August 17, 2017
In Defense of Perpetuity
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Limited-life foundations are currently all the rage, but Fleishman’s book reminds us that perpetual, endowed foundations are in many cases preferable.
Perpetuity is so yesterday. Or so it sometimes seems, as many high-profile philanthropists make clear their intention to do their “giving while living,” rather than establish endowed, perpetual institutions. The once-multibillion-dollar Atlantic Philanthropies is in the final stages of winding down operations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend down within 20 years of its founders’ deaths. And donors such as Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) have announced that their foundations will be time-limited.
Parker has gone so far as to publicly deride perpetual organizations. “The executive directors of most major private foundations, endowments, and other nonprofit institutions are dedicated, first and foremost, to preserving the resources and reputations of the institutions they run,” he wrote in a 2015 Wall Street Journal essay. “This is achieved by creating layers of bureaucracy to oversee the resources of the institution and prevent it from taking on too much risk.” The best way to avoid “philanthropic decay,” Parker argued, is “spending down all of your philanthropic assets during your own lifetime.”
August 9, 2017
Working With Big Business Isn’t Always the Way for Foundations to Achieve Their Goals
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
There’s much talk lately among foundation leaders and major donors about the need to work in collaboration with business. Proclamations about “harnessing the power of the markets,” “sector agnosticism,” and “blurred boundaries” are now the norm at philanthropy conferences. Everyone nods.
Indeed, out of a list of 24 potentially promising practices for increasing philanthropy’s impact, foundation CEOs rated collaboration with business and other spheres in the top five in a survey conducted last year by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which I lead, Fifty-nine percent said that “foundations simultaneously collaborating with other foundations, business, government, and nonprofits” holds “a lot of promise” for boosting impact.
But in my work with grant makers and donors over the past 16 years, I have grown worried that too many are naïve about business as a “partner.”
Of course, business plays a crucial role as an employer, a provider of needed (and unneeded) products, and, sometimes, a driver of progress and innovation. Business, big and small, affects all of us. For good or ill (or a mix of both), it influences many of the challenges philanthropists and foundations seek to address. But these statements of the obvious are too often followed by a reflexive declaration that, therefore, “we need to work with business.”…>read more.
May 3, 2017
Barriers to Funder Collaboration and the Will to Overcome Them
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Any thoughtful observer of philanthropy will note that, when working on stubborn societal problems, no single actor—even the wealthiest of foundations—can accomplish much by itself. This is both a historical fact and a present day reality.
Yet most would likely agree that there still isn’t enough collaboration and that the collaborations that do occur aren’t always effective. According to research we conducted at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), commissioned by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, foundation leaders see a lack of collaboration as a barrier to progress. However, they also believe more and better collaboration could unlock much more impact.
This begs the question, if foundation leaders themselves acknowledge collaboration as crucial, why isn’t it happening more?…>read more.
October 4, 2017
Put It Up to a Vote: Who Wins When All Foundation Staff Pick Grantees?
A recent study on program officers suggests that they have a lot of influence within foundations about where grant dollars go, even if trustees have the final say. The same can’t generally be said of the many other staff who often work at foundations—in administration, finance, communications, and other support functions. While these folks keep grantmaking institutions running smoothly, they’re almost never handed the checkbook to have a little fun.
There are exceptions, though. We’ve come across examples here and there of foundations letting all staff participate in select grantmaking decisions. It’s a nice thing, although still pretty rare.
One such example is the Boston Foundation’s Out of the Blue grants. This isn’t a new idea by any means; the program has been awarding annual grants to nonprofits since 2002. Potential recipients are nominated by a TBF staff member and put up to a vote by the TBF staff. This is separate from the funder’s usual grantmaking cycles…> read more
September 4, 2017
In Troubled Times, Here Are Four Funders Standing With Vulnerable Communities
The election of Donald Trump and the policies and rhetoric that followed have shaken up the philanthropic world, like much of America. Lower-income communities, people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQI community and many other populations philanthropy often supports are under attack with heightened intensity.
According to one survey, almost 30 percent of foundations said they are modifying their programmatic goals in some way in the Trump era. We’ve seen some funders increase their payout rates, and several have launched rapid-response funds to meet urgent needs. (See IP’s full coverage at the Trump Effect.)
But philanthropy doesn’t always shine when it comes to serving marginalized communities, whether because of rigid policies, paternalistic attitudes or lackluster commitments. Improving that performance is the mission of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and its Impact Awards seek to answer a question that’s sadly more relevant than ever: When it comes to empowering marginalized communities, who is getting it right? …> read more
July 25, 2017
Why Philanthropy Must Speak Out: An Interview with Grant Oliphant
Prior to running The Heinz Endowments, Grant was president and chief executive officer of The Pittsburgh Foundation for six years. Before that, he served as press secretary to the late U.S. Sen. John Heinz from 1988 until the senator’s death in 1991.
Grant frequently leads community conversations around critical issues such as public school reform, civic design, the ongoing sustainability of anchor institutions, domestic violence, riverfront development and various socio-economic concerns. He also serves extensively on the boards of local nonprofit and national sector organizations, including the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which he chairs. He has also served on the boards of Grantmakers Evaluation Network, Pennsylvania Partnership for Children, and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance.
You can read other conversations with social changemakers in the Social Velocity interview series here.
Nell: You have written on the Heinz blog and elsewhere about the importance of philanthropists speaking out against government policies or decisions that are at odds with their work. However, philanthropy is often hesitant, because of both real and perceived limitations, to become too political. What do you think philanthropists, and the nonprofits they fund, can and should do to speak out against political decisions that are at odds with their missions?
Grant: This question makes my brain hurt. I mean, seriously, we live in a time when everything is labeled as political—affirming the science of climate change, standing up for equity, denouncing racism, defending basic math, you name it. A cultural institution we support recently faced criticism from its own docents for posting an inclusion policy they condemned as “political” because it welcomed all visitors, including immigrants. When your core values are suddenly defined as political, what are you going to do—run from your ideals and hope they somehow survive in the shadows? Or are you going to step into the light and advocate for what you say you believe in?…> read more
July 20, 2017
Want Better Advice for Donors? Build an Expert Marketplace for Philanthropy
A few years ago, when I took over responsibility for managing our family’s philanthropy full-time, the first thing I did was meet with program officers working at foundations in our areas of interest. As a former entrepreneur, I knew that it was good business to get advice from the smartest people I could, and foundation professionals were the ones who really understood the issues. They spend every day conducting due diligence, overseeing grant programs, and thinking about how to allocate funds to yield the greatest impact.
Individual philanthropists, although well-intentioned, frequently do not invest that much time or thought into giving away money. As the late Paul Connolly wrote in “Wanted: Better Advice for Wealthy Donors,” a column in The Chronicle’s January issue, “Foundations often devote more effort to giving away $10,000 than an individual does to giving $10 million.”
Mr. Connolly suggested that the solution is better coordination between wealthy individuals’ philanthropic advisers and their wealth managers and greater integration of philanthropy into wealth-management platforms — the suite of services that financial-advisory firms offer ultra-high-net-worth investors. While I agree that these solutions would help, I recommend a more radical idea: create an “expert marketplace” for philanthropy in which foundation professionals can sell their advice on an hourly basis to wealthy individuals seeking to optimize their giving.…> read more
July 13, 2017
Harnessing the Power of Evidence
Stanford Social Innovation Review
Recently, we have been seeing widespread rejection of experts and evidence. From the election of the first president in US history to have neither government nor military experience to the rise of fake news, evidence and expertise are getting short shrift. This is a perilous trend, and we need to fight against it, both in general and in the social sector, where making better use of evidence and increasing its role in decision-making is crucial to achieving social change at scale.
Consider: social sector organizations everywhere are under increased pressure to maximize their resources, whilst funders and investors want to maximize the best usage of their money to best meet growing need. Efficiency is therefore key. But efficient operations need evidence to stay on track. Evidence can reveal why and how approaches have or haven’t worked. Good monitoring and/or evaluation can thus inform program improvements and revisions, guide future activities and development, bolster efforts to raise awareness of an issue, educate the sector and those outside it, and influence funding decisions.
Ignore evidence, or keep lessons to ourselves, and we may find ourselves believing in false economies and then misallocating resources. As a result, we may achieve less than we’re capable of, or even, in a worst-case scenario, harm the people or causes we intend to help.…> read more
June 30, 2017
Inside the Mind of Your Program Officer
If you’re a grantee who’s been lucky enough to have program officers who feel like colleagues or even friends, you probably know a thing or two about the curious business of giving away money. Maybe you’ve heard about the internal haggling at foundations over funding priorities and how, exactly, portfolios of grant money are created and distributed. Surely, also, you’ve heard the old jokes about how new program officers suddenly discover that they’re funnier or more popular with long-lost friends once they’re wielding the checkbook.
Yet for many people hustling for grants, program officers can be hard to read, and the ways they operate can seem mysterious. In the worst cases, these empowered agents of institutional money can inspire feelings of anxiety and insecurity—or even dread and rage. Horror stories abound of program officers who’ve made grantees jump through inane hoops, wait months for meetings where nothing happens anyway, and live in suspense when it comes to renewal. But there are plenty of happy tales, too—of program officers who made critical introductions to other funders, or heroically shook the money tree inside their institutions with remarkable results.
So who, exactly, are these figures that loom so large in the lives—and even the dreams—of nonprofit executives? How do program officers think, and what do they want? And—for heaven’s sake—why won’t they dole out more multi-year general operating support?
Answers to some, but not all, of these questions can be found in a recent study by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “Benchmarking Program Officers’ Roles and Responsibilities,” which is based on survey responses from 150 program officers at foundations that give away at least $5 million annually.…> read more
June 22, 2017
Program Officers Value Strong Grantee Relationships, Survey Finds
Philanthropy News Digest
While most foundation program officers value having strong relationships with their grantees, only one in three lists it as one of the responsibilities they spend the most time on, a survey by the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.
Based on survey responses from a hundred and fifty program officers at foundations with at least $5 million in annual grantmaking, the report, Benchmarking Program Officer Roles and Responsibilities, found that 98 percent of respondents saw having a strong relationship with their grantees as important for achieving the foundation’s goals, while 95 percent believed that learning from grantees was integral to their professional development. The report found, however, that while 53 percent of respondents listed developing and maintaining strong grantee relationships as one of the top three responsibilities to which they should devote more time in order to be effective, only 36 percent actually did so.…> read more
June 20, 2017
Holding the Line vs. Piling On: A Surprising Look at the “Trump Effect” on Giving
How has Donald Trump’s unexpected ascendancy to the White House affected the world of giving? It’s still early, of course, to make definitive judgments. But in addition to anecdotal evidence that many funders have changed some of their priorities or practices in response to Trump—as we report regularly—more data has become available on the dimensions of what’s been called a “Trump effect” on philanthropy.
Earlier this spring, the Center for Effective Philanthropy published a report, Shifting Winds, based on a survey of 162 foundation CEOs, finding that almost three-quarters of foundations “are making, or planning to make, some change in their work as a result of the election of Donald J. Trump.”
Two surveys conducted by PMX Agency and National Research Group—one immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the other at the 100-day mark—also shed light on the extent of a “Trump effect” on giving—in this case, individual donors. The findings suggest a number of new patterns, and some of them are quite surprising.…> read more
June 5, 2017
We Need a Science of Philanthropy
Philanthropists are flying blind because little is known about how to donate money well. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s US$100-million gift to schools in Newark, New Jersey, reportedly achieved nothing. Some grants to academic scientists create so much administration that researchers are better off without them. And some funders’ decisions seem to be no better than if awardees were chosen at random, with the funded work achieving no more than the rejected.
The recipients of funds are increasingly scrutinized, but the effectiveness of donors is not. Funders are rarely punished for under-performing and usually don’t even know when they are: if the work that they fund helps one child but could have helped ten, that ‘opportunity cost’ is felt by the would-be beneficiaries, not by the funder. The same is probably true of agencies that fund research.
I founded an organization that promotes charitable giving based on sound evidence. I am acutely aware of how scant the evidence is about which ways of giving work best. The solution lies in more research on what makes for effective philanthropy. A ‘science of philanthropy’ could enable more to be achieved with the tens of billions given each year by foundations and other donors and funders.
Only a handful of studies have been done on donor effectiveness. The Center for Effective Philanthropy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found that the time spent on proposals for, and the management of, ten grants of $10,000 takes nearly six times as long as the time spent on one grant of $100,000.…> read more
May 26, 2017
Are Foundations Part Of The Resistance? Challenges To Elite Donors In A Neo-Populist Age
Kristin A. Goss and Jeffrey M. Berry
The neo-populist wave that swept Donald Trump to power poses at least three challenges to elite philanthropy, which we define as both wealthy individual donors and foundations.
The first challenge is that elite philanthropy owes its wealth to an economic system at the heart of the neo-populist critique – an economic system based on job-draining automation, on job-redistributing processes of globalization, and on neoliberal policies. Second, much elite philanthropy embraces strategies driven from the top down by donors and cosmopolitan technocrats, whom neo-populists view with suspicion or even disdain. The third challenge is that elite philanthropy tends to focus on public problems (e.g., climate change) and constituencies (e.g., poor people of color, feminists, environmentalists, immigrants) that many neo-populists view as opponents in a zero-sum contest for society’s benefits. These three factors – the indebtedness to neoliberalism, the prioritization of elite approaches, and the orientation toward post-materialist progressive causes – would seem to put much philanthropy at odds with the political zeitgeist.…> read more
May 11, 2017
Why the Dell Foundation is Betting Big on Social Entrepreneurs
Experts within the philanthropy sector should consider funding fresh ideas from social entrepreneurs as much (if not more) than massive grants aimed at traditional programmatic solutions, many of which still struggle to make a huge impact on the world’s most challenging problems. That’s one key finding from a new report from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which was formed by Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell and his wife, Susan, and works in the U.S., India, and South Africa to improve the lives of children suffering from urban poverty. To that end, the Dell Foundation just committed another $1 billion to its endowment, in part, to fund just those types of ventures.
Since its inception in 1999, the Dell Foundation has spent freely, doling out a total of $1.3 billion in grants and loans, while countering the standard industry practice of just giving away the federally mandated minimum of 5%—a super-low threshold that many funders don’t exceed because they’re busily investing the rest of their endowment in the traditional market to recoup that expenditure. For many years, Dell has given far more than that—more like 15%—including impact investments in social entrepreneurs that, at least in the early stages, are the sort of allocations that can’t be expected to bring much return on their investment. In other words, the foundation has always been willing to make risky investments, giving away money that it may not be able to earn back, in order to incubate businesses and solutions that could save everyone in the space more money in the long term as they prove out or become sustainable.…> read more
May 2, 2017
Philanthropy’s Response to Trump Misses Focus on the Most-Alienated Americans
Suzanne Garment and Leslie Lenkowsky
The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Now that the first 100 days of Trump administration have come and gone, it’s fair to say the philanthropic sky hasn’t fallen. Instead, the early confusion that marked the new administration has produced a highly assorted set of pluses and minuses for the nonprofit world.
The next question is whether charities and foundations will be able to look at the positives and see any way to work with the White House — or whether they will remain convinced the Trump presidency threatens virtually every goal they pursue and every value they represent.
The most recent evidence about how the grant-making world views the administration comes from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which found in a recent survey that almost half of CEOs of large foundations believe Trump’s tenure will make it harder for them to reach their philanthropic goals. A third say they’re changing goals or strategies. Almost half plan to do more collaboration with other donors and more advocacy.
These responses don’t tell us much, however, because the survey’s assiduously unbiased questions are too abstract to elicit a lot of concrete information. So let’s review some objective facts about philanthropy’s current standing under the Trump regime.…> read more
New research release – Benchmarking Program Officer Roles and Responsibilities, CEP 2017 videos and resources, new blog posts, and CEP’s 2016 Annual Report. There’s so much to catch up on! …> read more
Reflections on the Leading Effective Foundations conference, release of Shifting Winds: Foundations Respond to a New Political Context, CEP Advisory Services and Surdna Foundation partner to publish Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement, along with a number of new blog posts. Let us know what you think! …> read more
Counting down to Leading Effective Foundations conference and research on limited life foundation release, big milestone for YouthTruth, welcoming a new board member, and much more…>read more
The Future of Foundation Philanthropy, new findings from YouthTruth, thank yous, and much more. Let us know what you think…> read more
Benchmarking foundation evaluation practices, new surveys from YouthTruth, new look for CEP website and blog, and much more…> read more
June 20, 2017
CEP Report Shares New Data on the Role of Foundation Program Officers
Cambridge, MA — New research released today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) provides a comprehensive collection of benchmarking data on foundation program officers. The report, titled Benchmarking Program Officer Roles and Responsibilities, includes data on topics ranging from the backgrounds of program officers, to technical information about the structure of the program officer role, to program officers’ perspectives on certain aspects of their work, such as the funder-grantee dynamic.
Findings in the report are based on survey responses from 150 randomly selected program officers at foundations that give at least $5 million annually.
“We know that program officers greatly shape the experiences that grantees have with foundations, but there has been a shortage of research in the field looking deeply into the intricacies of the role,” said Jennifer Glickman, research manager at CEP. “Our hope is that this data will provide insight into program officers’ vast set of responsibilities.”…>read more.
April 25, 2017
New Study Finds Range of Responses by U.S. Foundations to Shift in Presidential Administration
Cambridge, MA — The reactions and responses of U.S. foundations to the recent shift in national political context vary widely, reveals a new study released today by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). Based on survey responses from 162 CEOs of independent and community foundations in the U.S. giving at least $5 million annually, Shifting Winds: Foundations Respond to a New Political Context finds that 48 percent of respondents believe the change in presidential administration will have a negative effect on their ability to achieve their goals, while about a quarter say they anticipate a mix of positive and negative effects, and 17 percent say it is too soon to tell.
CEP President Phil Buchanan shared findings from the study earlier this month at the 2017 CEP Conference in Boston, video of which is available here.
The survey, which was fielded between February 21 and March 10, also asked foundation leaders about the extent to which they are making changes in their goals, strategies, grantmaking budgets, and practices. Overall, almost three-quarters of foundations responding to the survey report making, or planning to make, some change in their work. Additionally, about two-thirds of CEOs report planning to increase their emphasis on at least one practice as a result of last year’s election. The most frequently cited areas for increased emphasis are collaborating with other funders, advocacy/public policy at the state and/or local level, and convening grantees…>read more.
March 21, 2017
New CEP Research Highlights Key Areas of Focus for Limited Life Foundations
Cambridge, MA — Limited life foundations, which choose to spend themselves out of existence because of the belief that it will lead to greater impact, grapple with a similar set of issues in their journey to spending down. But there is great diversity in the decisions leaders of limited life foundations make about how to address these issues, finds new research released today by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). Based on interviews with leaders of 11 spend-down foundations, the report, titled A Date Certain: Lessons from Limited Life Foundations, explores the approaches of spend-down foundations in nine key areas, including investing, grantmaking and strategy, and communications.
“When we began this research, we expected that most of these foundations would take a similar path to spending down,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president, research, at CEP and co-author of the report. “But from what we heard, we learned that there is no one way to spend down. Our hope is that this research will help foundations that are spending down — or those that are considering spending down — explore a range of approaches as they consider their own planning and strategies.”…>read more.
January 30, 2017
Paul Beaudet Joins the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) Board of Directors
Cambridge, MA – The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) has elected Wilburforce Foundation Executive Director Paul Beaudet to join its Board of Directors.
Beaudet has been with Wilburforce Foundation, a Seattle, WA-based foundation that supports land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts in western North America, since 1999. He originally joined the Foundation as program officer for evaluation and served as its associate director from 2002 to 2016. He assumed the office of executive director on January 1, 2017, where he leads the Foundation’s program teams that invest in science, conservation policy, and community engagement, as well as manages the Foundation’s capacity-building program and invests in grantee organizations and leaders to better plan, manage, and sustain their work. He has served on CEP’s Advisory Board since 2008.
“I am thrilled that Paul Beaudet is joining the CEP Board of Directors after years of thoughtful service on our Advisory Board,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan. “Wilburforce has been an exemplar in its approach to strategy as well as in its relationships with its grantees, as measured by CEP’s Grantee Perception Report (GPR), which the Foundation has consistently made public. We have consistently pointed to the Foundation as an example from which others can learn.”…>read more.
January 24, 2017
Nonprofit Organization YouthTruth Harnesses Half-Million Student Voices to Help Schools Improve
San Francisco, CA – YouthTruth Student Survey announced today that it crossed the threshold of surveying half a million students across 36 states and four countries. The San Francisco-based organization — which is the only major student and stakeholder survey partner that is an independent nonprofit — works with schools, districts, CMOs, and education funders to gather feedback from students, parents/guardians, and school staff on the topics that research shows matter most to student achievement and positive school climate.
“This is an exciting moment that signals to us the growing hunger within the education community for actionable feedback from students,” said YouthTruth Executive Director Jen Wilka. “We are meeting more and more educators and education funders who not only want to engage in the student voice movement, but also want to do so in partnership with an organization that understands the complexity of student feedback data and can help leaders use that data to drive meaningful changes in schools.”
With eight years of experience gathering robust student perception data, YouthTruth has learned directly from students about their experiences across a range of topics including academic rigor, college and career readiness, bullying, and school culture. YouthTruth regularly releases findings from their aggregate dataset to help education leaders and funders more deeply understand students’ experiences…>read more.
December 5, 2016
Foundation CEOs Seek to Raise the Bar for Themselves, New Report Shows
Cambridge, MA – Two-thirds of foundation CEOs believe in the potential of foundations to make a significant difference in society, but most do not see foundations taking full advantage of their opportunities for impact, finds a new report released today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy and commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The report also finds reasons for optimism for the future of philanthropy: much of what CEOs see as standing in their way is under their control to change, and they identify a number of ways foundations can get closer to realizing their potential for the future.
The report, titled The Future of Foundation Philanthropy: The CEO Perspective, captures foundation leaders’ views on challenges and concerns about the changing landscape in which they work, practices they believe to hold the most promise for helping foundations reach their potential, and the most pressing issues that will influence foundation philanthropy in the coming years. Inequality is high on foundation leaders’ list of pressing issues — 65 percent of foundation CEOs CEP interviewed for the study mentioned it. Foundation leaders are sober about their own levels of preparedness to deal effectively with changes that will affect society in the coming decades…>read more.
September 20, 2016
CEP and CEI Partner to Release New Comprehensive Review of Foundation Evaluation Practices
Cambridge, MA – New research released today by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) represents the most comprehensive data collection effort to date on evaluation practices at foundations. The data, on topics such as evaluation staffing and structures, investment in evaluation work, and the usefulness of evaluation information, is presented in a new publication titled Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices.
“We believe this joint effort provides foundations with a much-needed comprehensive set of data on evaluation practices at foundations,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president, research, at CEP and one of the co-authors of the report. “Our hope is that it will help foundation leaders get a sense of what other foundations are doing, and how to think more deeply about their own evaluation choices.”
Data in the report is based on survey responses from individuals who were either the most senior evaluation or program staff at 127 foundations in the U.S. and Canada giving at least $10 million annually, or members of the Evaluation Roundtable, a network of foundation leaders in evaluation convened by CEI…>read more.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]