Data Point: Why Aren’t Foundation Boards More Involved in Assessing Performance?

One of the key findings from our recent performance assessment study, titled The State of Foundation Performance Assessment: A Survey of Foundation CEOs, is that 70 percent of CEOs want their board members to be more involved in assessment. This finding is consistent with our previous research – a desire for more board involvement is one area where we have seen little change in our surveys over the years. To try to understand why this gap remains, we asked CEOs what stands in the way of greater board involvement in assessing the foundation’s performance.

One hundred seventy-three CEOs of U.S. foundations with annual grantmaking of at least $5 million responded to our survey. The 70 percent who said they wanted greater board involvement in assessment were asked to consider whether any of the four hurdles listed above hamper their board’s involvement; CEOs could select any or all of these options, as well as present other reasons on their own. They could also answer that “Nothing hampers board’s involvement” in assessment efforts.

Almost 30 percent said an impediment to board involvement is a belief among CEOs that their boards do not have a deep enough understanding of the issue areas the foundation funds. More than 20 percent saw a misalignment between the board and staff about what is possible to understand about the foundation’s impact. Just under 20 percent said the board does not support allocating the necessary resources for useful assessment. Finally, 13 percent believed that the board isn’t more involved because it doesn’t understand the foundation’s goals or strategies.

Yet a third of CEOs who would like their board to be more involved in assessment reported that nothing in particular hampers their board from greater involvement in assessment.

The most common barriers CEOs saw to board involvement in assessment seem to be easily addressable. If boards and CEOs work to make overcoming these hurdles a priority, perhaps we will begin to see more CEO satisfaction with the involvement of their boards in assessment.

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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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