Data Point: What Information are Foundations Using to Assess Their Programmatic Work?

For our recent State of Foundation Performance Assessment report, we gathered data from 173 CEOs of U.S. foundations with annual grantmaking of at least $5 million on what types of information they use to assess the effectiveness of their foundations’ work – operations, finance, and programmatic. Compared to a similar survey we completed almost a decade ago, it appears that foundation CEOs today are drawing on an increasingly broad array of performance indicators.

In this survey, we listed a range of types of information CEOs may be using to assess the effectiveness of their foundations’ work, and CEOs could select as many as applicable.

On average, CEOs report using seven types of information to understand their foundations’ programmatic effectiveness. Almost all foundations are using anecdotal feedback, written reports from grantees, site visits, and evaluations – either of individual grants, clusters of grants, or program areas.

A minority, however, seek information from their ultimate beneficiaries – the people whose lives foundations are ultimately trying to affect – either through surveys, focus groups, or convenings. When we compare responses of CEOs whose foundations do and do not seek the voices of their ultimate beneficiaries, two important differences emerge: CEOs who report that their foundation does collect beneficiary feedback rate themselves as having 1) a better understanding of the progress their foundation is making against its strategies, and 2) a more accurate understanding of the impact the foundation is having on the communities and fields in which it works.

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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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