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

May 1, 2019

New Releases Roundup: April 2019

United Philanthropy Forum

Greater Good: Lessons from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Organizations
Center For Effective Philanthropy
With more than 30,000 new private foundations established in the U.S. in the past 20 years, 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. To learn more about what it takes to effectively get a grantmaking organization off the ground, CEP interviewed 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….>read more

May 1, 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 11, 2019

Study Examines What It Takes for Early-Stage Grantmakers to Succeed

Philanthropy News Digest by Candid

Positioning early-stage grantmaking organizations for success requires leadership characterized by a willingness to learn, take risks, and work to align expectations among stakeholders, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.

Funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the report, Greater Good: Lessons from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Organizations (39 pages, PDF), examined what it takes for philanthropies to get up and running effectively. Based on interviews with thirty-five trustees, CEOs, and program and operations staff of grantmakers with at least $350 million in assets that were established or saw significant growth in the past twenty years, the report found three key elements of success — leadership characterized by humility, courage, and resourcefulness; a shared understanding among donors, board, staff, and grantees about how the organization will approach its work; and an organization with a sense of what success is and an orientation toward learning...> 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

February 12, 2019

Power, Transparency, and New Ways to Give

Ben Gose
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Reich’s new book and another prominent recent work, Winners Take All, by Anand Giridharadas, bemoan the growing concentration of philanthropic power in the hands of the ultrarich. “Our society is increasingly dependent on the whims of big philanthropists,” Reich says. “It leaves ordinary citizens out of the decision-making process.” The total big donors gave was $7.8 billion, a sharp drop from the 14.7 billion donated in 2017. The causes philanthropists supported are evolving, with more wealthy Americans looking for ways to shape the world’s uncertain future.

Others worry that even those doing charity work will be left out. The philanthropic plutocracy is flawed by its “zealous belief in the private sector’s unique ability to transform society,” wrote journalist Abigail Higgins, a former United Nations and World Bank researcher and consultant, in a review of Giridharadas’s book.

But Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, worries that the climate has shifted too far toward criticism. Two decades ago, he notes, the tone was the opposite, and many of the ultrarich were being criticized for postponing charitable giving. “I don’t believe that the motivations of all big philanthropists are nefarious,” says Buchanan. “Many are acting out of a deep and genuine desire to do good for others and our planet.”…. >read more

January 2, 2019

Sarah Lutman
Twin Cities Business

Foundations are increasingly involving community members—not just their boards and staff—to help decide who gets their money, according to a national Foundation Center report released in October.

A playbook for “participatory grantmaking,” the report highlights seven foundations, including the Minneapolis-based Headwaters Fund for Justice, and details how each draws upon community expertise to make grant award decisions.

Funding decisions long have been influenced by community input, but the trend shows that inclusive, community-led grantmaking practices are becoming more pervasive and creative as foundations look for ways to shift power and decision-making toward the communities they intend to serve.

This mirrors other shifts in leadership practice, management, and governance that recognize that the people closest to the work have the most expertise to solve problems and develop innovative responses> 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


October 31, 2018

Larry Kramer
The Chronicle of Philanthropy 

My annual performance goals this year include a commitment to increasing the collection and use of feedback from the people we seek to serve across all of the Hewlett Foundation’s grant-making programs — my way of telling the foundation’s board that I (and the staff) will make this a priority.

Our reason for doing so can be simply stated: If you want to help people, asking what they find helpful makes obvious sense. We all do that in our personal lives with our family, friends, and neighbors. We do it in our workplaces, asking for and giving feedback to team members.

And in a charitable organization, whose whole mission is helping people, it is essential that we make it a norm to ask for feedback from the people we’re seeking to help. It can only improve our ability to make a meaningful difference in their lives.

Our foundation, like some others, already uses the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report to gather and react to feedback from our grantees. These surveys have helped us improve how we work with nonprofits, prompting us to sharpen our proposal requirements, improve our approach to helping these nonprofits connect with each other, and more> read more

October 11, 2018

Rusty Stahl
Philanthropy News Digest

When it comes to strengthening the operational capacity of nonprofits, there is a gap between the support foundations tend to provide and the support nonprofits say they need, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.

Based on a survey of a hundred and seventy nonprofit CEOs and a hundred and eighty-seven foundation leaders who oversee their organization’s programmatic work, the report, Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives (40 pages, PDF), found that although 87 percent of foundation officials said their organization was aware of their grantees’ needs, 58 percent of nonprofit CEOs said none or few of their funders ask about their needs beyond funding. According to the survey, nonprofit CEOs said they most needed help with fundraising (42 percent), staffing (37 percent), and communications (26 percent), while foundation leaders viewed fundraising (51 percent), governance (39 percent), and financial management (33 percent) as most important> read more

October 4, 2018

Julian Wyllie
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Foundations are not as in touch as they think they are with the needs and concerns of the nonprofits they support, according to a new study that draws on the perspectives of both foundation and nonprofit leaders.

Most foundation leaders — 73 percent — say their organization follows up with grantees often or always to understand the effects of the support they have provided. However, only about one-third of nonprofit CEOs said foundations often or always follow up.

“You expected to see some discrepancies” based on previous research, said Ellie Buteau, vice president for research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which conducted the survey. “But I don’t think we expected to see the degree of the discrepancies in the study. That was surprising to us.”

The survey also found that 87 percent of foundation leaders believe their organization is aware of grantees’ needs, while 58 percent of nonprofit CEOs say none or few of their grant makers ask about their group’s overall needs beyond funding> read more


September 7, 2018

Forbes Nonprofit Council

Having an organization that is diverse and inclusive is key to equal performance within. But according to a study by The Center for Effective Philanthropy, sexual orientation and gender diversity are lacking at many nonprofit organizations.

While these organizations claim to have a handle on the situation, reality proves they do not. Nonprofits need to show their clients, as well as their employees, that they are willing and able to accept all, regardless of their gender, race, religion or background.

Below, eight members of Forbes Nonprofit Council discuss how the nonprofit sector can better approach diversity and inclusiveness> read more

August 16, 2018

Katie Smith Milway
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Fay Twersky and Lindsay Louie of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation were stumped. Less than a year into forging a coalition of funders that was briskly moving grants out the door, they realized that they might have a flaw in their approach to fostering change. The collaborative they helped to create, Fund for Shared Insight, aimed to help funders and nonprofits become more effective by listening intently to the people they strove to help—their end users. Although gathering user feedback is common in the corporate world, where consumer preference informs strategy and makes or breaks sales, in the charitable sector, consumers too rarely get asked if the hours are convenient or the services are advancing their life goals.

The potential for user feedback to improve funder and nonprofit decisions and offerings, as it does commercial entities’, seemed obvious. But it became clear to Twersky and Louie, after a January 2015 visit to nonprofits piloting ways to listen, that it was going to be hard to capture that potential. “There was no existing platform that could scale,” says Twersky, “and the approaches that nonprofits were using seemed artisanal and very complex.”

Twersky, Louie, and Fund for Shared Insight’s story of finding simplicity on the other side of this complexity—of collaborating with other funders not to scale a proven approach, but to design a solution with nonprofits and their end users that could be adopted far and wide—is fairly unique in the world of philanthropy> read more

July 19, 2018

Andy Segedin
The Nonprofit Times

About four out of five nonprofit CEOS say that racial diversity is relevant to their organizations and slightly fewer report that their organizations are least somewhat racially diverse.

Other forms of diversity — such as gender identity and sexual orientation — are viewed as less relevant.

Some 82 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe that racial diversity is relevant to organizational goals and 79 percent said their organizations are at least somewhat racially diverse, but barely half (52 percent) find diversity in sexual orientation relevant to organizational goals, according to “Nonprofit Diversity Efforts.” The new study by The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) in Cambridge, Mass., surveyed 205 nonprofit CEOs. Just over half (55 percent) of respondents identified diversity in gender identity as organizationally relevant with 68 percent finding diversity among individuals with disabilities to be important.

These priorities bear out in actual diversity. Just one out of five CEOs (21 percent) reported that their organizations were not at all or not very racially diverse. That figure increased for sexual orientation (26 percent), gender identity (42 percent), and disabilities (59 percent).

Representation for those with disabilities also was identified by CEOs as far and away the area in which nonprofits least reflect the populations they serve (40 percent). Sexual orientation (18 percent), gender identity (15 percent), and race (15 percent) ranked far behind in terms of not reflecting populations served> read more

July 19, 2018

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Most nonprofit chief executives say diversity is an important goal, but their organizations are falling short of the mark, according to a study released today.

A survey conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that more than two-thirds of nonprofit leaders thought that having a diverse staff was very or extremely important. But only about one-third said their own staff met that goal. There was a similar disconnect between nonprofit leaders’ aspirations for diversity and the actual make-up of their boards and executive leaders, the survey found.

“They have a long way to go in terms of how diverse they want their staff and boards to be in order to meet their goals,” said Ellie Buteau, the center’s vice president of research.

A majority of nonprofit leaders reported that their organization was diverse based on race and ethnicity, gender identity, and the sexual orientation of members of their work force. But nearly 60 percent said their organization was “not very” or “not at all” diverse when accounting for employees with disabilities> read more

July 17, 2018

Julia Travers
Inside Philanthropy

In the fall of 2017, the Barr Foundation commissioned the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) to conduct a Grantee Perception Report, or GPR. More than 200 respondents participated in the GPR, which is a confidential survey of grantees and declined applicants about working with a funder. This is an important tool for foundations to gauge how they’re managing relationships that come with built-in tensions.

As CEP’s president Phil Buchanan told Inside Philanthropy: “Getting candid, comparative feedback from nonprofits they support is crucial for funders, given the power dynamics between those seeking resources and those who possess them.”

Barr received mixed results in the survey, finding that its partners were more satisfied in some areas than others. It was also sometimes rated as “typical.”

Barr’s last GPR was in 2012, and ratings for the overall quality of Barr-grantee relationships improved from being in the lowest quartile in 2012 to a more “typical” level in 2017in the 37th percentile.

Last month, Barr President James Canales and Vice President Roger Nozaki co-wrote a blog post about the results of the GPR outlining how the foundation is responding to the feedback> read more

July 13, 2018

Alexa Cortes Culwell
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Those of us in the social sector are painfully aware that toxic individuals and cultures are not just a function of the private sector—unfortunately, our sector has had its own share of recent scandals. Which raises the question: What if all social impact organizations held their leaders and staff accountable not only for what they accomplish, but also for how they accomplish it?

In recent years, the social sector has largely focused on what it is achieving, emphasizing theories of change, performance metrics, and impact—or the end result. But it’s also important to look at how we do the work, focusing on our cultures, internal behaviors, and the means to the ends. At the center of organizational culture must be a fundamental commitment to value and respect all people, inside and outside our organizations.

So how can we counteract workplace toxicity and develop stronger performance in the process? Based on decades of experience leading and advising social impact organizations, I believe there are four questions leaders should ask:

1. Are your organization’s values and cultural norms explicitly stated? Whether or not they are written down, every organization has implicit values and a culture defined by its leaders. If you have not yet created an explicit values statement, it’s time to do so—and it doesn’t have to be complicated. We’ve worked with a number of clients to create statements that can serve as an internal North Star and help anchor organizational culture.

Last year, the growing team at the Sobrato Family Foundation, a place-based grantmaker whose mission is to make Silicon Valley a place of opportunity for all residents, used its staff retreat to make the organization’s cultural norms and practices more explicit. The result was an internal co-created document that outlined, in very clear terms, the values and behaviors that aligned with the foundation’s mission and were expected of all employees> read more

June 14, 2018

Suzanne Garment and Leslie Lenkowsky
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The just-released 2018 edition of “Giving USA” brings glad tidings to the nonprofit world. In 2017, charitable gifts by Americans totaled $410 billion. That’s 3 percent more than in 2016, even after adjusting for inflation — a sign that the strong economy continues to power philanthropic giving.

But don’t expect fundraisers and other nonprofit executives to break out in smiles when they read the report, published annually by the Giving USA Foundation and based on research by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. (We are both affiliated with Indiana University but are not involved in the production or publication of “Giving USA.”)

To the contrary, more than half of the 357 foundation and nonprofit leaders surveyed earlier this year by the Center for Effective Philanthropy worried that giving would decrease in 2018, largely because of the new tax law. Just 19 percent of the high-level foundation officials surveyed, and 14 percent of the nonprofit executives, disagreed with this gloomy prediction> read more

May 22, 2018

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

A majority of nonprofit chief executives and foundation leaders believe fundraising will suffer under the new tax law. But, according to a survey released today, the two groups disagree, in part, on how to respond.

More than one-third of 170 nonprofits surveyed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy said that to prevent losses in revenue, foundations should become more vocal in promoting the importance of nonprofit organizations as a whole. In response to the same question, foundations shrugged. None of the 187 participating foundations identified advocating for nonprofits as the proper response to a potential decline in giving.

In comments accompanying the survey, some nonprofit leaders described such advocacy as “inspiring” the public with efforts like marketing campaigns.

Nonprofits “see foundations as having a voice, a platform, and a position from which they can speak and be heard,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president for research at the center. “Perhaps foundations don’t realize, or might not be thinking about the value of that in a way that nonprofits are.”> read more

May 10, 2018

Dr. B.J. Bischoff
Sonoma Valley Sun

Last month, the Community Foundation Sonoma County and Napa Valley Community Foundation released a report describing the results of a survey they commissioned to determine the impact that the October wildfires on Sonoma and Napa County nonprofits. The survey, conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Advisory Services, was sent to 468 nonprofit organizations that were former grantees of the foundations. The survey response rate was 39%, with 184 nonprofits weighing in. Of the nonprofits that responded, 56 percent have budgets under $1 million. A total of 49% of the 86 Sonoma Valley nonprofits surveyed responded to the survey.

An overwhelming majority of the nonprofit respondents (85%) reported that their organization had been affected in some way by the wildfires. When asked how the fires had impacted them, 81% reported that they provided services to more individuals or organizations; 78% reported that their major donors or board members lost their home or suffered damage to their home; 78% reported that they added new services or programs; and 61% reported that they had to shift staff from other services or projects to fire recovery efforts> read more

May 8, 2018

Philip Rojc
Inside Philanthropy

When the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) debuted Philamplify a few years ago, we cheered the project on. As NCRP notes, many grantmakers operate in a bubble, rarely receiving critical feedback on how they’re achieving impact—or how they aren’t. For a dozen foundations, Philamplify’s assessments offer detailed suggestions to correct organizational shortcomings, especially within the context of movement building and equity. (By the way, GrantAdvisor is another more recent attempt at eliciting feedback on funders, through crowdsourced reviews rather than detailed assessments. And the Center for Effective Philanthropy has long been a leader in this area.)

NCRP’s latest endeavor, an assessment toolkit called Power Moves, grew out of Philamplify. This time, the sector watchdog group is promoting a do-it-yourself approach, calling on funders to assess their own commitment to equity and justice. As the name indicates, power is the central concept. NCRP makes the case that without a frank analysis of the power relations that inform grantmaking, funders will never be able to change the systems that perpetuate the problems they want to solve> read more

April 10, 2018

Staff Writer
Napa Valley Register

A new survey conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy reports that 85 percent of nonprofit organizations in the North Bay—spanning arts and culture, education and the environment, and health and social services—have been impacted by the October 2017 wildfires.

In February and March, the center surveyed 468 current and former grantees of Community Foundation Sonoma County and Napa Valley Community Foundation, and received 184 responses for a response rate of 39 percent.

The results of the survey were clear: the fires that started six months ago had a broad impact on organizations of all sizes and all types. Among the key findings for nonprofits in the region:

  • 81 percent reported needing to provide services to more individuals or organizations after the fires> read more

April 2, 2018

Be Bold, Be Strong, Be Big and Be Known

Travis Green
LOCUS Impact Investing

The staff of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation(AAACF) has taken to calling their foundation “a community impact engine” where the whole staff – finance, administration, development, program – works in service of impact. “It’s a virtuous cycle… create impact, build endowment, create more impact, build more endowment,” said Jillian Rosen, the foundation’s Vice President for Community Investment.

It’s not just a good marketing line, either. In the last three years, the foundation has witnessed remarkable growth even when adjusted for market performance. Assets of the foundation have grown 80%, and, as a result, the foundation’s grantmaking has almost doubled. The success came after a process where the foundation asked, “How are we contributing to the overall wellness of Washtenaw County?” Rosen said, “Endowment came as the answer.”

In 2015, the foundation embarked on three-pronged, data-driven assessment of their work. First, with help from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, they conducted a survey to gather candid feedback from the foundation’s donors. Second, they interviewed professional advisors to see how they viewed the foundation and to ask how they could be a better service in the community. Finally, working with CF Insights, they identified six “aspirational peers” or foundations from similar communities that had experienced remarkable growth, and spoke with them about their work and their approaches to asset development> read more

March 27, 2018

Community Foundation Sonoma County

Gary Quakenbush
NorthBay Business Journal

For its leadership in taking the long view in providing funds for recovery and rebuilding needs, Community Foundation Sonoma County was nominated for a Community Philanthropy Award by Len Marabella, executive director of Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa.

The day after the fire outbreak, the foundation launched its Resilience Fund, raising public awareness of the need for an extended period of funding, given that the majority of giving — typically 70 percent to 80 percent — goes toward immediate relief.

The foundation asked donors to contribute to a plan focusing on mid- to long-term funding needs over a five-year period.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy found that forming a long-term investment fund is a best practice, and according to FEMA, recovering from the magnitude of the North Bay fires will take between three to seven years.

“We are gathering information to develop a strategy to ensure that the Resilience Fund will make an impact beyond initial funding and loans by government agencies and insurance sources,” said CEO and President Elizabeth Brown.

“We are also researching donor giving practices during disasters and collecting data based on local successes and outcomes experienced by others faced with similar situations.”

The foundation convened a meeting with 250 nonprofit leaders and funders last November, and in February hosted 10 listening sessions with some 200 attendees to assess which areas have the most urgent needs. This feedback will give Community Foundation Sonoma County direction on where to focus its funds.

A survey of nonprofit organizations in partnership with the Center for Effective Philanthropy and the Napa Valley Community Foundation is also being conducted to ensure that the Sonoma County foundation is able to address recovery and rebuilding needs both now and for the future> read more

February 15, 2018

Building Trust in Funder–Grantee Relationships

Jeff Polet
Philanthropy Daily

No social arrangement can operate well or for long without trust.

The amount of time and work it takes to cultivate trust is inversely related to how quickly it can be lost. Then too, while familiarity may breed contempt, it also breeds trust. We typically don’t default to trusting those we don’t know, especially when we find it so difficult to trust well those we do.

So it shouldn’t surprise us when the Center for Effective Philanthropy reports that one of the central problems in modern philanthropy is a “pervasive lack of trust” between foundations and grant recipients. This lack of trust is largely the result of a knowledge deficit, revealed in grantees’ complaint that those offering the grants need to learn to defer to those who live in, know, and understand a region.

They might well have added “love,” a word which we should not forget is at the root of “philanthropy.” People who get into the nonprofit sector typically do so because they are trying to promote, defend, enrich, or maintain something they love, and these loves form the backbone of any worthwhile enterprise> read more

January 31, 2018

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund is #OpenForGood

Hope Lyons and Ari Klickstein
Exponent Philanthropy 

As a private foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund advances a just, peaceful, and sustainable world through grantmaking and related activities. We believe that discerning and communicating the impact of our grantmaking and other programmatic contributions is essential to fulfilling the Fund’s mission, as is a commitment to stewardship, transparency, and accountability. Philanthropy exists to serve the public good. By opening up what we are learning, we believe that we are honoring the public’s trust in our activities as a private foundation.

As part of our commitment to serving the public good, we are proud to be among the first foundations to join the new #OpenForGood campaign by sharing published reports on our grantmaking through Foundation Center’s open repository, IssueLab, and its new special collection of evaluations Find Results, and continue to make them available on our own website. These reports and impact assessments are materials authored by third party assessment teams, and sometimes by our own program leadership, in addition to the published research papers and studies by grantees already on IssueLab.

We feel strongly that we have a responsibility to our grantees, trustees, partners, and the wider public to periodically evaluate our grantmaking, to use the findings to inform our strategy and practice, and to be transparent about what we are learning. In terms of our sector, this knowledge can go a long way in advancing fields of practice by identifying effective approaches. The Fund has a long history of sharing our findings with the public, stretching as far back as 1961, when the results of the Fund’s Special Studies Project were published as the bestselling volume Prospect for America. The book featured expert analysis on key issues of the era including international relations, economic and societal challenges, and democratic practices, topics which remain central to our grantmaking work.

We view our grantmaking as an investment in the public good, and place a great deal of importance on accountability. Through surveys conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2016, our grantees and prospective grantees told us that they wanted to hear more about what we have learned, as well as what the Fund has tried but was recognized as less successful in its past grantmaking> read more

January 3, 2018

Funder-Nonprofit Relations Matter, But Is Anyone Listening?

Prentice Zinn
Exponent Philanthropy 

The fraught relations between foundations and nonprofit organizations was a hot topic last year.

But as I watched the “Medici: Masters of Florence” series on Netflix over the holidays, I was reminded how power for good or bad has always been a dynamic tension in philanthropy.

Searching for signs of humility, empathy, and trust

Our friends at the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy have been saying this for the past 20 years. Jennifer Choi reminded us that power dynamics are the most significant source of strained relationships between foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Martin Levine offered blunt advice in the Nonprofit Quarterly. In Listen More to Nonprofits and Speak Less, he offers hope that some funders can learn to be more self-aware.

But self-awareness never comes easily to institutions with power. I recently wrote how this blind spot may prevent funders having honest conversations about data and evaluation with nonprofit leaders.

Hoping for an honest conversation

Last September, I joined a lively event in Boston where Henry Berman of Exponent Philanthropy cajoled a funder-nonprofit audience to have a long-overdue conversation about this problem. Exponent’s national funder-grantee conversations were a collaboration with the National Council of Nonprofits and helped crowdsource ideas for better relationships.

The latest report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) validated the findings harvested by Exponent and NCN. CEP’s report, Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees and the Keys to Success, highlighted what it takes to build strong relationships while navigating the power imbalance between funders and nonprofits> read more

January 2, 2018

Fighting Misinformation, Grooming New Leaders, and Unlocking More Giving: Ideas for 2018

Tim Foley
The Chronicle of Philanthropy 

Some of the best writing in The Chronicle’s opinion pages in the past year focused on federal policy — including the pros and cons of ending the six-decade ban on charity politicking, the impact of changes in the tax code on giving, and the growing attacks on social-justice organizations in the Trump era.

But lots of other important ideas are percolating across the philanthropic landscape, and top thinkers shared them in our opinion section. Here are some key ideas that will be important in 2018:

The power of cash.

Benjamin Soskis, a philanthropy scholar at the Urban Institute, examined intensifying interest among donors about promoting a universal basic income — the idea that everybody should get a minimum, no-strings-attached sum annually. He followed up with a look at a groundbreaking effort by the nonprofit Give Directly to test whether giving cash — an approach the group has proven to work in Africa — can be adapted to provide aid to Texas victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Philanthropy’s role in fighting misinformation.

Elizabeth Good Christopherson, head of the Rita Allen Foundation, noted that all grant makers — regardless of their missions — have a stake in making sure policy makers and voters base their decisions on evidence and facts.

Two other notable pieces focused on this topic: Sarah Moore, a nonprofit marketer, offered ideas for how nonprofits can thrive in a post-fact world while Josh Wilson, a public-radio producer, urged grant makers to put more money into journalism projects that promote the public interest and to stop worrying about propping up failing business models.

Unlocking more donations for charity.

All the focus on federal tax deduction for charitable donations obscures the powerful role nonprofits have in promoting strong giving, argued Eugene Steuerle, co-founder of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center> read more


From 2017

December 28, 2017

Philanthropy Awards, 2017

IP Staff
Inside Philanthropy

Believe it or not, Inside Philanthropy has now been around for four years. It’s been a lot of fun. And there’s no part that’s more fun than looking back over the past year to take stock as we give out our annual IP Philanthropy Awards, or IPPYs. (See winners for 20162015, and 2014.)

There’s never been a more exciting time in U.S. philanthropy than right now, and 2017 has been another year of major developments, interesting moves by funders, and—occasionally—stuff that makes you want to scream. Enjoy our latest IPPYs! > read more

December 18, 2017

How Highly Rated Program Officers Earn Grantees’ Approval

Megan O’Neil
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

What makes philanthropy’s best grant-making officers so well regarded?

The Center for Effective Philanthropy recently released a report that zeroes in on key aspects of productive, positive relationships between grant-making institutions and nonprofit grantees.

At the top of the list are program officers who share the following qualities: an understanding of grantees’ work and the context within which they operate; a commitment to transparency about the grant-application process; and a disinclination to pressure nonprofits to alter approaches or proposals to win grants.

The report is based on survey data gathered over more than a decade from tens of thousands of nonprofit grantees; it builds on a study that the Center for Effective Philanthropy published in 2010 examining the traits of strong foundation-grantee relationships> read more


 December 6, 2017

Experts Say This Is The Most Fulfilling Way To Donate At The Holidays

Suzy Strutner
Huffington Post

Finding what you’re passionate about will make all the difference.

The final month of the year may be a time for getting, but it’s also a hugely popular time for giving, especially to charity. In 2015, for example, 30 percent of all donations that online donations platform Network For Good received came in December. Twenty percent of those donations came in on Dec. 31, the last day to donate in order to get tax breaks for the year.

When the holiday spirit moves you to donate ― or when you’re itching for a tax break ― it’s tempting to hit up that global mega-charity you’ve seen on TV and donate there in one click. And there’s nothing wrong with that, experts told HuffPost. But think deeper, and you may discover some more fulfilling places to send your money> read more


 November 27, 2017

Speaking Out When Our Values Are in Play

Grant Oliphant
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Five critical questions to guide the work of nonprofit communicators.

Social sector organizations cannot hide behind silence when so many of the values they stand for are being politicized. That was the challenge Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, put forth with urgency at the recent ComNet17 conference hosted by The Communications Network in Miami.

“I want to challenge you today because I don’t want you actually to leave here feeling satisfied with the progress that you’re making. I have never felt more urgently in my life that what you do is needed and you have to step up. We, all of us who care about the craft of communications and the practice of this work, have got to seriously step up our game.

The place I want to start is with Darren Walker from the Ford Foundation’s annual letter, and he expressed in this letter a very simple, but fairly damning indictment of foundations in a period of time when we are being called to express moral courage and falling short. His basic premise was, “Look, we’re afraid of sticking our necks out, and we’re afraid of what people might think, and we play it cautious. This is not a time to play it cautious.”> read transcript here


 November 27, 2017

How to Strengthen Funder-Grantee Relationships: New Report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy

Tere Figueras Negrete
Funders’ Network

A new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy explores how funders can strengthen the all-important connections to grantees, and the key role program officers play.

Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees, and the Keys to Success sheds light on what constitutes a strong funder–grantee relationship, as well as what nonprofits say it takes for funders to foster such relationships.

The newly released report includes interviews with 11 program officers who earned top marks, including Elizabeth Love of the Houston Endowment, who is also co-chair of the TFN 2018 Annual Conference in Houston.

“Her first year as an environmental program officer at the Houston Endowment was spent in the field with nonprofit leaders, public officials, and community members learning about the issues and the barriers to making change, as well as the players who might be positioned to move the needle, she said. It was a steep learning curve,” according to a story about the report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy > read more

November 14, 2017

New Report Zeros In on What Grantees Say Makes Program Officers Great

Megan O’Neil
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Getting to know nonprofits and the context in which they operate. Understanding the needs of ultimate beneficiaries. Not pushing nonprofits to alter approaches or rejigger proposals just to secure financial support.

Those practices and behaviors by program officers are key predictors of a strong relationship between grant-making institutions and grantees, according to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Also topping the list: transparency.

“One example would be a nonprofit feeling that a foundation funder was clear with them about what the process is for applying for a grant so that they have that understanding of what they will need to go through,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president for research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and an author of the report. She also stressed “clarity about the timing — how long it would take between submitting an application and grantees having a sense if they were going to receive a grant.” > read more

November 7, 2017

Have Donor-Advised Funds and Other Philanthropic Innovations Changed the Flow of Giving in the United States?

Patrick Rooney
Nonprofit Quarterly

Giving intermediaries are nothing new, and include a range of vehicles such as workplace campaigns (like the United Way and the Combined Federal Campaign) and community foundation general funds. Of late, such giving intermediaries have found their donors less willing to give into a general fund—where others make decisions about the final destinations of their gift—and more in favor of maintaining decision-making control in a donor-directed grant or donor-advised fund (DAF) within these intermediaries, and in the commercial charitable funds at financial institutions. This article addresses several concerns that have been raised about DAFs and other philanthropic intermediaries, and explores in particular how the growth of DAFs affects the flow of money to nonprofits. Accompanying sidebars explore in short form other influences on the flow and the accuracy of how charitable money is counted.

DAFs: For Better or for Worse?

Donor-advised funds are becoming more common and an important philanthropic tool by every measure. For example, as the table below shows, between 2014 and 2015 both the number of DAFs and the dollar value of DAFs grew faster than that of private foundations. Moreover, the DAF asset values more than doubled between 2010 ($33.6 billion) and 2015 ($78.6 billion).

Giving as a share of GDP has increased slowly over the last forty years. It was very steady from 1976 to 1996, ranging between 1.6 and 1.8 percent. During the last twenty years, it has bumped up by approximately 0.3 percentage points and has been steadily in the 1.9 to 2.1 percent range.6 This does not demonstrate that the rise of DAFs has increased giving as a share of GDP, but it suggests that DAFs have not caused total giving to decline in absolute or relative terms.> read more

November 7, 2017

Streamlining a Foundation Initiative’s Grant Practices

Daniel Stid and Jillian Mirack Galbete
Stanford Social Innovation Review

When we launched the Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative in 2014, we were excited to support nonprofits, advocates, and researchers who shared our audacious goal of improving the US Congress’s effectiveness in a polarized age. But after experiencing some of the all-too-common pitfalls that foundations can stumble into with grantees, we soon decided that we had to reevaluate our grant practices.

Some of these challenges came with the territory: Funders in the democracy field have long emphasized short-term, project-based grants. Funding tends to ebb and flow over the recurring two-year political cycles.

Yet some challenges were self-inflicted. As we developed our initiative, we wanted to learn by making a range of smaller bets. So we asked grant-seekers to provide us with theories of change, performance indicators, hypotheses they were testing, key risks and mitigation strategies, and so on. When proposals came back with incomplete or misconstrued responses, we gave grant-seekers more specific instructions and elaborate tables to complete. However, the situation didn’t improve. We began hearing half-in-jest comments from applicants about the difficulties they had filling out what one referred to as “the infamous Hewlett grid.”> read more

October 30, 2017

Funders can set a powerful precedent by involving service users

Shona Curvers
Alliance Magazine

Meetings with snacks are a recent development in my working life.

This was prompted by my involvement in a user-led project working with young people who are, or who are at risk of becoming, disconnected from education, employment or training, and are living in the London borough of Camden.  NPC is working closely with Revolving Doors Agency to co-facilitate a series of workshops with young people, and to collaboratively develop user journeys to represent their experiences of local services.We’re doing this to identify opportunities for technology to improve the experiences of young people as they navigate services, and ultimately to create a fund to support those initiatives.


The involvement of users in shaping services is not a new phenomenon, but the narrative around ‘user voice’ continues to gain traction, particularly amongst charities. It has been broadly accepted by charities from across the sector that listening to users is not only the moral thing to do—as they solicit funding in their name—but it’s also the smart and logical thing to do> read more

October 17, 2017

Impact investment: Foundations go deeper

Helen Avery

While foundations may be known for their giving, their investment portfolios lack creativity when it comes to solving environmental and social challenges. Some are taking their missions further.

According to the Foundation Center, at the last count there were 86,726 foundations in the US. Together they had more than $865 billion in assets. In Europe, there are some 130,000, according to Fondation de France, with a combined €22.5 billion. Whether in size of assets or in number, foundations are a large and powerful group of investors – because the majority of their money is indeed invested.European foundations allocate just 12% a year to their missions through grants and expenses, while US foundations allocate 7% on average.With social or environmental principles at the core of their existence, one might assume that these investments are subject to some sort of environmental, social and governance (ESG) screening or socially responsible investing (SRI) guidelines at a minimum – but that assumption would be wrong.

While data on foundations’ investments is patchy, the surveys of the community from the Commonfund, US SIF and The Center for Effective Philanthropy over the last five years reveal an interesting story. The percentage of foundations that engage in anything from SRI guidelines to full-blown impact investments never reaches more than 50%. In fact, the average is closer to 25%. That leaves around $615 billion of investments that could be managed in an impactful way that simply are not> read more

October 8, 2017

NPF TIG Week: Foundations Can (and Should) Learn from Grantees by Cheryl Milloy

Cheryl Milloy

I’m Cheryl Milloy, Associate Director of Evaluation at Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle. We believe no family should live in poverty and that those who experience poverty know best what the solutions are. We provide consistent, significant, long-term general operating support grants to community-based organizations to work together across issues, regions, race and ethnicity, and egos to bring about long-term change that has a positive impact on the lives of families.

Foundations strive to be learning organizations, and one of their best sources of learning is the organizations they support.

Hot Tip: Ask. Listen. Act.”  This is our brand promise and our approach to learning. Grantees are our partners on the ground and we are committed to asking them and listening to them in order to learn before we act. We cannot completely eliminate the power imbalance between funder and grantee, but we can be conscious of it and mitigate this differential as much as possible. One important way Marguerite Casey Foundation does this is by providing grants almost exclusively as multiyear general operating support. This demonstrates trust in organizations and their “big ideas” and allows them to decide how to spend the funds. We encourage organizations to invest in their own infrastructure – leadership, staff, governance, evaluation and learning, technology, etc. – to build their capacity and effectiveness> read more

October 4, 2017

Put It Up to a Vote: Who Wins When All Foundation Staff Pick Grantees?

Alyssa Ochs
Inside Philanthropy

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

Tate Williams
Inside Philanthropy

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

Nell Edgington
Social Velocity

In today’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments (and frequent contributor to their excellent blog).

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

Simone Friedman
Inside 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

Anne Kazimirski
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

David Callahan
Inside Philanthropy

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

Stewart Lawrence
Inside Philanthropy

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

Caroline Fiennes

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

Ben Paynter
Fast Company

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


April 25, 2017

Majority of Foundations Say Trump Policies Are Prompting Grant-Making Changes

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Foundations on both sides of the political spectrum are re-examining how they can best contribute to society as the Trump administration nears its 100-day mark, according to findings from two surveys released today. Nearly three-quarters of foundation leaders have already made, or plan to make, adjustments in reaction to the Trump White House, according to 162 grant makers surveyed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a nonprofit research group. The foundations represented in the survey are relatively large, with each making at least $5 million in grants annually.

“Foundations are not sitting on their hands now,” said Phil Buchanan, the center’s president. “They are actively considering how their approaches and practices need to change in light of the changed context. The overwhelming majority are shifting something.”> read more

April 25, 2017

Foundation CEOs Split on Impact of Trump

Andy Segedin
The Nonprofit Times

More than one-third (35 percent) of foundation CEOs anticipate making changes to their grant-making budgets in light of the election of President Donald J. Trump. Just one percent of them anticipate reducing grant-making, while 14 percent indicated that their grant-making budgets will increase. One-fifth (20 percent) of executives do not plan to change the amount in their grant-making budgets, but plan to allocate funds differently across program areas. Nearly two-fifths (38 percent) will not change their foundations’ grant-making budgets, while 27 percent stated that it is too early to tell what will be done.

“Shifting Winds: Foundations Respond to a New Political Context,” a report by The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), included survey results from 162 foundation CEOs whose organizations grant at least $5 million annually. The survey was conducted between Feb. 21 and March 10. Nearly half (48 percent) of foundation leaders believed that achieving organizational goals had gotten harder one month into Trump’s administration. By comparison, 3 percent reported that they expected a positive effect under Trump and 24 percent stated that they anticipated a mix of good and bad> read more


April 3, 2017

How the focus on overhead disenfranchises communities of color and fans the flames of injustice

Vu Le
Nonprofit with Balls

In this political climate, when so many of us nonprofits are rallying to put out one fire after another, many of the things we have been used to and have been putting up with no longer make sense. Many of us in the sector have been making the argument against restricted funding and for general operating for years. Here’s a report from GEO. Here’s one from CEP. Here’s a piece from my colleague Paul Shoemaker. And I’ve made impassioned pleas here, here, and here. But despite countless arguments by dozens of leaders, we still have foundations who restrict funds, who set arbitrary numbers for “indirect expenses” and “overhead.”

But there has been one argument that we have not stressed enough to funders and donors, but now it is urgent that we do so: The focus on overhead is no longer just annoying, it’s perpetuating inequity and injustice> read more


March 21, 2017

Why More And More Philanthropies Are Choosing To Put Themselves Out Of Business

Ben Paynter
Fast Company

The majority of America’s top foundation leaders recently admitted in a Center for Effective Philanthropy report that they don’t think their industry is doing such a great job at making a difference in the world. The list of causes focused largely on controllable hang-ups–everything from not listening to grantees, to not collaborating well with other organizations. What most didn’t complain about was their business model.

The irony is that by making a radical change to their business model that’s being embraced by more and more philanthropic organizations, many groups may give themselves far less to complain about: because they would be out of business, after making a huge impact. That’s the finding of a recent report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which interviewed the heads of 11 organizations that are limited life groups, meaning they plan to spend themselves out of existence within a certain timeframe, a model that proponents say gives them both more immediate funds to address the world’s most urgent problems and additional pressure to ensure investments are well spent.> read more

March 21, 2017

Foundations Find Different Paths to Closing Their Operations

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Foundations that decide to spend all of their assets and close shop don’t follow uniform or precise formulas for how to tie up loose ends, according to a new report.

Published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the study is based on conversations with 11 foundation leaders. It looked at various aspects of those organizations, including investment decisions, grantee relationships, performance evaluations, and staffing.

“We learned that there is no one way to spend down,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president at the Center for Effective Philanthropy and co-author of the report. “Our hope is that this research will help foundations that are spending down — or those considering spending down — explore a range of approaches.”> read more


February 13, 2017

Using Knowledge to Improve Funder Practice

Lindsay Louie & Fay Twersky
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Do funders use knowledge to inform and improve their work? If so, how do they use it? What role(s) does it play?

These were some of the questions we asked four years ago when we started working at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and inherited a longstanding strategy called “Knowledge for Better Philanthropy.” Through this strategy, we fund the independent creation and dissemination of knowledge about the practice of philanthropy, with the goal of informing and improving funders’ work. These grants support publications like SSIR and the Nonprofit Quarterly, as well as organizations such as The Bridgespan Group, FSG, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and The Philanthropy Roundtable> read more


February 7, 2017

Philanthropy’s deliberate leaders: the story of ClimateWorks Foundation

Gayle Peterson
Alliance Magazine

The Wall Street Journal described recently-elected Donald Trump’s leadership as ‘deliberate chaos’. We know chaos. We live it. A barrage of destructive tweets and policy bombs have resulted in widespread protests in the United States and globally. Bans on Muslims and refugees, erosion of human rights, denying climate change and disrespecting international relationships that have kept the world safe—all create risks to global business and civil society.

The chaos erodes public trust and is exacerbated by falsehoods, fake news, and threats to destroy independent media. While the world is pushing back with civil disobedience and legal action, we need more leaders committed to conducting themselves with honesty, trust, and transparency.

Philanthropy can lead by example

In these times of uncertainty and divisiveness, philanthropy can and must lead by example. Such leadership is characterized by taking risks and showing courage; by illustrating what collaboration based on inclusion and compassion looks like; by demonstrating a commitment to building solutions from the ground up; and by showing how learning and transparency ensure open societies and human rights> read more

From 2016

December 14, 2016

Want to improve grades? Ask students how they feel in class.

Josh Kenworthy
The Christian Science Monitor

Glorya Wornum knows how different a classroom feels when a teacher listens.

In her sophomore year, students in her Boston charter school took a survey that included questions about what they “went through in class.” And her history teacher listened.

“My teacher was like, ‘I’ve read the survey and just want to let you guys know I’m going to change things up,’ ” recalls Ms. Wornum, who had been frequently kicked her out of class at her previous high school for speaking out of turn or not paying attention.

And she did. Her students of color spent the next week teaching classes on their own ethnic backgrounds, and the teacher changed her teaching methods to accommodate their visual learning style> read more

December 5, 2016

Foundation Chiefs Say They Need to Make Sweeping Changes

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Foundations must make major operational changes if they want to tackle pressing issues including wealth inequality, climate change, and failing schools, according to a self-assessment of philanthropy leaders released Monday.

Leaders of 208 of the nation’s biggest foundations said in interviews and survey responses that they can make significant progress but only if they ditch a business-as-usual approach and spend more time listening to the concerns of their grantees and the people those grantees serve.

In the study, commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation on its 50th anniversary and conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, 57 percent of foundation leaders said sweeping changes are necessary. About 41 percent believe foundations must make modest changes> read more

November 3, 2016

Working with Grantees: A Relationship Worth Building

Jacob Sharp
Foundant Technologies Blog

When I first began my dive into the philanthropy industry, the thing that always fascinated me was the give and take dynamic between a funder and their grantees. I’ve been amazed at the different ways of going about it; some funders choose a hands off approach, while others develop close and long lasting relationships with those they fund. Both have their benefits and drawbacks–what works well with one organization may prove disastrous for another–but doing the research and knowing your grantees makes each philanthropic dollar go further than the last.

One of the most illuminating publications I’ve read on this topic was put out in 2014 by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). You can read it here: PDF (note: it’s a bit lengthy). I’ll do a short summary below, but if you’ve got the time to read the whole thing, I promise it’s worth it. Even seasoned grantmakers can find some (research based) nuggets of wisdom there> read more

October 31, 2016

On a Scale of Zero to 10, Would You Recommend This Nonprofit? Good Question!

Marc Gunther
Nonprofit Chronicles

I’m just back from a vacation in Tulum, Mexico. I found great places to eat using Trip Advisor (try El Tabano, above), and wrote several reviews once I got home. Trip Advisor’s a great service. So imagine, if you will, a nonprofit sector with its own Trip Advisor, a guide that would help donors, volunteers and workers better understand which nonprofits do well at serving their customers.

The sector is a very long way from creating such a guide, but it is taking small steps in that direction, as more nonprofits experiment with feedback loops — efforts to listen, learn and respond to their constituents, and thereby become more effective. This is welcome news: A movement to build feedback loops into nonprofits is gathering adherents, winning support from foundations and building a community of practice.

That community gathered last week at Feedback Summit 2016 in Washington, where the excitement was palpable. Feedback loops help address a fundamental disconnect in the nonprofit world: Nonprofits typically are funded by their donors and not by their clients so, unlike businesses, they don’t have financial incentives to be responsive to those they aim to serve. Feedback loops connect them more closely to clients.

“The enthusiasm about a simple, rigorous, elegant feedback loop that includes quantitative and qualitative data has just been tremendous,” said Fay Twersky, director of the effective philanthropy group at the Hewlett Foundation> read more

October 6, 2016

Where Do You See Yourself in the Next Five Years?

Ronna Brown
Philanthropy New York

It’s the question you get in job interviews, by work or life coaches, and even occasionally by friends – Where do you see yourself in five years? (By the way, if conducting interviews has you stumped, check out today’s Livestream “The Do’s and Don’ts of Conducting Interviews for Potential Coworkers at Your Foundation”).

The answer to that question can be entirely superficial – or it can reveal something profound about a person’s goals and aspirations. It’s the question that we at PNY have tried to answer in our next five-year Strategic Plan. We wanted to answer this question in a way that was thoughtful, aspirational and still realistic. To do that, we turned to our Board and an ad hoc committee of dedicated members to think about what works, what we want to keep and where can we push ourselves to do more.

For the last nine months, those groups have analyzed our stats, read reports, asked questions and considered a range of options. They have ended up with, we believe,  a strong  plan to guide us for the next five years.

Our plan builds on PNY’s nearly four-decade history of nurturing an effective philanthropic community. We hope you will take the time to read the plan and share your reactions with us. We very much want to hear from you> read more

September 29, 2016

Nonprofits Worry About Election’s Impact on Public View of Charity

Rebecca Koenig
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

It’s not your imagination: Charity has become a focal point of the 2016 presidential election.

Unfortunately for nonprofits, that probably isn’t a good thing, experts say.

Discussion about the candidates’ charity work has been largely negative, raising concerns that the campaign rhetoric will do lasting damage to public perceptions about charities.

Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, worries that this election will “create the impression that nonprofits and foundations are places of scandal and conflicts of interest, which I don’t think is, in fact, generally true.”

Both candidates have been accused of excessive secrecy, and investigative journalists have found unusually rich fodder to explore in Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s charitable enterprises, which must file publicly available tax documents.> read more

September 26, 2016

Living Our Values by Listening to Our Grantees 

Neal Cuthbert
The McKnight Foundation Blog

In our Strategic Framework, we outline four key values at The McKnight Foundation:Accountability, Innovation, Integrity, and Respect. We take these values seriously, and do our best to intentionally incorporate each of them into our grantmaking and other business. When we say respect, we mean that we listen to diverse perspectives; we approach relationships with humility, openness, and honesty; and we engage constructively with partners, colleagues, and the communities we serve.

We view our relationships with our grantees in this spirit of respect and constructive engagement. The many opportunities we have to interact with our grantees during site-visits and routine communication are the bedrock for our work towards achieving our shared goals in a complex environment. To keep us even more grounded, we find it important to step back occasionally and ask our grantees what they honestly think of the job we’re doing.

The Grantee Perception Report

Every three to four years since 2003, McKnight has contracted with the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a nonprofit research organization, to administer an independent and confidential grantee survey that becomes the Grantee Perception Report (GPR)> read more

September 19, 2016

Clinton Global Initiative Ends With Some of Shine Worn Off

Margaret Talev and Bill Allison

When the Clinton Global Initiative opens Monday for its 12th and final annual meeting, it’ll be a little less global, lighter on initiative and absent one Clinton.

The event in New York, for years considered a prime forum for movie stars, captains of industry and global leaders to put their good names to good works, is ending its run with a formidable list of accomplishments but burdened by the political complications of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president and the attendant scrutiny of the family’s ties to wealthy interests.

Some well-known supporters of CGI, notably President Barack Obama, are missing from the guest list for this year’s meeting, when the door will close on an institution that’s won praise for reshaping philanthropy but also drawn derision for an atmosphere of pay-for-access.

“If Breitbart and Fox are going on and on and on about how laced with controversy this organization is, that’s going to sound alarms to companies that are very risk averse,” said Susan McPherson, a CGI member and CEO of McPherson Strategies, which advises corporate clients on philanthropic giving. “When you couple that with the presidential race, it makes it even riskier for them. They don’t want to be seen as pay-to-play if Hillary Clinton becomes president, and that has certainly had an effect this year.”> read more

August 5, 2016

Embracing Openness to Increase Effectiveness

Trevor Pollack
Barr Foundation Blog

Barr joins funder collaborative to increase openness and effectiveness in philanthropy.

In research released in February of this year, The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) found that both foundation and nonprofit leaders characterize transparency as “representing the values of clarity, openness, and honesty,” and 86% of foundation leaders surveyed believe transparency is necessary for building strong relationships with grantees.

And yet, the report continues:

“There is significant room for improvement in the degree to which foundations’ practices match the beliefs of their leaders about what is important to increase foundation effectiveness,” in particular when it comes to sharing how they assess their performance or their lessons learned. While this may not be news to many, it is one that is increasingly discussed, clarified by research such as CEP’s, and needs to be addressed> read more

August 1, 2016

The Nonprofit Times Power & Influence Top 50 ’16: Making The A, B And C-Suite Work Distinguishes These Executives

Paul Clolery
The Nonprofit Times

If you ask nonprofit executives the one thing about which they feel certain during 2016 the answer surely would be uncertainty. Here’s the list: A presidential election that probably will resemble Ali v. Frazier I; Bond and stock exchanges moving inversely to their historic norms; and, Rapid and some might offer rampant change in the C-Suite, with marquee names coming and going.

Managing a nonprofit, let alone innovating, is a tall order. Mastering that balance between sustainability and change is why these 50 executives have been selected for the 2016 NPT Power & Influence Top 50…> read more

July 5, 2016

Improving Philanthropy: An Interview with Melinda Tuan

Nell Edgington
Social Velocity

In today’s Social Velocity interview, I’m talking with Melinda Tuan, project manager for Fund for Shared Insight (Shared Insight), a collaborative effort among funders to make grants that improve philanthropy. In that capacity, Melinda plays a key role in guiding and facilitating Shared Insight’s activities including operations, communication, grantmaking, and evaluation.

Melinda is an independent consultant who works with the senior leadership of philanthropic organizations to develop strategies for effective philanthropy. Prior to starting her consulting practice in 2003, Melinda was managing director of REDF(formerly The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) – a social venture capital fund she co-founded.

You can read interviews with other social change leaders here.

Nell: One of the reasons the Fund for Shared Insight was established was to encourage more foundation transparency. Recent research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) demonstrated that there is still much work to do to make foundations more transparent, particularly about their strategies and impact. How do you think we get more foundations to be more open about these things?…> read more

June 10, 2016

Funding Infrastructure: A Smart Investment for All

Lindsay Louie & Fay Twersky
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Recently, we were talking with a philanthropist who sits on the board of her local community foundation. She was expressing frustration at the difficult relationships the community foundation had with its grantees and was especially upset that the foundation’s leaders seemed unaware of how dysfunctional some of the relationships were. As we spoke, we shared some suggestions for where she might get help; surveying the foundation’s grantees in an anonymous fashion, for example, could bring fresh, candid perspective to the foundation’s leadership.

In the Hewlett Foundation’s Effective Philanthropy Group, we regularly get inquiries from new philanthropists. Questions range from broad to specific, across topics such as strategy, evaluation, monitoring, learning, specific issue-areas of work, approaches to collaboration, foundation administrative spending—you name it! Sometimes they come from new donors themselves, other times from new staff members working with donors…> read more

 June 2, 2016

“Big Issues, Many Questions” by CEP: A Response Focusing on Corporate Foundations

Alice Korngold
The Conference Board Giving Thoughts Blog

In his essay on pressing issues facing U.S. foundation leaders and boards, Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, recommends that foundations become more relevant in serving society. Corporate foundations are in a strong position to meet this demand, since they are influenced by market forces.

When corporate philanthropy is purposefully designed to support the business mission and goals, it is in the best position to improve the lives of employees, suppliers, customers, and members of the community. Quite simply, it’s bad for business when there’s poverty, violence, and poor education and healthcare in regions where you’re building your workforce, and promoting your business. CEOs understand this…> read more

May 23, 2016

Closing the Feedback Loop

Kristin Wong
Stanford Social Innovation Review

In a late winter afternoon, the sun is going down quickly on a working-class neighborhood south of San Francisco. School is out, and it’s getting chilly. But instead of cozying up to the TV, dozens of students are clustered around computers at a clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. With furrowed brows, they’re fiddling with elementary code, editing video, and adjusting the sound on some R&B tracks.

It would be easy to simply assume that after-school programs such as these are beneficial—and indeed, data collected from students by the Clubs’ two-person evaluation team show an overall positive impact. But that’s not enough for Peter Fortenbaugh, the Clubs’ executive director. “I’m a huge believer in the importance of using data to inform good decision-making,” he says. “We capture a ton of data, but it’s not as good as it could be.”

So when Fortenbaugh heard about Listen for Good, a program that funds US nonprofits to ask the people they serve to weigh in on their programs, he jumped at the chance to participate. A project of the Fund for Shared Insight, Listen for Good offers nonprofits $60,000 each—$40,000 from Shared Insight and $20,000 from one of the nonprofit’s existing funders—to administer a standardized survey to a large swath of their clients…> read more

 May 17, 2016

Nearly 2 Dozen Groups Urge Foundations to Spend More to Strengthen Nonprofits

Suzanne Perry
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

More than 20 nonprofit organizations and associations have signed a letter asking grant makers to step up their spending on groups that help charities and foundations do better at solving social problems by offering services in areas like training, research, technology, and advocacy.

“An economy needs roads, bridges, and train stations to thrive,” says the letter, sent to 1,400 foundations that award at least $2.5 million in grants annually. “A community needs schools, parks, and houses of worship to ensure the flowering of human potential. And civil society needs infrastructure to ensure that nonprofits and foundations can act with integrity and impact.”

The move — spearheaded by Jacob Harold, chief executive of the information-services group GuideStar, and Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy — reflects mounting concern that grant making to support “nonprofit infrastructure” has not kept pace with the growth and increasing complexity of the philanthropic world…> read more

May 17, 2016

Foundations Pushed to Give 1% To Infrastructure

Mark Hrywna
The NonProfit Times

A coalition of nearly two dozens nonprofits issued a plea for foundations to consider directing at least 1 percent of grant-making budgets to support the infrastructure of the nonprofit sector.

The May 13 letter addressed to “foundation colleagues”was signed by leaders of 22 self-described “infrastructure organizations,” including the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar, Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), National Council of Nonprofits and the Council on Foundations.

“The infrastructure that supports this nonprofit sector can collectively magnify or diminish this shared work for social good,” the authors wrote in the two-page letter. “We ask that you invest out of hope. A hope that we can build a civil society that is capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. A hope that foundations and nonprofits alike can be more effective in pursuit of their goals.”> read more

May 8, 2016

Phil Buchanan: “We’ve Tried to Pierce the Bubble”

Marc Gunther
The Nonpr
ofit Times

If, as a chief executive or senior program officer of a big foundation, you have the power to disburse large sums of money, people are likely to let you know, in ways both subtle and direct, that you are wise, witty, good-looking and an all-around swell human being. Modest and self-aware you may be, but it is hard to resist flattery. Someone has to come along, like the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, and speak the truth.

In the world of foundations, Phil Buchanan, the affable 46-year-old  president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), plays the role of the child, albeit in an exceedingly diplomatic way. Buchanan and his colleagues at the CEP prod foundations to set clear goals, become better listeners, measure their progress and share what they learn. The CEP has generated research and built feedback mechanisms — notably its Grantee Perception Reports — that work like mirrors, enabling grant-makers to see themselves as they are seen by others…> read more

April 28, 2016

Boards: 5 Trends That Require Serious Discussion

Mark Hrywna
The NonPr
ofit Times

Foundation board members should be having critical conversations and asking questions around five relevant trends to ensure their philanthropy is done well, according to a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).

The Cambridge, Mass.-based CEP today released “Big Issues, Many Questions: An essay on the pressing issues facing U.S. foundation leaders and boards,” in which the organization’s President Phil Buchanan lays out the five trends and related questions that board members should be asking.

In a letter accompanying the 32-page report, CEP Board Chairman Grant Oliphant of The Heinz Endowments described the piece “as a good discussion starter,” suggesting it be used for a board or senior leadership meeting or retreat…> read more

April 14, 2016

Policies, Processes and Protocols: Three Keys to Building a Diverse Workplace

Simone N. Sneed
Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog

The statistics are startling. According to the Center For Effective Philanthropy, more than 85 percent of philanthropic organizations have white CEOs. Only 7 percent of nonprofit chief executives and 18 percent of nonprofit employees are people of color, despite the fact that they make up nearly 40 percent of the US population.

With numbers like these, it makes sense that the most common approach to addressing diversity in the social sector has been through the lens of talent development. By focusing on recruitment, hiring, and retention, organizations have the opportunity to address a critical and highly visible challenge…> read more

March 21, 2016

The Theory of the Foundation

Melissa A. Berman
Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog

Just over 20 years ago, the iconic management expert Peter F. Drucker published an article in Harvard Business Reviewentitled “The Theory of the Business.” The essay called for leaders to stop focusing on what Drucker labeled “how to do” techniques, and instead think about three fundamental sets of assumptions related to the organization’senvironment,mission, and core competencies. Together, Drucker argued, these assumptions create a “theory of the business.” Importantly, he noted that all organizations, not just corporations, need a “clear, consistent, and valid” theory to succeed. He also pointed out that they need to regularly assess and adjust this theory in response to changing conditions…> read more

March 2, 2016

Transparency Chat: CEP on Sharing What Matters

Janet Camarena
Glasspockets Blog

Ellie Buteau, Ph.D., is the vice president of research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), which received a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight (FSI). FSI is a multi-year collaborative effort among funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy. Transparency Talk is featuring grantees in the FSI openness portfolio. Janet Camarena, Foundation Center’s director of transparency, and Ms. Buteau discussed the findings of CEP’s new report,Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency> read more

February 28, 2016

When Foundations are Uncharitable

Marc Gunther
Nonprofit Chronicles

When it comes to sharing what they know, foundations are, alas, uncharitable.

That is the most striking finding of a report on foundations and transparency published last week by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

The 52-page report, called Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency, is based on surveys with 145 foundation CEOs and more than 15,000 grantees, as well as reviews of more than 70 foundation websites. It’s thorough.

Foundations do a good job of sharing their goals, strategies and grant-making processes, the CEP researchers found. That’s all well and good. But…>read more

February 26, 2016

Foundation Leaders are Thinking About, Evaluating Transparency

Andy Segedin
The Nonprofit Times

Foundation CEOs are emphasizing transparency and have identified grantees and prospective grantees as a target audience instead of the likes of government policymakers, journalists and the general public. CEOs of independent foundations identified grantees and nonprofits considering applying for a grant as the intended audience for transparency in 95 and 84 percent of cases, respectively. Both groups are the intended audience for 96 percent of community foundations.

Government policy makers (57 percent for independent foundations and 76 percent for community foundations), journalists who report on philanthropy (46 percent and 67 percent) and the general public (45 percent and 72 percent) made up the bottom of the list. Donors were a target audience for 98 percent of community foundations, but were not offered as a potential answer to independent foundations’ CEOs…>read more

February 22, 2016

Grant Makers Applaud Transparency, but Most Don’t Practice it, Study Says

Alex Daniels
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Foundation leaders often tout the importance of reporting the results of their philanthropy to the public. But when it comes to actually sharing the pitfalls and failures of the programs they support, only a small share say they live up to the ideal of full transparency, according to a report released Tuesday.

Grant makers could become more effective if they revealed publicly what works and what doesn’t, suggests the report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which is based on a survey of 145 foundation chief executives.

A key barrier to greater openness, according to the study: a shortage of staff time and money devoted to such efforts…>read more

February 10, 2016

It’s Not Foundation Money but Culture and Talent That Can Change the World

Rachel Mosher-Williams, Sara Brenner, and Amy Celep
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

As the world’s challenges grow ever deeper — on issues like climate change, inequality, and terrorism — philanthropy faces a tremendous responsibility, and a new opportunity, to advance widespread social change that can help meet those challenges. Grant makers will potentially have at their disposal a lot more of the money needed to achieve that as Americans — especially those from the Silent Generation and the baby boomers — look to transfer their wealth to their children or to philanthropy. But a strong infusion of dollars may not be enough to make a difference unless foundations change their cultures.

At first blush, organizational culture may not sound like a big barrier to large-scale breakthroughs. Solving major social problems would seem to depend primarily on money, influence, and widespread shifts in norms or attitudes…>read more

February 1, 2016

10 Donors Join Forces to Make $1 Billion in Grants to Help Youth Charities Grow

Nicole Wallace
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and nine other donors have joined forces to create Blue Meridian Partners, a grant-making collaborative, with the goal of awarding $1 billion to expand the reach of high-performing charities that serve low-income children and youths.

“At a time when the urgent needs of children and youth are on the rise, it is deeply frustrating to me how hard it is for even the most successful nonprofit leaders to grow their organizations to meet these needs,” Nancy Roob, the foundation’s chief executive, wrote in a letter announcing the new collaboration. “We are woefully underinvesting in what works.”> read more

February 1, 2016

Evaluating Grantees: Learning from a Top-Performing Funder

Caroline Fiennes
Stanford Social Innovation Review

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny … ‘” So said Isaac Asimov.

“That’s funny … ” is exactly what I said upon learning that an unusual foundation received better feedback from its grantees on the helpfulness of its reporting and evaluation process—not once, but twice—than 260 other funders the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) analyzed. Whatever are they doing?

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) is based in the United States, was set up by US Congress in 1969, and makes grants to support grassroots development across Latin America. On average, its grantees are tiny (with revenue about $225,000), and IAF provides nearly two-thirds of their budget for almost four years…> read more

February 1, 2016

Who’s Behind the Barr Foundation?

Patti Hartigan
Boston Magazine

A lot can be learned when the NEA comes to town.

In 1991—in the midst of the culture wars—U.S. Representative Chester Atkins ferried the National Endowment for the Arts director on a tour designed to highlight the agency’s good deeds around Boston. A few years later, Senator Edward Kennedy did the same, accompanying the NEA chairwoman to an elementary school in Roxbury, where they sat on teeny chairs and watched adorable tots perform a concert. These official visits were as carefully choreographed as a Swan Lake solo, and featured our biggest-name elected officials in their snazziest suits. So something was decidedly different last May when NEA chairwoman Jane Chu arrived on a whistle-stop tour and the host was the wholly unelected Jim Canales, president of the Barr Foundation—the state’s wealthiest and most influential privately funded philanthropy. Unlike previous visits, this time around the sights and speakers on the tour had a singular theme: They all received generous funding from Barr. Sure, folks from City Hall and the state arts council were on hand, but the picture was clear: Barr is in control…> read more

January 28, 2016

Is There a Philanthropy Establishment? And, If So, Who’s In It?

David Callahan
Inside Philanthropy

Who’s in charge here?

That’s a question an outsider might well ask about the curious world of philanthropy. Is there a clear group of leaders who are setting the direction of all this giving? Are there key institutions that knit these leaders together? Is there a shared set of norms and expectations that govern behavior? And is there rough agreement on where philanthropy should go?

The short answer to these questions is “no.” There is not a single philanthropy establishment. Rather, the philanthrosphere is becoming more fragmented all the time, with distinctive groupings of funders who operate in different ways with different goals and connect through different institutions. Nobody is in charge, and that’s mostly a good thing…> read more

January 12, 2016

Nine Predictions for Philanthropy in 2016

Jeff Clarke
Philanthropy Northwest

Welcome to 2016! Philanthropy’s core DNA is love for humanity and community. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we celebrate a unique philanthropic culture marked by optimism, generosity, civic engagement and stewardship. It rests upon our nation’s unique commitment to philanthropic freedom and donor intent. But above all, our big, diverse place defines us, from Alaska’s North Slope to southern Oregon, and the Pacific coast to eastern Montana and Wyoming. In other words, asAmerican farmer and writer Wendell Berry observed, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”

At the same time, our sense of place and our unique philanthropic culture energize us to support people and causes both close to home and across the globe. We are a creative community, employing many forms of capital – financial, human, intellectual, natural, social – to influence change…>read more

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