CEP Perspectives

From 2019

November 4, 2019

How Foundations are Looking to Increase Impact

Justin Miller with Phil Buchanan
Critical Value (Podcast)

Institutional philanthropy is in a remarkable era of expansion and experimentation. Foundations are looking to increase their impact in innovative ways and also contending with the implications of their increasing influence. Host Justin Milner speaks with Arnold Ventures President Kelli Rhee, Hudson Webber Foundation President Melanca Clark, Center for Effective Philanthropy President Phil Buchanan and Urban researcher Ben Soskis to survey the emerging landscape. >listen here


October 23, 2019

The joy & complexity of giving w/ Giving Done Right author Phil Buchanan

Grant Oliphant with Phil Buchanan
We Can Be (Podcast)

In 2018, Americans gave $427 billion to charities of their choice. Phil Buchanan, founding chief executive of The Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count,” is working to make certain people have the best possible information to ensure those hard-earned dollars do the most possible good.

Phil has his father to thank for his sense of empathy, and his urge to give where it can be most impactful. An ardent social justice and worker’s rights activist, Phil’s father “sought to build relationships with people whose lives and experiences were vastly different from his, all in effort to understand them and create genuine connections.”

Those lessons became a cornerstone of Phil’s being, driving him to found The Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2001 and continue to serve as its president ever since. The center does research for many of the most-recognized names in the giving community, including Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Packard, and The Heinz Endowments.  His on-the-ground experience culminated in his 2019 book “Giving Done Right.”

Host Grant Oliphant’s conversation with Phil covers the “heart-versus-head conundrum” about giving that both individuals and philanthropies must wrestle with, the dangers of taking tainted money from donors with dubious – or worse – reputations, and why America’s nonprofit leaders are “our country’s unsung heroes.” >listen here


September 17, 2019

The MIT-Epstein Story Spurs A Debate About Dirty Money In Philanthropy

Jim Braude with Tina Opie and Phil Buchanan
WGBH News: Greater Boston

A bombshell report from The New Yorker this month detailed how MIT’s Media Lab continued to accept donations from Jeffrey Epstein after his 2008 conviction for soliciting minors, going to considerable lengths to conceal his gifts to the school as anonymous. Now other large schools, including Harvard and Stanford, are now also facing questions about their ties to the now-deceased Epstein. The development has spurred larger debate about how charities, foundations, and other powerful institutions should handle donors. Whose money is too tainted to take?

Jim Braude was joined by Tina Opie, an associate professor at Babson College and currently a visiting associate professor at MIT, and Phil Buchanan, the president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.>watch here

September 9, 2019

Moral Crisis at MIT’s Media Lab

Tiziana Dearing, Max Larkin, and Zoë Mitchell with Phil Buchanan
WBUR: Radio Boston

MIT’s Media Lab appears to be in a moral crisis.

The President of MIT said the university will bring in an outside firm to investigate the connections between the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the Lab. This comes after Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigned after a New Yorker piece revealed how he had concealed his connection to the financier.

Where does MIT go from here?


August 28, 2019

Be Honest, Be Direct

Phil Buchanan and Tiffany Cooper Gueye with Sandy Cyr
The Nonprofit Experience (a podcast of Philanthropy Journal)

Nonprofits often feel pressure to put on a show of positivity, especially in front of funders. In this episode of The Nonprofit Experience, Phil Buchanan from the Center for Effective Philanthropy and Tiffany Gueye of Blue Meridian Partners talk about the importance of sometimes brutal honesty about nonprofits’ needs, inequities and barriers to equal treatment in the sector, and fighting for a work-life balance.>listen here

August 10, 2019

EP 90: Why People Don’t Donate (and What You Can Do About It) (with Phil Buchanan)

Phil Buchanan with Joan Garry
Nonprofits are Messy with Joan Garry (Podcast)

There are so many people out there who want to make a difference in the world. Your nonprofit is a vehicle for them to do just that. So why can it be so hard to get people (or foundations) to open their checkbooks?

One reason comes down to a simple word… trust. If they give you their hard earned money, how can they trust it will do the most good? How can you show potential donors why your organization is the perfect vehicle to satisfy their desire for impact?

Is it simply about providing more data? Showing a graph of donations spent on programs versus overhead? (Hint… it’s not).

Phil Buchanan, founding chief executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) tells us that defining high performance within nonprofits has a bit of a template. In this podcast hear more about strategic giving and why you don’t necessarily need to be business savvy. Learn how you can achieve long term flexible commitments in an organization and communicate effectively so donors are confident they will see their dollars go farther.

Whether it’s data systems to track outcomes or finding ways to be in close touch with your mission, the importance of benefiting from knowledge that is widely available and educating your donors will help you execute your organization’s philanthropic goals.>listen here

July 8, 2019

A Conversation with Phil Buchanan

Michael E. Hartmann
Philanthropy Daily

Michael E. Hartmann talks to the president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count.”…>read more

June 26, 2019

The Link Between Thoughtful Leadership and Effective Philanthropy with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan with David Nelson
The Discovery Pod (Podcast)

The less we understand what philanthropy is all about, the less our ability to have the impact that we want. Guest Phil Buchanan, the President of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, greatly advocates for the importance of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and helps foundations and individual donors to maximize their impact. On The Discovery Pod, Phil dives deep into the link between thoughtful leadership and effective philanthropy, giving advice to leaders who are being pulled into starting their own organization. He lays down the difference between social profit and philanthropy and shares his perspectives on the “right” indicators of performance, the importance of “getting proximate” to the people within and without the organization, and the challenge of creating an organizational culture and processes to identify and pursue the best ideas.>listen here

June 26, 2019

Making Fundraising Less Ackward

Phil Buchanan
Moolala: Money Made Simple with Bruce Sellery (Podcast)

Host Bruce Ellery talks to the president of the Center For Effective Philanthropy, Phil Buchanan as he takes listeners through some fundraising etiquette tips.>listen here

June 13, 2019

Do we know best what others need? Podcast with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan with Michael Alberg-Seberich
Wider Sense Podcast

In this issue, Phil Buchanan, Chief Executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), and Michael Alberg-Seberich discuss why business methods might not work best in the world of giving, why in philanthropy strategy has to be shared, how the most effective organizations in philanthropy work. And, of course, they talk about CEP’s work and Phil’s latest book “Giving Done Right – Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count”.>listen here


June 11, 2019

Giving Done Right

Phil Buchanan
KATU’s AM Northwest

Americans like to pitch in when they see a need. In fact, a majority of households give to charity in some form or another. But givers of all levels – from the middle-class family giving to their local community foundation to the heads of major foundations – often worry about how to truly make an impact. Phil Buchanan, author of the new book Giving Done Right, joined AM Northwest to discuss ways to make sure your money does the most good.>listen here


May 31, 2019

5 Mistakes Mackenzie Bezos and Other Mega-Donors Should Avoid

Phil Buchanan

Mackenzie Bezos’ recent announcement that she’d take the Giving Pledge and dedicate at least half of her $35 billion in net worth to philanthropy has sparked attention, partially because her ex-husband, Jeff Bezos, wouldn’t sign the pledge. Her commitment to the Giving Pledge, spearheaded by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010, should be lauded, especially in light of the current cynicism about the giving of mega philanthropists.

“My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful,” she wrote in her letter announcing the pledge. “It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait.”

I hope others—including Jeff Bezos as well as those who will earn fortunes from the recent initial public offerings of Lyft, Uber, and Pinterest and the potential IPOs of Slack and Airbnb—will follow MacKenzie Bezos’ lead. I hope they share her commitment to giving and her wisdom about the care such giving takes. Because it is anything but easy…>read more


May 28, 2019

Effective Giving & Being Positive About Philanthropy

Phil Buchanan
Giving Thought Podcast

In episode 50, we talk to Phil Buchanan- founding CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of a new book: Giving Done Right: Effective Giving and Making Every Dollar Count. We discuss current debates about philanthropy and what we need to do to ensure a positive narrative about the value of giving in our society as we head into the future.>listen here


May 20, 2019

Critiques of Philanthropy Are Important, but Some Have Entered the Realm of the Absurd

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Critiques of philanthropy and the nonprofits it supports have jumped the shark. It’s true that philanthropy, given its significant role in American society, deserves scrutiny and that there has often been too little of it in recent decades. But there has lately been a turn from helpful and thoughtful criticism to off-based generalizations and statements that veer into the absurd.

Even a stirring announcement Sunday at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony by Robert Smith – the billionaire investor who founded Visa Equity Partners – that he would pay off the debt of the graduating class was met with reflexive skepticism in some quarters. Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World was quoted in a New York Times article about the gift worrying that it “can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems.”

Perhaps no philanthropy critic is more ubiquitous today than Giridharadas, whose book rightly skewers those who believe (or maybe just pretend to believe, to serve their narrow purposes?) that business and market-oriented solutions will fix all of our most pressing problems. It also questions those who seem to have confused taking a job at McKinsey with signing up for the Peace Corps…>read more


May 7, 2019

Make Your Donation Dollars Go Farther

Phil Buchanan
The Motley Fool Podcasts: Motley Fool Answers

Phil Buchanan, author of the book Giving Done Right, joins The Motley Fool Podcast to talk about philanthropy and charitable giving.> listen here

May 6, 2019

Getting Real About Nonprofit Performance Assessment

Phil Buchanan
Philanthropy Journal News

When it comes to assessing nonprofit performance, stereotypes and caricatures often get in the way of good practice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it said that nonprofits aren’t that interested in assessing their performance. This was definitely the prevailing view when I was a student at Harvard Business School two decades ago, and it remains so today – including, unfortunately, among some major donors and foundation staff. I hear donors talk about how nonprofit leaders don’t care about performance assessment – and need to be held to account by donors.

But this is wrong. Several years ago, my Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) colleagues and I surveyed foundation-supported nonprofits about their practices, and this is what we found:

  • Almost all nonprofits we surveyed report collecting information to assess their performance; still, many nonprofit leaders want to collect additional—or better—data.
  • The nonprofits surveyed are mainly using their performance information to improve their programs and services, inform their strategic direction, and communicate about their progress; to a lesser extent, they are using it to share what they’re learning with other organizations or to manage staff.
  • A minority of nonprofits report receiving support from foundations for their performance assessment efforts…> read more

April 30, 2019

Tuesday on Lake Effect: Giving Done Right, Ag And Climate Change, Police Craft

Phil Buchanan
Lake Effect on WUWM 89.7 with Mitch Teich and Joy Powers 

In this episode, Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of the new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count explains how you can ensure the money you give to charitable causes really makes the difference you hope.> listen here

April 29, 2019

Phil Buchanan
Mountain Money KPCW with Doug Wells and Roger Goldman

In the second half of the program, Doug and Roger visit with Phil Buchanan. Phil is the  author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. In the book, Phil explores what it takes to make an impact on issues you care about – whether you have a little or a lot to give.>listen here.

April 29, 2019

Phil Buchanan
Wesleyan University Magazine

Philip Buchanan ’92, the president the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), has some tips on what to look for in an organization before you open your purse.

Charitable giving in the U.S. topped $400 billion in 2017. And more than half of American households give annually—more than vote in presidential elections. That giving supports a vast and diverse nonprofit sector that has been a defining strength of this country. Philanthropy has fueled progress—from reductions in teen smoking, to greater civil rights, to strong arts and culture organizations in communities both rural and urban. But givers often struggle to know how to give effectively, or whether their contributions are making a difference.

Too often, an understandable desire to quantify leads to a focus on dumbed-down measures that tell you little or mislead. Especially in the past two decades, we’ve seen a “biznification” of philanthropy that has pushed for universal measures—equivalents to metrics like return on investment or profit that allow those in the corporate world to compare by the same metrics companies in completely different industries. Philanthropy gets analogized to investing, nonprofits rebranded as “social enterprises,” and, along the way, crucial distinctions are lost…>read more.

April 25, 2019

Effective Philanthropy with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan
Successful Generations with Ellie Frey Zagel

In this episode, Ellie interviews Phil Buchanan, President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of the new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. Phil describes four dimensions of effective philanthropy and much more. > listen here

April 24, 2019

Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy Takes on the Naysayers

Phil Buchanan
Let’s Hear It Podcast with Eric Brown and Kirk Brown

Phil Buchanan, the President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, has been helping foundations do their work better for almost two decades. But given that philanthropy is one step removed from the action, does that mean that Phil is helping people to help people who help people? What role do foundations and the organizations that support them play in improving people’s lives? And maybe most important, how can donors of all kinds figure out how to make sure their funding is as effective as possible?

In this episode of Let’s Hear It, Phil talks with Eric about how philanthropy can make a difference, and they discuss Phil’s new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. Eric notes that Phil, a former door-to-door fundraiser, has gone from playing the kazoo in the subway to conducting at Carnegie Hall. > listen here

April 18, 2019

Phil Buchanan discusses his new book with Carol Massar and Jason Kelly on Bloomberg Businessweek Radio

Phil Buchanan
Bloomberg Businessweek Radio (Podcast)

Phil Buchanan joined Bloomberg Businessweek to discuss some of the main ideas in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count with hosts Carol Massar and Jason Kelly. The segment featuring Buchanan begins around the 7:30 mark.> listen here

April 16, 2019

Phil Buchanan talks about his new book Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count on Moolala

Phil Buchanan
Moolala: Money Made Simple with Bruce Sellery (Podcast)

Phil Buchanan joined Bruce Sellery on Moolala to discuss some of the main ideas in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. The segment featuring Buchanan begins around the 20:50 mark.> listen here

April 15, 2019

Philanthropy’s blighted reputation threatens global giving

Phil Buchanan
Financial Times

Charitable giving worldwide supports a diverse and vital group of non-government organisations working on issues from disaster relief and global poverty to educational opportunities for girls. But today, at least in the US, it faces what experts warn may be the beginnings of a decline due to a recent trend of lower giving among small-gift givers. Initial projections show giving in 2018 in the US may have increased at a slower rate than inflation — Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact pegs the increase at just 1.5 per cent, down from a more than 5 per cent increase the previous year.

Decreases among everyday donors would be cause enough for concern on its own. But there is another looming, less discussed, threat: giving among the biggest donors worldwide may also fall as their charitable efforts are increasingly caricatured as self-protective ruses. In the case of the Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma — who appear to have used their philanthropy to burnish their reputations with one hand while fanning the flames of the opioid epidemic with the other — the shoe fits. The Sacklers have suspended their giving to UK museums, amid increasing wariness about being associated with the family name.

It’s tempting to portray the Sacklers as the norm, and many can’t resist. The very rich, once criticised for not giving enough of their fortunes away, are now being chastised for being too philanthropic. Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman made a viral splash at Davos when he took the World Economic Forum’s attendees to task, suggesting they should stop talking “about all these stupid philanthropy schemes” and “start talking about taxes”… >read more.

April 15, 2019

How Christians Can Better Support Nonprofits

Phil Buchanan and Grace Chiang Nicolette

In seeking to better steward their resources, Christians may sometimes wonder how their giving to the poor and marginalized might better reflect God’s ultimate gift and sacrifice. The truth is that giving well and wisely isn’t easy – as givers from Andrew Carnegie to Warren Buffett have observed – and it requires wisdom and its own set of skills.

Maybe you’re faithfully tithing to your church and also supporting other important ministries or nonprofits. Or maybe you’ve struggled to identify the right organizations beyond your church to which to give. Or maybe you’re just getting started with giving, period.

Regardless, the questions are the same: Now what do I do? Which organizations do I support?

April 14, 2019

Phil Buchanan discusses his new book with Denver Frederick on radio show The Business of Giving 

Phil Buchanan
The Business of Giving

Phil Buchanan, president of CEP, was recently interviewed by Denver Frederick, host of the radio show The Business of Giving.The program is the only show of its kind that focuses on solutions to today’s complex social problems. Each week, listeners hear from philanthropists, corporate  CEOs, nonprofit luminaries, celebrity ambassadors, government officials, and social entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of the transformative changes that are occurring around the world.> listen here

April 11, 2019

Keeping the Faith and Closing the Distance

Phil Buchanan
Giving Compass

Jason Hackmann comes from the small, rural town of Winfield, Missouri. He describes his childhood as ordinary, growing up in a lower-middle-class family. He graduated from his small high school—his graduating class had just sixty-eight students—in the spring of 1995.

That’s also when his brother was killed by a drunk driver. The crushing loss of his brother fueled Hackmann’s ambition to be successful and to break free of the small-town life he’d grown up living. He built a successful career, eventually founding a life insurance agency in St. Louis that caters to wealthy clients. After his first child was born, in 2004, Hackmann began thinking about what really mattered to him. “It was at that time that I began my journey back to Christ,” he told me. His past giving, he confessed, had been made with “ulterior motives” related to his business interests.

It was on a vacation in Turks and Caicos in 2008 that his perspective changed. One day on the beach, Hackmann said to his wife, Jennifer, that he felt uninspired by the books he had brought on the trip. Jennifer pulled out a just-released book and suggested Hackmann read that. The book was called Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace, by Pam Cope. It chronicles the author’s story and the link between her loss of her 15-year-old son to an undiagnosed heart ailment and her desire to help others, particularly to do something about child slavery in Ghana.

Hackmann connected with her story, reading the book in a day, and decided he, too, wanted to do something about the issue… >read more.

April 2, 2019

What Grant Makers Can Do to Help Small, Local Nonprofits Thrive

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Julie Phelps grew up “really poor,” as she calls it, in rural Minnesota. In high school, she worked at the local Burger King, the best-paying job she could find. She was so organized, and such a natural leader, that she was promoted to night manager while still a teenager.

Phelps had always loved theater and the arts, particularly dance, even though her family could not afford formal lessons. But when she went to Macalester College in St. Paul, with the support of significant financial aid and scholarships, she majored in psychology. “I didn’t really know — and no one told me — that you could actually study the arts in college, that it could be a viable option,” she says.

But Phelps’s passion for the arts never left her. When she moved to San Francisco after graduating from Macalester, she worked in cafes and got involved in dance performances at local nonprofits. Today, at age 34, Phelps runs one of those organizations, CounterPulse, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. CounterPulse provides “space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture.” Its $1.2 million budget includes about $230,000 in ticket sales and other earned revenue, with the rest coming in contributions, primarily foundation grants.
Getting to CounterPulse’s door often involves navigating huddles of homeless, mentally ill, and drug-afflicted people — those desperately in need of services and help in the shadows of the gleaming towers of San Francisco’s financial district. CounterPulse stands as a pillar community arts organization in a neighborhood that desperately needs pillars.

As its leader, Phelps is among a legion of unsung American heroes: nonprofit executives running small, community-based organizations. While doing research for my forthcoming book Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, I interviewed some of these executive directors: of the health organization in Texas serving the desperately poor, of the youth organization in Massachusetts seeking to lure the most violent gang members out of gang life, of the legal-services organization in New York providing pro bono representation for undocumented minors…. >read more.

March 31, 2019

Disaster relief done right: 4 mistakes people make when trying to help after a disaster

Phil Buchanan

The cyclone that hit Southeastern Africa in mid-March and devastated regions of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe has taken at least 700 lives, left hundreds of thousands in need, and has escalated into an even bigger humanitarian crisis due to waterborne and infectious diseases. It’s been described by the UN as possibly the worst ever disaster to strike the southern hemisphere.

Yet Cyclone Idai and the havoc and suffering it has created has received less attention in the media than other terrible, but less catastrophic, natural disasters. This almost certainly means less giving will go to help those affected than would have been the case if this crisis received the attention that, in my view, it deserves. Indeed, one nonprofit leader I know involved in disaster relief globally told me matter-of-factly that there is “not much donor interest” in this event. I can’t imagine that would have been the case if a major natural disaster of this order had occurred in, say, Europe or Canada.

But, sadly, such is the nature of disaster-related philanthropy, which is largely driven by media attention, which of course is affected by whatever biases – implicit or otherwise – the media may hold…. >read more.




CEP In the News

From 2019


September 9, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein’s philanthropy unleashes soul-searching over ‘third rail’ donors

Leslie Albrecht

Philanthropy was already in the grip of some serious soul searching, but the revelations about Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to the MIT Media Lab are forcing nonprofits to take an even harder look at the ethics of how they raise money.

“My sense is that every nonprofit leader and board is saying, ‘What are our third rails, what are the gifts that we won’t accept?’ It’s a really difficult conversation,” said Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right.”

The #MeToo movement, today’s charged political climate, and the growing public scrutiny of America’s very wealthy means institutions must vet their donors more carefully than ever. “It’s not just how much money you get, but who you get it from and the values that expresses,” said Michael Nilsen, vice president of marketing, communications and public policy at the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

“Every gift is a value extension of the donor and by extension, if the organization receives money from that person, that organization expresses those values,” he added. “You’re under a microscope more than ever before.”

The MIT Media Lab’s director resigned last week after reports that lab officials tried to conceal Epstein’s role in $7.5 million in donations, sometimes by listing them as “anonymous” or by keeping Epstein’s name out of correspondence about the gifts. (Some of the money was donated directly by Epstein; some of it was solicited by him, The New Yorker reported.)…>read more

August 6, 2019

Looking forward to upcoming Reich-Buchanan debate about whether giving by wealthy is a good thing or not

Michael E. Hartmann
Philanthropy Daily

Rob Reich and Phil Buchanan have agreed to a debate about whether giving by the wealthy is a good thing or not, and this is a good thing. Given the participants and the degrees to which they’ve thought and written about the subject, it certainly promises to be informative and enlightening interchange. It is not a conventional left-right argument, moreover, which sure might make it refreshing.

A Stanford political-science professor and author of the self-explanatorily subtitled Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, Reich is part of a group of progressives who have been harshly critiquing the very formation, structure, and practice of American establishment philanthropy overall, but most of this establishment is liberal. As president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, Buchanan—author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count—has essentially become part of the country’s liberal philanthropic establishment.

To a conservative, quoting J. Wellington Wimpy (about Bluto versus Popeye), there’s a little bit of “let’s you and him fight” about all this.

Reich and Buchanan are to be complimented for engaging with each other’s positions in this way, of course, as are those sponsoring and presenting the event—Philanthropy New York (PNY), SeaChange Capital Partners, and Baruch College’s Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management. It will be held on September 19 at PNY, after its 40thannual meeting and as part of its “PNY at 40: Reframing Philanthropy Series….>read more

July 16, 2019

What We’re Reading: Giving Done Right by Phil Buchanan

Carol Hoffman
The Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation Blog

In Giving Done Right:  Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, Phil Buchanan educates his audience by offering practical advice for all levels of giving.

As President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy for nearly 20 years, Buchanan deeply understands the charitable giving sector and what issues confront donors when they are making contributions, large or small.  He also believes that a push for “business thinking” has taken over the discussion of effective philanthropy in recent years, and that it’s time for “thoughtful givers and nonprofit leaders… to stand up and make clear that their work is uniquely challenging – and uniquely valuable – and as such requires its own approach and discipline.”

“Giving done right” according to Buchanan requires understanding the organizations you want to fund, and the people and communities you seek to affect.  It also requires humility and patience.

In his book, Buchanan writes about many different aspects of the nonprofit world and charitable giving.  For this blog post, I am focusing on his examination of personal giving and some of the things you need to know when deciding to make a donation.

Buchanan says every giver needs to answer the same question, “How do I channel my giving effectively to make the greatest difference?”  He points out that the majority of households give to many local charities – such as schools, religious organizations, community foundations, food banks, or homeless shelters.  When considering giving, he recommends carving out a significant portion for where you feel it will do the most good…>read more

June 26, 2019

It Is All About Collaboration, Not Competition – Review of Phil Buchanan’s Giving Done Right

Dr. des. Hanna Stähle
Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE)

“‘I just want to know we made a difference’, one multibillionaire philanthropist, in her sixties, told me”, writes Phil Buchanan in the introduction to his recently released book “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count”. How to make a difference, how to be most effective and achieve the greatest impact is at the core of the book. Buchanan, founding executive director of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, takes us to the inner circles of nonprofit and philanthropy leaders, their successes and failures, their ambitions and unfulfilled aspirations. An essential read for donors and foundations who seek to improve their giving strategies and learn from other’s experiences…>read more


June 25, 2019

Realism vs. radicalism: the practice and promise of philanthropy

Michael E. Hartmann
Philanthropy Daily

Phil Buchanan’s new book Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count capitalizes on his almost two decades of experience as a consultant to many of the largest grantmaking organizations in the American philanthropic establishment through his leadership of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The book’s introduction was written by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, which has relied on the Center’s work and would have to be considered at the top of that establishment.

Giving Done Right shares much common-sensical wisdom that would benefit givers who are or might someday be part of that establishment. It’s also valuable for those with less money to give away or institutional heft to sway. Overall, for any type of giver—of any size, or ideology—Buchanan’s advice is refreshingly measured. With notable discipline, it is almost always properly qualified with realistic, everyday practicalities.

Buchanan’s most-pointed criticism is of a giving mindset that is too business-oriented. Too much of philanthropy, in his opinion, thinks and talks about grants as “investments” and doesn’t take into account the differing natures of business and philanthropy. This occurs among both liberal and conservative givers. He recommends recognizing the difference, and making grants in accordance with that recognition.

Buchanan’s other good guidance in Giving Done Right includes, among other things, to:

  • seek reasonable performance metrics, realizing the difficulty and cost of generating the necessary data;…>read more

June 20, 2019

Book Review: Giving Done Right

Hilary Pearson
The Philanthropist


The act of giving is defined in deceptively simple terms by any dictionary: “to grant or bestow by formal action; to accord or yield to another; to put into the possession of another for his or her use.”[1]  I think it is fair to say that most of us do not think deeply about the meaning of the act of giving. It is a familiar action that happens every day in multiple ways and among multiple entities.  One of the merits of this excellent new book about giving, by Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) President Phil Buchanan, is that it engages the reader in a deeper reflection on what may seem on the surface a simple act. Giving isn’t simple. Indeed, reflection demonstrates how much there is under the surface. Giving involves both heart and mind. It can be spontaneous and generous. But it can also be calculated or deceitful. It can be altruistic or selfish. It can create trust or establish dominance.  It can be about equality. Or it can be about power.

Buchanan has been working with givers for close to 20 years. His platform has been the CEP, a research and consulting non-profit organization of which he is the founding president. CEP provides data and insights to what it calls “philanthropic funders” with the goal of increasing their effectiveness and impact. In practice, this means that CEP works most closely with institutional givers, or grantmaking foundations. Over the years, Buchanan has interacted with hundreds of these givers, which allows him a unique perspective on the work of giving. Indeed, there are relatively few vantage points such as the CEP in the United States and even fewer in Canada outside of the intermediary organizations such as Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), which support the field of organized philanthropy and foundations…>read more


June 2019

Book Review: Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count

Paul G. Putnam, Ph.D.
The Foundation Review

Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count (2019) is grounded in the perspectives of author Phil Buchanan and his talented team at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, led by Buchanan since its founding in 2001. “This book,” he writes in the introduction, “is for givers at all levels who struggle with how to make the most difference.” While readers with a baseline of knowledge in the field may find the going a bit slow at the outset, they should persist. Think of the first few chapters as appetizers, providing a shared understanding of the table upon which organized philanthropy in the United States has been set and currently operates. The main course is an exploration of the art of giving…>read more


May 27, 2019

Philanthropy is undergoing a massive backlash. A new book argues it’s gone too far.

Dylan Matthews

American philanthropy has faced criticism basically since its inception.

The founding of the Rockefeller Foundation, the first institution of its kind in the US (and the benefactor of this section of Vox), was met with controversy and calls for Congress to disallow the group’s creation.

But the past couple years have featured the biggest backlash against elite philanthropy in decades. Three books — Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take AllRob Reich’s Just Giving, and Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Philanthropy — made the case that giving by wealthy elites can be undemocratic, a distraction from the unjust ways that wealth is created, and do more good for the givers than the receivers.

Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy professionally advises large foundations and other philanthropic institutions, and he thinks this backlash has gone too far. In his new book Giving Done Right and in several accompanying op-eds, he’s argued that the critiques, particularly that of Giridharadas, paint with too broad a brush and risk discouraging valuable donations….>read more

May 23, 2019

Bearing Witness

Fred Smith
The Gathering

The first time I read the phrase “bearing witness” was in Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” recounting the horrors of the Holocaust and the responsibility he felt never to forget or allow others to dismiss what happened there. Over the years, the phrase has come to mean more. We bear witness by standing up for something in danger of being overlooked or discounted. We use it to defend unpopular causes and ideas. I would describe Phil Buchanan’s new book, “Giving Done Right” as bearing witness to the too often dismissed best intentions of both non-profits and philanthropy in a time when both are suspect……>read more

May 23, 2019

Philanthropy in the Spotlight

Shelagh Gastrow
Business Maverick

Civil society in South Africa has, in the past, been criticised by the government in particular as being ‘foreign agents’ and other nasty epithets. However, its role has been recognised within the country as critical to a thriving democracy, rather than a hindrance to change.

Having just gone through an election where the focus has been on political parties and power, with a significant focus on who funds political parties and demands for greater transparency, it could therefore be opportune to explore other points of power in our society such as civil society organisations, with their relationship to philanthropic funding that has provided support, particularly since the formation of our democracy…>read more


May 16, 2019

Walking a Mile in Our Grantees’ Shoes

Kerri Hurley
Barr Foundation

Barr’s director of grants management shares what we learned and some of the changes we’ve made after staff went through our own grant application process.

In their post last June (“Typical Isn’t Good Enough”), Barr’s President and Vice President shared what we learned from, and how we intended to respond to our 2017 Grantee Perception Report (GPR). The GPR is a confidential survey that invites nonprofits for feedback on what it’s like to work with their funders.

With Yvonne Belanger, Barr’s Director of Learning & Evaluation, I co-chaired a working group tasked with taking a fresh look at Barr’s grantmaking process. One of the first steps we took was to have all of our staff go through the process themselves. Walking a mile in our grantees’ shoes was an eye-opening experience…>read more


May 9, 2019

Michelle Celarier

Phil Buchanan grew up in Portland, Ore., attending anti-nuclear demonstrations with his father, a professor of philosophy at Portland State University who, as the son puts it, was “a pretty hard-core left-wing activist.”

As a child during the 1970s, the younger Buchanan recalls wearing a poster board protesting the B-1 bomber and hearing stories about his dad getting arrested while laying on the train tracks to protest the nuclear warheads on their way to Washington state.

“My dad drove around in a 1964 Plymouth Valiant with two bumper stickers on it. One said Nuclear Freeze Now and the other said U.S. Out of El Salvador and Nicaragua,” he remembers.

The elder Buchanan didn’t live to see his son study government at Wesleyan University and get an MBA at Harvard. Phil Buchanan went on to join Parthenon Group, a management consulting firm.

When in college, Buchanan often thought his dad would have difficulty with his studies if he were alive. “And then I went off to be a strategy consultant in the corporate world and I thought, Oh boy, now he’d really be cringing,” Buchanan says, only half kidding.

Eventually his skills took Buchanan back to something more in line with his untraditional upbringing’s focus on making the world a better place. In 2001, he became the first chief executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, where he remains today. Buchanan is the author of the newly released Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, which details the lessons he’s learned in his more than a decade of philanthropic work…>read more

May 8, 2019

Leslie Lenkowsky
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

In 1990, Peter Drucker’s Managing the Nonprofit Organization acknowledged the differences between what he called “the social sector” and business, arguing that nonprofits actually had much to teach business, such as the importance of paying attention to “customers.” But Drucker, an enormously influential business-management expert, also contended that for too long management had been “a very bad word in nonprofit organizations” because of its association with business. Most nonprofits, he wrote, “believed that they did not need anything that might be called ‘management.’ After all, they did not have a bottom line.”

In his book, Drucker tried to show how appropriate management “principles and practices” could make nonprofits more effective.

If nonprofits largely shunned “management” back then, it has now become all the rage in the nonprofit world.  Countless books and articles have appeared on every conceivable aspect of it.  Professional and academic programs, as well as consulting firms such as Bridgespan, have proliferated, often led by people with training in business or economics. New philanthropies, endowed by high-tech entrepreneurs, have sought to apply business practices to their giving, as have some venerable grant makers; in some cases, rather than establish foundations, donors have set up corporations to pursue their social concerns. Terms rarely used in connection with nonprofits in the past, such as “evidence-based programs” and “impact investing,” have become increasingly commonplace.

On the surface, Phil Buchanan looks like someone who would champion greater managerialism in philanthropy, and, in fact, he has.  He holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Business School, one of the most fertile sources of management advice for nonprofit groups. He founded and has spent his career running the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a research and consulting organization that advises foundations on their grant making. He writes a column for professionals in the Chronicle of Philanthropy and speaks frequently at conferences of nonprofit leaders.

But his new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count,reveals he has more than a few reservations about businesslike thinking in philanthropy. Taking issue with ideas developed by some of his own teachers and others, Buchanan argues, as Drucker did, that improving management must start with understanding how the nonprofit world differs from the corporate one…>read more

April 26, 2019

Greg Smith
So What Faith

The 10 best books published in 2019 that I read during the month of April are

  • (5.0) Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count by Phil Buchanan (Public Affairs, 2019)
  • (5.0) Piloting Church: Helping Your Congregation Take Flight by Cameron Trimble (Chalice Press, 2019)
  • (4.5) One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins by Emmy Kegler (Fortress Press, 2019)
  • (4.5) Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019)
  • (4.0) The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God by Christine Aroney-Sine (IVP Books, 2019)
  •  (4.0) Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business by Kevin Kruse (Rodale Books, 2019)
  • (4.0) Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians by Amber Cantorna (Westminster John Knox Press, 2019)
  • (4.0) Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s challenge and a Model for America’s Futureby Pete Buttigieg (Liveright, 2019)
  • (4.0) Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission by Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller (Westminster John Knox Press, 2019)
  • (3.5) Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream by Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic (Moody, 2019)

So What?

This month’s top two authors are chief executives of organizations that contribute to the advancement of their respective fields. Mr. Phil Buchanan is the founding chief executive of the Center of Effective Philanthropy – a nonprofit that conducts research and advises many of the largest foundations in the United States. Rev. Cameron Trimble is a United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the chief executive of the Center for Progressive Renewal – a nonprofit that seeks to renew Christianity by providing resources to enable renewal in existing progressive churches and the birthing of new progressive ministries…>read more

April 26, 2019

Paul Sullivan
The New York Times

As flames engulfed Notre-Dame, people from around the world opened their wallets and began making donations. Within two days, nearly $1 billion was raised to help pay for the restoration of the 856-year-old cathedral in Paris.

The charitable response was a reflection of Notre-Dame’s stature as a cherished monument of French cultural heritage. Some benefactors pledged more than $100 million each, including François-Henri Pinault, whose wealth comes from luxury brands like Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and Bernard Arnault, the richest person in Europe and chief executive of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.

But the outpouring met with resistance as critics wondered why tragedies like the incineration of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in September did not receive the same degree of support. And it rekindled class resentment in a city already racked by the so-called Yellow Vest movement, a populist response to economic inequality in France that tapped into a rising global movement against the concentration of wealth…>read more

April 24, 2019

Tech titans donate $50M+ in stock to one nonprofit. Here’s what I think it means for the rest of us.

Tammy Tibbetts

A recent headline in the New York Times asks a provocative question: “A Charity Accepts Uber Stock as Donations. Then Uses it to Pay Staff Bonuses. Is that O.K.?”

Elite entrepreneurs — largely from the “unicorn” companies valued at $1B or more — have pledged at least 1% of their equity to charity: water, a nonprofit bringing clean and safe drinking water people in low-income countries. These donated shares have an unusual restriction: When these companies are sold or go public with an IPO, the entrepreneurs will pay out a portion of their stock to charity: water, 80% of which will fund salaries and office rent, and 20% will pay bonuses to charity: water staff.

One of the founding members called it “an exploration into the future of philanthropy.” Others see it as a controversy over whether the employees of a nonprofit should benefit. Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, says“It’s very strategic to structure gifts this way, but the issue of enriching employees of the charity is potentially problematic.” He would be familiar with the critics, as a foundation leader who earns more than a million dollars annually.

I agree with Mr. Walker: There are a few good reasons why this giving plan is strategic. And before I dive into where I see the problematic issues, I want to clarify that enriching employees, based on their performance results, is not one of them.

The strategy is smart because nonprofit employees deserve to be paid well. Our society is uncomfortable paying nonprofit staff, but we don’t blink an eye when professionals in the for-profit sector take home a pretty good paycheck. Brigette Bugay nailed this point in her Medium response to the Times article. Why shouldn’t high-performing nonprofit employees have good salaries, quality health insurance, paid parental leave, short and long-term disability coverage, a 401k match, and access to professional development? Everyone should — including those who work for a better world. And yet, so often funders say, “We don’t fund overhead.”

So there are three areas I’d like to see discussed further, by not only the nonprofit and funders piloting this model, but by all of us who want to be effective philanthropists, at any level.

First, I question the recruitment message behind this strategy. In the Times article, charity: water’s CEO talks about his effort to recruit people who would otherwise take jobs at Facebook, Google, and Amazon. “How do we compete with massages and Michelin stars,” he asks, alluding to the insane perks that these companies offer, including free food every day. These perks are enviable on a surface level, but my answer is: nonprofits compete by having a strong mission, flexible work culture, and fair compensation.

It’s time we stop seeing for-profit talent as the ultimate coup. There is brilliant and underestimated talent in the nonprofit industry, where we have learned how to turn measly resources into formidable change. In the new book Giving Done Right, Phil Buchanan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, argues that nonprofit leaders are often unsung heroes, “balancing a range of responsibilities that can make a corporate CEO’s job feel like a walk in the park.” We need to focus on cultivating and retaining this type of talent, not attracting tech employees…>read more

April 23, 2019

When it’s OK to say ‘no’ to charities

Leslie Albrecht
Market Watch

It was once safe to assume that giving money to charity was perceived as a worthy act, but in recent years a growing debate has gnawed away at that idea.

Even though Americans are giving more money than ever to nonprofits, like many aspects of American life, there’s a divide in philanthropy. Fewer middle-income and lower-income households are giving money to charity, while richer donors proliferate, making bigger and bigger donations.

Some critics mega-donations from people like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg as a troubling symptom of income inequality. Outsized philanthropic gifts let the wealthy advance their own self-serving agenda, they argue, while getting good press — and a tax deduction to boot. Meanwhile some of these philanthropists continue to contribute to the very social problems they claim to be solving, by say, heading companies that don’t pay their workers a liveable wage, critics say.

Phil Buchanan, the director of the nonprofit Center for Effective Philanthropy, addresses some of these critiques in his new book, “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count.”...>read more

April 22, 2019

Stop trying to treat nonprofits “like a business”

Ben Paynter
Fast Company

In the United States, 1 in 3 people don’t trust nonprofits to spend their donations wisely. At the same time, both individuals and institutions are reluctant to contribute to basic costs like overhead, which limits groups’ ability to grow more sustainable and impactful. Both issues stem from the same major misperception. “Saying that nonprofits should operate ‘like a business’ is a meaningless phrase, but it’s one people use all the time,” says Phil Buchanan, the founder and president of the nonprofit Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). “They’re thinking of giving as analogous to investing when it isn’t, which leads to related mistakes like utilizing the wrong metrics [to grade success].”

At CEP, Buchanan’s team researches the performance of major funders, and advises some of the country’s top foundations how to make impactful change. But he believes many of the lessons they’ve learned are applicable to everyone–including the fact that nonprofits deserve to be treated differently than corporations. That’s something Buchanan expands on in his new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. “Measurement is really important, but it’s got to be tailored to the particular strategy of the nonprofit,” he says. “In all kinds of different companies in different industries, we can ultimately judge them . . . by profits. Obviously there is no universal metric to compare the results of the nonprofit working on climate change to the nonprofit working on increasing graduation rates through mentoring at-risk kids.”…>read more

April 11, 2019

Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count

Philanthropy News Digest by Candid

Back in 2016, Bill Gates, in the context of his partnership with the Heifer Foundation to donate 100,000 chickens to people around the world living on $2 a day, blogged about how raising egg-laying fowl can be a smart, cost-effective antidote to extreme poverty. As Phil Buchanan tells it in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, the idea, however well-intentioned, attracted scorn from some quarters, including Bolivia, where the offer was declined — after it was pointed out that the country already produces some 197 million chickens a year. The episode is a pointed reminder that being an effective philanthropist isn’t as easy as it might seem.

And Buchanan ought to know; as the founding CEO of the Cambridge-based Center for Effective Philanthropy for the past seventeen years, he has worked closely with more than three hundred foundations and scores of individual givers, exploring the landscape of American giving, distilling lessons learned (both successes and failures), and highlighting what works and what doesn’t…> read more

April 10, 2019

Foundations Say Communication Teams and Consultants Are Keys to Grant-Making Success

Julian Wyllie
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Kenneth Rainin, a businessman who died in 2007, gave a short list of directions for his daughter when he asked her to lead his namesake foundation. He wanted the grant maker to focus on the arts, education, and medical research, “but within those areas it would really be up to me to decide how we focus,” said Jennifer Rainin, now the CEO.

With latitude to shape the grant maker, Rainin decided to focus on inflammatory bowel disease, “which was a no-brainer” because various members of her family, including herself, have it. She also wanted the foundation to have a local impact, so it invests in children’s literacy programs in Oakland. As for the arts, the grant maker has supported independent filmmakers, dance programs, and theater. Its track record for movies includes award-winners like “Sorry to Bother You,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and “Fruitvale Station.”

The foundation’s long list of grant making has led Rainin to think more about the foundation’s work as it approaches its 10th anniversary. What has she learned along the way that would help other grant makers? What does she wish she had known back then?

Rainin and other leaders from 14 foundations with at least $350 million in assets reflected on the earliest stages of their work in a new Center for Effective Philanthropy study intended to help leaders who are new to the world of big-time grant making. The study was qualitative so it gives answers to broad, open-ended questions…>read more

April 8, 2019

3 ways to prepare for the ‘new wave of innovation in philanthropy’

Catherine Cheney

All too often, learnings at foundations end up in file cabinets, guiding the grant-making of these institutions, but not informing others beyond that. For the past 18 years, the Global Philanthropy Forum has worked to change that dynamic by providing opportunities for peer learning between philanthropists. “Everyone in this room and on this stage is part of a knowledge marketplace when it comes to the practice of philanthropy,” Jane Wales, founding president of the organization, said at the annual conference last week.

With a growing number of individual philanthropists in search of impact, including the rise of high net worth individuals in Silicon Valley and beyond, the Global Philanthropy Forum sees an urgent need to connect the supply of knowledge within foundations with the demand of individuals who want to learn while giving.

Devex collected insights from Wales and other experts at the Global Philanthropy Forum on how donors can work together to make their philanthropy more effective…>read more

From 2018

December 21, 2018

Malcolm Macleod
Johnson Scholarship Foundation

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 emphatically 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> read more

November 18, 2018

Mark Athitakis
Associations Now

When I interview an association about a new program it’s launching, I usually ask the same question: What does success look like? The question serves two purposes. Overtly, I’m interested in what KPIs/metrics/what-have-you the association is concerned with as it gets its new idea off the ground. And on another level, I’m trying to learn something about the association’s general strategic approach to projects—often, I’ll hear about the process behind defining “success,” what stakeholders were involved in that, and how it divvies up ownership of a project.

Luckily, most associations have good answers when I ask. So, it’s a useful question—clever me, I’ve thought. But it may be that I’ve missed something important here, because there’s another question that’s just as valuable that fewer associations ask: What does failure look like?

I come to this after reading a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “Understanding and Sharing What Works,” [PDF] which suggests that nonprofits have a habit of retreating into silence and deflection when it comes to the programs that don’t work out. A plurality of foundations surveyed (42 percent) say they share none or “very little” information publicly about what isn’t working in their programming. A third of CEOs surveyed say their organization “faces pressure from its board of directors to withhold information about failures,” and 40 percent of leaders say they have little or no knowledge about the failures of other organizations’ efforts> read more

November 13, 2018

Longview News Journal

STANFORD, Calif., Nov. 13, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — A new survey from Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) of 1,986 nonprofit, foundation and other charitable sector leaders found 88% currently prioritize gathering client feedback, with half of those (44%) calling it a high priority or top source of insight for continuous improvement. Only 12% reported feedback was not a stated priority.

However, two-thirds of respondents stated the greatest barrier to implementing feedback systems was limited staff time and/or resources. Only 10% said it was too complicated; and an additional 10%, too costly. “We were surprised to find that the vast majority of nonprofits surveyed already believed in the importance of getting feedback from their clients, but most felt seriously constrained in their ability to do so due to issues of capacity,” said Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of SSIR, which is running a multimedia series on the Power of Feedback.

These findings come as a movement of nearly 100 funders is developing new tools to make systematically gathering feedback a feasible and essential complement to traditional nonprofit program measurement methods of third-party evaluation and self-monitoring> read more

November 9, 2018

Philanthropy News Digest

While 65 percent of foundation CEOs say they understand what is working well in their programmatic efforts, 42 percent say their foundation is not investing enough time and money in further developing that understanding, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.

Based on survey responses from a hundred and nineteen CEOs of private and community foundations that give at least $5 million annually, the report, Understanding & Sharing What Works: The State of Foundation Practice(26 pages, PDF), found that 15 percent of respondents said they understood “extremely well” what was working in their programs, while 50 percent said they understood “very well” what was working and 34 percent said they understood “moderately well.” As for what is not working, 10 percent of respondents said they understood “extremely well,” 33 percent said they understood “very well,” and 51 percent said they understood “moderately well.” The top challenges cited by respondents in terms of learning what is and isn’t working were a lack of capacity and difficulties in assessing impact, with half of CEOs citing each as a challenge. The survey also found that the most common assessment methods were not necessarily the most useful, with most respondents relying on site visits and/or on-site assessments (98 percent) as well as final grant reports (98 percent) to learn what is and isn’t working, but only 56 percent and 31 percent saying they found those methods to be one of the most useful sources of information> read more

November 8, 2018

Mark Hrywna
The NonProfit Times

More than 40 percent of foundation CEOs believe that their foundations are not investing enough time and money in developing a better understanding of their programs, according to survey released today.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based Center For Effective Philanthropy (CEP) surveyed 119 CEOs of private and community foundations that give a minimum of $5 million a year as part of its report, “Understanding & Sharing What Works: The State of Foundation Practice.” The 26-page report also includes information obtained by in-depth interviews with 41 CEOs.

Almost two-thirds of the CEOs say they understand very well or extremely well what is working as their group attempts to achieve its goals, but less than half say they understand very or extremely well what is not working> read more

November 8, 2018

Julian Wyllie
The Chronicle of Philanthropy 

Thirty-seven percent of private and community foundation CEOs hesitate to share information about program mistakes or failures, according to a new report. And a similar percentage, 34 percent, said they feel pressure from their board of directors to withhold information about failures.

Those are among the findings in a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy titled “Understanding & Sharing What Works.” The survey analyzed responses from 119 CEOs of private and community foundations that give at least $5 million annually.

In recent years, it’s become fashionable for nonprofits and foundations to speak openly about their failures. However, the new report indicates that resistance to do so remains strong among many grant makers> read more

November 4, 2018

Jara Dean-Coffey
Linkedin Pulse

Conducting evaluations in foundations can be tricky and, frankly, not everyone’s idea of a good time. Through evaluation we seek to document events and experiences, gather feedback, assess impact, and where possible, and find the “truth” and determine value in varied, often conflicting, experiences and perspectives. Things can get confusing and awkward and in the end is it even worth it?

Our position is that while specific evaluations may not be worth it, developing an evaluative mindset is worth the effort. In fact, we propose that an evaluative mindset, which is regularly engaging in evaluative thinking, is necessary for meaningful evaluation and that it is an important part of the suite of leadership skills. Before we dive in deeper, we want to distinguish evaluation from evaluative thinking. Evaluation is an applied inquiry process that uses systematic processes to determine something’s merit, worth, and/or significance (Fournier, 2005).

Evaluative thinking as defined by Buckley, Archibald, Hargraves, & Trochim (2015) is:

“critical thinking applied in the context of evaluation, motivated by an attitude of inquisitiveness and a belief in the value of evidence, that involves identifying assumptions, posing thoughtful questions, pursuing deeper understanding through reflection and perspective taking, and informing decisions in preparation for action.”> read more




September 2019

Findings from new research release- Crucial Donors: How Major Individual Givers Can Best Support Nonprofits, CEP Global update,  Giving Done Right in the news and on the road, recaps from the blog, and meet the newest members of CEP!>read more

June 2019

Recap of CEP’s 2019 national conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul, findings from new research release- Greater Good: Lessons Learned from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Organizations, CEP’s annual report is out, and share Giving Done Right with your board!>read more

March 2019

Upcoming research release- Greater Good: Lessons Learned from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Organizations, Giving Done Right launching in a few weeks, last call to register for the CEP conference, and meet some of our new staff members. >read more

January 2019

Expanding CEP’s global presence, Giving Done Right due to release in April 2019, last call to register for the CEP conference, and CEP is hiring! >read more


Press Releases

September 16, 2019

Rihab Babiker Joins CEP as VP of Finance and Operations

Rihab Babiker has joined the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) as its first vice president of finance and operations. Babiker comes to CEP with nearly 15 years of finance and operations experience in the nonprofit sector. She will oversee all aspects of CEP’s finances and operations, ensuring accurate and useful financial reporting and modelling to guide CEP’s decision-making and contributing to CEP’s overall strategic direction.

Babiker’s hiring marks a new era in CEP’s 18-year history of helping funders to be more effective in pursuing their programmatic goals. The creation of this role responds to CEP’s steady growth to more than $10 million in revenue this year and a staff of nearly 50.

“After a long, intensive process and an incredibly strong pool of candidates, I could not be more pleased to name Rihab to this crucial leadership role at CEP,” said Phil Buchanan, President of CEP. “She has the right mix of finance and operations skills and the kind of analytical mind and strategic sense that I know will make her a key part of CEP’s leadership team.”…>read more

April 10, 2019

New CEP Research Reveals What It Takes for Early-Stage Grantmakers to Get Off the Ground

Cambridge, MA — While there is no single blueprint for those new to philanthropy to follow, it is vital that early-stage grantmakers learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before them so they can avoid common mistakes and position their grantmaking organizations for success. With more than 30,000 new private foundations established in the U.S. in the past 20 years, this rings true now more than ever.

That’s why the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), with support from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which marks its tenth year of grantmaking this year, is releasing a resource today that offers guidance for early-stage grantmakers getting their organizations off the ground. The report, titled Greater Good: Lessons from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Organizations, distills insights for a new wave of philanthropic leaders seeking to build thriving grantmaking organizations that can best support nonprofits to achieve shared goals.

Findings in the report are based on interviews CEP conducted with 35 leaders — including trustees, CEOs, program staff, and operations staff — of 14 grantmaking organizations that were established, or that experienced significant growth, in the past 20 years and that hold at least $350 million in assets. Interviewees are quoted in the report anonymously…>read more