than 30 years of experience in Native higher education.

November is Native American Heritage Month

The photo above was taken at the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s annual Entrepreneurship Scholarship meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, last month. As you can see, we had a good turnout of JSF board members, staff and consultants and representation from almost all our nonprofit, tribal college and university partners in this program.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship program is in its 28th year and this annual convening has been an integral part. The Foundation’s persistence in this program – and in our Indigenous funding generally – is paying a dividend of improvement and these meetings seem to get better every year.

The meeting heard a presentation by Jamie Schwartz and Tiffany Gusbeth of the American Indian College Fund. The College Fund administers 200 scholarship programs for Indigenous students, two of which – the Business Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Pipeline – are matching scholarship endowments established by the Foundation.

The Business Entrepreneurship Scholarship supports students who have already obtained an associate’s degree, typically at a tribal college, and are in their junior or senior year of a bachelor’s degree. This scholarship program has a 93 percent persistence and graduation rate.

The Entrepreneurship Pipeline supports first and second year business students at tribal colleges that do not partner directly with the Foundation. Interestingly, the College Fund has also gone into the secret sauce business and has developed “student success services” such as coaching and mentoring, transition assistance and peer tutoring.

Native American Heritage Month LogoWe also heard from Loris Taylor, president and CEO of Native Public Media, a network of 57 radio and four television stations. Loris gave a wonderful presentation on the strengths and challenges of Native Public Media and its role and potential in education.

The best of this meeting took place at the very beginning when we had presentations from two Johnson Scholars from Northern Arizona University. Dylan Graham, from the Navajo Nation, has just obtained a degree in hotel management and was president of NAU’s student body. She presented very well and, not surprisingly, has several options. She may go overseas to work with an international hotelier or to Arizona State University for an MBA.

Elliott Cooley is also from the Navajo Nation and is in his senior year of business management. While in high school he suffered nerve damage in a car accident that partially paralyzed his left side. After two years of physiotherapy he joined the Marines and served for four years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. He began college on the GI Bill and, when it ran out, obtained a Johnson Scholarship. Elliott is an entrepreneur and won the NAU Center for American Indian Economic Development (CAIED) business competition. He hopes to do business on the Navajo Reservation and serve as a role model for other would-be entrepreneurs.

Elliott referenced his tour of duty in Iraq and stressed how grateful he is for the freedom to pursue education and a career of his choice. Gratitude was a good theme at our meeting and for the Foundation’s work generally. A year from now it will be Native American Heritage Month and we will be back in Scottsdale, talking to our grantee partners about how we can support another year of their excellent work. We should all be grateful for this opportunity.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 17 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.

Promise and Transformation

Nativity Preparatory School of Boston recently hosted its inaugural Nativity Promise Dinner with the theme of “Our Promise. Their Future. Your Impact.” The event convened Nativity’s committed benefactors, supporters and allies for an evening dedicated to the idea of the “Nativity Promise.” To set the scene for the evening, Nativity released a new video featuring students, alumni and staff describing the life-long impact of the Nativity Promise.

At Nativity, we believe that all children deserve an education that opens doors and provides the foundation to thrive. For many young men of color from low-income families, society falls short. We’ve made a promise to them and their families.

Our Promise: We promise to always believe in and invest in the incredible potential of boys from low-income Boston communities to become successful, compassionate “men for others” through the opportunity of education.

Their Future: Empowered by a high-quality, full-scholarship Jesuit education and resourced by an extensive Graduate Support program, our alumni thrive in school, career, and service to their families, communities, businesses, and the world.

Your Opportunity for Impact: The generous and dedicated support of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation helps fulfill this promise and has a transformative impact on the lives of these young men.

Kevin Sullivan is the Assistant Director of Advancement at Nativity Prep Boston. With a background in communications, his work focuses on sharing stories about Jesuit education’s mission to increase equity and access.

Supporting First-Generation Students

What are some ways in which institutions can support first-generation college students? The following podcast, courtesy of the University of Florida’s Office of Faculty Development and Teaching Excellence, features insights from first-generation University of Florida student Adrian Cruz and Dr. Leslie Pendleton, director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation was an early supporter of this nationally recognized program.

Dr. Leslie Pendleton is the Senior Director of Retention and Success Initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Florida. Within this role, she serves as Director of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program and supervises the Disability Resource Center.

Adrian Cruz is a first-generation student at the University of Florida and a Machen Scholar.

‘Hearing But Deaf All the Same’

This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post.

On the deafness scale of mild, moderate, severe or profound, I am profoundly deaf. With the help of cochlear implants, I am able to “hear” and speak. The devices are complicated to explain, but basically, external sound processors, worn behind the ears, send a digital signal to the implants, which convert the signal to electric impulses that stimulate the hearing nerve and provide sound signals to the brain. The implants allow me to attend my middle school classes with few accommodations, but I’m still quite different from people who hear naturally. When my implant processors are turned off, I don’t hear anything.

I regard myself as a deaf person, and I am proud to be among those who live with deafness, yet I often feel rejected by some of these same people. My use of cochlear implants and lack of reliance on American Sign Language (I use it but am not fluent — I primarily speak) are treated like a betrayal by many in the Deaf — capital-D — community. In the view of many who embrace Deaf culture, a movement that began in the 1970s, those who are integrated into the hearing world through technology, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, myself included, are regarded as “not Deaf enough” to be a part of the community.

People deaf from birth or through illness or injury already face discrimination. I wish we didn’t practice exclusion among ourselves. But it happens, and it’s destructive.

Those in the Deaf community tend to think of deafness as a defining factor of who they are and how they live. Many have never heard anything and have never communicated by speaking. That is a different experience from mine, but, in the end, none of us can hear without assistance. I think much of the tension between the Deaf and the deaf stems from this inability to completely experience each other’s lives.

Deaf child holding a toy and pointingMany Deaf people, and hearing people, think of cochlear implants as a “solution” to deafness. It isn’t. The technology simply helps me live with my deafness in a certain way. My parents decided to get cochlear implants for me when I was a year old because they felt that I would have an easier life with them. Whether this is true or not I’ll never know. But in making the decision, my parents debated many pros and cons of cochlear implants. It is a debate that tens of thousands of parents have had since the implants became a practical option in the 1980s.

My parents felt that the implants would give me more opportunities, but they worried that my having them would close off my access to a Deaf identity. They worried I would be rebuffed by Deaf people who did not understand what it’s like to live with cochlear implants.

I’m sorry to say that my parents were right. They hired a Deaf ASL teacher to work with me when I was only a few months old, but she stopped coming after she found out that I would be getting cochlear implants. When I was a toddler, I was unwelcome in an ASL playgroup. My parents did eventually find a Deaf ASL teacher who respected my family’s choice. I’ve dealt with hearing people not understanding my deafness — staring at the equipment, asking insensitive questions, congratulating me on “passing” in the hearing world — and I’ve dealt with Deaf people denying it. I’m glad to be part of my school community, acting in plays, singing (and signing) in the chorus and studying spoken French, and I’m grateful for all that I can access because of my cochlear implants. Still, I avoid swimming with hearing friends and attending sleepovers because I need to take my implant processors off in water and for sleeping.

white crumpled paper

I recently found a crumpled piece of paper I wrote on four years ago, when I was 10. It read: “There is a color between yellow and green that no one can agree on: I think of cochlear implants — hearing but deaf all the same.” I will always feel separated from the hearing world in important ways; I have also had to live with feeling excluded by a community that might have provided assurance that I wasn’t alone, that others felt the same way.

I hope that in the future, deaf children — regardless of whether they wear technology, speak or sign — will grow up with a sense of being accepted. To achieve that, we in the deaf world need to see each other for our similarities, accept that we may never agree on this issue, and start working together.

Juliet is a ninth grade student in Massachusetts, and a former student at JSF grantee partner Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech. She enjoys drawing, acting and playing Ultimate Frisbee.

What We Have Learned About Preparing Transfer Students

The following post is based on a soon to be published chapter in Building Transfer Student Pathways for College and Career Success, Joseph & Poisel, (Editors), National Resource Center for The First Year Experience & Students in Transition.

Woman writing and holding a laptop

In the last twenty-five plus years, we have had the opportunity to work intentionally on designing transfer pathways for students who start at a community college and complete a bachelor’s degree at a university. While most community colleges were founded with this “transfer mission,” educators have long known that the transfer student experience is not particularly linear or smooth. Recent research has shown that nationally, 29 percent of entering community college “transfer” students earned a certificate or associates degree and 42 percent complete a bachelor’s degree in six years (Jenkins & Fink, 2016). The issues include universities not accepting all of the credits earned at the community college; students not completing the correct pre-requisite courses for their intended university major; students changing their university major once they enroll there; and what is commonly called “transfer shock” such as adjusting to larger classes and classrooms, different faculty expectations, academic technology, increased academic program rigor, and complex university procedures.

Three students at Valencia CollegeIn the last 10 years, there has been an increased focus among community colleges to be more intentional in getting students on a “pathway” that reduces course choice by clarifying exactly what courses students need to complete each term in order to prepare for a specific university major (Completion by Design, 2011; Complete College America, 2018; Guided Pathways, 2015).  Most educators who delve into transfer pathways gain a quick understanding of why the choices are confusing to students, particularly community college students, who are more likely to be first-generation college students and have to negotiate their way through not just one, but two institutions. Sorting out common prerequisites, program prerequisites, electives that are “recommended” or true “electives” from the descriptions in college catalogs is a lesson in the real complexity of academic programs. Pathways programs are designed to simplify student choices, making the path from the associate’s degree to the bachelor’s degree more transparent. Pathways assist students and advisors with clarifying the coursework to take at the community college so that the courses both transfer and apply to the specific bachelor’s degree the student aspires to complete at the university.

Woman writing on a pad of paperPathways are an important means to improve student transfer success, but the curricular clarity that defines many pathways programs is not all that is necessary to prepare students to be transfer-ready. There are additional factors that should be considered by transfer students, and community college and university educators who are working to prepare students, for a successful transition and completion of their bachelor’s degrees.

  • Personal aspirations – “People like me can …” Our view of the world is shaped by what we see the people from “our kind of background” doing. In order to consider additional options, students need to believe that people from a background like theirs can be successful, belong, and are welcomed into higher education in general, and in whatever aspirational profession they are considering (e.g., engineer, doctor, teacher, nurse, scientist, computer programmer). There are many examples of people who have reached aspirations well beyond their beginnings, but psychologically it has to begin with an individual’s belief that it is possible.
  • Purpose – Students need to clarify their personal direction and goals, and tie their career goals to a set of educational programs that can move them in that direction, even as those goals emerge and change over time.
  • Curricular plan – Students complete course prerequisites for specific bachelor’s programs with few excess credits so that all (or most) lower-division coursework satisfies the requirements for the bachelor’s degree and permits direct entry into upper-division (junior level) course work.
  • Academic preparation – Students demonstrate the ability to achieve in the specific academic discipline they are pursuing, including the ability to demonstrate academic rigor, knowing how to persist when the academic work is challenging, knowing how to engage faculty for productive assistance, and knowing the expectations for learning (learning how to learn) in the specific academic discipline.
  • Career preparation – Students understand the expectations for professional behavior in the career field for which they are preparing. This may include learning through undergraduate research, internships, and academic mentors. It includes gaining an understanding of what is involved in the day-to-day life of the chosen profession and committing to the life that it entails.
  • Social preparation – Students understand and adopt behavioral expectations for success at the university. This includes physical and behavioral navigation, an emphasis on independence, the ability to self-advocate, and the ability to plan financially as well as career and academically for degree completion.

The implications for students, community colleges and universities include a concerted focus on career and academic planning, as well as other forms of student preparation and development. We believe this comprehensive approach to transfer student programs and development will prepare more students to complete the bachelor’s degree and achieve their dreams.

Two women sitting at a desk with Valencia sign in backgroundThe Johnson Scholars program, which began at Valencia College and the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2013, was designed to provide comprehensive support for community college students preparing to transfer. Valencia identifies scholarship recipients based on their academic interest in biomedical sciences, which has a specific degree path from Valencia to the UCF, both located at Valencia’s Osceola Campus. The scholarship creates a cohort of students with similar interests who support each other with the assistance of an assigned advisor. Faculty in the pre-requisite courses support students in learning what is needed to prepare for rigorous university study, including opportunities for undergraduate research.  The scholarship continues when students transfer to the university.  Valencia College and the University of Central Florida recognize the achievement of Johnson Scholars who have been successful in transfer, as well as associate and bachelor’s degree completion.

Dr. Joyce C. Romano is Vice President for Educational Partnerships at Valencia College through which she works to improve the educational pathway for students from K-12 through community college and successful university transfer to bachelor’s completion. Dr. Romano has a B.A. in Psychology from State University of New York-College at Cortland, an M.S. in Counseling Psychology from Central Washington University, and an Ed.D. in Higher Education from the University of Kansas.

Maria Hesse serves as Vice Provost for Academic Partnerships at Arizona State University, helping to create and sustain productive relationships with community colleges and other institutions. Prior to coming to ASU in July 2009, Dr. Hesse served as President and CEO for Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC), one of the Maricopa Community Colleges in the Phoenix area. Dr. Hesse holds Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science degrees from Arizona State University. She has Master and Doctoral degrees in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University and is a graduate of the Harvard Institute for Educational Management.