In the coming days, CEP’s new website will be live (and it may even be by the time you read this), along with a new logo, brand identity, and tag line: Improving foundation performance through data + insight. The launch of this new site comes on the heels of a year-long planning process that concluded in December 2013 with the Board of Directors’ approval of a new strategic plan for CEP, laying out seven directions for 2014-2015.
Among those directions is that CEP has begun to offer advising services to funders in order to better help them improve their effectiveness. Over the past 12 years, we have focused on three activities to help foundations become more effective, according to our working definition of effectiveness: research, assessment tools, and programming. We have received many requests to work on more customized projects for foundation clients, or to do more follow on work to help foundations move from our assessment tool data to change in practice, but have generally demurred.
We have now begun to take on some advising engagements, very selectively, in cases where we think our skill sets, knowledge, and analytic and data analysis skills can be of use to foundation clients. For example, we are working with a large corporate foundation on a tailored benchmarking project focused on the application review process, and for a large private foundation on a series of facilitated staff and board conversations about the potential challenges and paths forward to becoming a more strategic foundation – tapping into our research on the unique challenges of foundation strategy. We recently conducted a training for all new program staff of a large foundation based on the fundamentals of strong funder-grantee relationships laid out in our guide, Working Well with Grantees.
We are committed in these efforts and others we will take on to avoiding the traps that have befallen too many consultants in the corporate and philanthropic sectors. We will look for opportunities to address substantive programmatic and operational questions in which the kind of data and rigorous analysis that CEP is known for can lead to clear action. From our work, particularly with donor and grantee surveys, we understand the importance of context, and we’ll seek to avoid over generalizing from past advisory engagements. We firmly believe that there’s no one size fits all answer to most of the questions asked by funders. We’ll take on only those engagements where we think the needs of foundations are aligned with what we can offer. For example, while we know that we’d like to take on projects about how funders’ operationalize their goals and strategies, we don’t think we’re best positioned to be the consultants designing strategy. And while we believe that our experience seeking feedback from community and field stakeholders positions us well to do the type of environmental scans that many funders commission, we don’t plan on taking on pure evaluations. We will rigorously assess our own performance, and whether we are making the difference we seek.
This is just one of seven directions laid out in the Plan, and I’ll share information about the others in the weeks and months ahead. Once the site is live, I hope you’ll explore it and give us your feedback. We have sought to make our work as accessible and clear as possible. I hope you’ll download our research reports, learn about our assessment tools, watch videos of our past conferences, and explore our upcoming programming and events.
I want to thank my colleagues who have worked so hard on this effort: Sara Dubois, our senior graphic designer, who designed our logo and everything about our new site; Emily Giudice, our communications coordinator, who contributed to much of the writing and editing that went into this effort; and Grace Chiang Nicolette, manager on the assessment tools team and, since October, interim director of marketing and programming. As we just announced, Grace will assume the full time role of director of marketing and programming when she returns from maternity leave in June and I am thrilled to have her in that role. Great job – and thanks!
Phil Buchanan is President of CEP and a regular columnist for The Chronicle of Philanthropy. You can find him on Twitter @philCEP.