Foundation Helpfulness in Nonprofit Efforts to Assess Progress

It is no secret that nonprofit organizations are facing increasing pressure to measure and assess their progress toward their goals. In our 2012 report on nonprofit performance assessment, CEP found that 81 percent of nonprofits say that understanding the progress their organization is making toward its goals is a top priority for their governing board.

Yet with their often limited resources, nonprofit organizations may not always be in a position to undertake such efforts on their own. Our past research has shown that nonprofits are looking to their foundation funders to provide more assistance in assessing their progress.

But are foundations assuming this role?

Beginning in the fall of 2013, CEP added an item to its Grantee Perception Report (GPR) that asks grantees to rate how helpful their foundation funders have been to their organization’s ability to assess progress toward their goals. As of April of this year, 4,483 grantees from 26 foundations had responded to this question.

On average, grantees rate foundation helpfulness only a 5.1 on a 1 to 7 scale. (See Figure 1.) Less than half of grantees, about 45 percent, rate foundation helpfulness a 6 or 7. In contrast, when we ask these same grantees to rate a foundation’s overall impact on their organization, grantees rate, on average, foundations a 6.2 on a 1 to 7 scale. (See Figure 1.) Additionally, a full 77 percent of grantees rate foundations a 6 or 7.

So why aren’t the ratings on helpfulness in assessing performance as high as the ratings of other foundation characteristics? When grantees do find foundations more helpful to their ability to assess progress, what other foundation qualities do they rate more positively?

Based on analyses of the data gathered since adding the new question to our survey, we have found that one key to perceived foundation helpfulness in assessing progress seems to be open, reciprocal communication between grantees and their funders about this assessment.

We found that grantees who exchange ideas with foundations about how they will assess the results of the work that is being funded (about 70 percent of the grantees in our sample) rate foundations as being significantly more helpful to their ability to assess their progress.[1] (See Figure 2.) Additionally, of grantees who participate in a reporting or evaluation process with foundations, those who discuss their submitted report or evaluation (about 51 percent of the grantees in our sample) rate foundations as being significantly more helpful to their ability to assess progress.[2] (See Figure 2.)

Though these findings are preliminary because they are based on a still small number of foundations’ grantees, they nonetheless suggest the need for foundations to do more to improve the ways in which they help nonprofits assess their performance. As more data is collected and analyzed, it will be interesting to see if other patterns emerge regarding foundation practices and the extent to which grantees perceive foundations as being helpful in their ability to assess progress.

Jennifer Glickman is a Research Analyst at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

 


[1] An independent samples t-test was run comparing grantee ratings of how helpful their foundation funders are to their ability to assess progress toward their goals based on whether or not the grantees exchanged ideas with their funders about how they will assess the results of the work that is being funded. The test was significant and of a medium effect size. On average, grantees who exchange ideas rate foundation helpfulness 0.9 points higher than grantees who do not exchange ideas.

[2] An independent samples t-test was run comparing grantee ratings of how helpful their foundation funders are to their ability to assess progress toward their goals based on whether or not the grantee discussed their submitted report or evaluation. The test was significant and of a medium effect size. On average, grantees who discuss their report or evaluation rate foundation helpfulness 0.8 points higher than grantees who do not discuss their report or evaluation.

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