Data Point: How Foundation CEOs Use Information About the Effectiveness of their Programmatic Work

The use and management of data stands at the core of the work undertaken by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The set of survey tools CEP has developed as well as field-wide research builds comparative data drawn from key constituent groups—grantees, donors, staff members and others—providing insights that enable funders to better define, assess and improve their effectiveness.

Here is another finding from our recent survey exploring the current status of performance assessment among larger foundations. The survey was conducted in January and February of this year, and we received responses from CEOs of 173 U.S. foundations with annual grantmaking of at least $5 million.

In the survey, CEOs were asked to indicate how important the information they collect to assess the effectiveness of their foundation’s programmatic work was for a variety of purposes.

The majority of CEOs responded that this information was extremely important for various internally focused purposes. For example, almost 60 percent thought information about the effectiveness of their program work was extremely important to use when deciding whether or not to change or adjust their own programmatic strategies. A total of 70 percent thought this information was extremely important to help them understand the impact of their programmatic work. Very few CEOs – 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively – thought the findings were not important for these purposes. When rating the importance of using information about their programmatic effectiveness for a more external purpose, such as communicating publicly about what the foundation was able to learn through its programmatic work, only 37 percent thought it was extremely important and 18 percent said it was not important at all.

Does the lack of importance CEOs place on publicly sharing such information lead to missed opportunities for foundations to learn from one another’s work – about what works and what does not? Beyond that, are there also missed opportunities for nonprofits to learn more about what has been tried and assessed?

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To read about current foundation CEOs’ attitudes toward assessment and what foundations are doing to understand their performance, see the report, The State of Foundation Performance Assessment: A Survey of Foundation CEOs written by Ellie Buteau, Ph.D. and Phil Buchanan and published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.


Ellie Buteau is Vice President – Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

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