A decade ago I was managing grants for a nonprofit in Swaziland when the representative of a large funder arrived in my office. Without talking to any of the beneficiaries at the core of the project, he immediately began going through the 500-page grant agreement with a red pen, marking every discrepancy he perceived between the paperwork and what he saw around him.
This example of a large funder unable to understand the daily reality of running a nonprofit still stands out to me when I think about the grantee experience. In subsequent years, when working for Doctors without Borders in sub-Saharan Africa and evaluating impact for the Red Cross in Asia, I learned that implementing new projects requires constant innovation and honing one’s approach as you learn what works and what doesn’t. I saw how much more successful organizations could be with funding partners that were willing to take risks, be flexible, and listen to and build trust with their grantees. Luckily, many funders do realize the importance of such an approach, and many are willing to invest in gathering feedback from their stakeholders. But still not enough.
This is what I love about working at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). Over the past several years, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate directly with foundation leaders who care deeply about learning, like Lee Risby, Head of Effective Philanthropy at C&A Foundation, and Tim Wilson, Funding and Social Investment Director at City Bridge Trust, both of whom shared in a recent webinar why they decided to ask grantees how they were doing as a funder — and then how they acted on what they heard.
C&A Foundation, based in Switzerland, and City Bridge Trust, based in the United Kingdom, are just two of the 25 international foundations CEP has worked closely with over the past 17 years. Though we’ve surveyed grantees in more than 150 countries and worked with more than two dozen internationally based foundations (the majority of which are in Europe), we believe there’s so much more CEP can be doing to serve the many funders across the Atlantic. And so, beginning in 2019, we are thrilled to be deepening CEP’s focus on partnering with foundations in Europe.
The European Foundation Centre (EFC) estimates that more than 60,000 foundations in Europe give approximately the equivalent of $62 billion USD annually. Yet despite the growing size and importance of European foundations, there are limited resources available to assist European funders to benchmark their performance with peers, gather actionable data in a systematic and rigorous way, and measure their effectiveness over time. We believe that CEP’s rigorous research and assessment and advisory resources, such as the Grantee Perception Report (GPR), Staff Perception Report (SPR), and our customized advisory services, can fill this need and help foundations across Europe asses and improve their vital work.
As a Dutch citizen, I am particularly excited to be leading this expansion effort, bringing CEP’s data-driven approach and research-grounded practices and advice to more European funders. Starting in January, I’ll be based in my home city of Amsterdam. I look forward to building new relationships with European philanthropic leaders and deepening CEP’s understanding of how we can better serve their needs.
I hope to meet many of you in person in the new year. If you’re a European foundation leader interested in learning more about CEP’s work, drop me a note at charlotteb[at]cep.org.
Charlotte Brugman is manager of assessment and advisory services at CEP. A native of the Netherlands, she has deep experience working closely with European and international funders. Charlotte is fluent in French, Spanish, Dutch, and English, and starting in 2019, will be based in Amsterdam. Follow her on Twitter at @CLBrugman.