Data Point: Nonprofits Want More Discussion about Assessment with Funders

In our 2012 report Room for Improvement, we explored the grantee perspective on foundations’ support of nonprofit performance assessment. Based on a survey of our Grantee Voice panel, the majority of nonprofit leaders cite dedicated funding as the most important step funders could take to help grantees assess their performance. One nonprofit leader reflected, “provide additional funds with each grant specifically to measure outcomes rather than just require that we identify and measure the outcomes as though it can be done without cost.”

But nonprofit leaders are also seeking more non-monetary support for these efforts—specifically in the form of discussions about various elements of the assessment process. Currently, nonprofits we surveyed are not having much discussion with their foundation funders about nonprofit performance assessment. They report little conversation with funders about what performance targets they should set, which data to collect, how to interpret the data, how to develop the skills of staff to collect and interpret data, and the results of performance assessments.

The majority of nonprofits are looking for more discussion to take place on each of these topics.

From the perspective of nonprofit leaders, the area most often in need of more discussion is how to develop the skills of their staff to collect and interpret performance data: 71 percent of respondents want more discussion with their foundation funders about this issue.

As one nonprofit leader said, “Have conversations that feel more supportive and less monitor-ish … [Foundation funders] could help provide expertise and help organizations measure, instead of relying on organizations to bear the sole responsibility for having these skills. It is rare that a foundation offers this kind of help.”

It is particularly noteworthy that 58 percent of nonprofit leaders want to spend more time than they currently do talking with their funders about what they are learning about their performance. As one nonprofit leader said, “I would love a ‘post-progress report’ conversation about how things are going, or how they went. This would help frame next steps.”

The data indicate that more time spent discussing these issues would be a good investment. When nonprofit leaders report having more discussion with their funders about issues related to performance assessment, they find their funders to be more helpful to their organizations’ ability to assess its progress.

This finding was reflected in a conversation at our 2013 National Conference. During a panel discussion on the role of funders in supporting nonprofit performance assessment, Dan Cardinali, President of Communities In Schools, brought this point to life through the example of his organization. You can watch highlights from this conversation—or catch the full session—on our YouTube channel.


Ellie Buteau is Vice President of Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy. You can find her on Twitter @EButeau_CEP.

Grantee Voice, nonprofit sector, performance assessment, role of philanthropy, Room for Improvement
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