Foundations React to Shifting Winds in Washington

Phil Buchanan

Foundations are frequently caricatured as lumbering — as slow to respond to changing contexts. But my take on our latest CEP research report, released today, is that foundations are not sitting on their hands in the face of a dramatically changed political climate. They are, instead, actively reconsidering their approaches.

Our report, Shifting Winds: Foundations Respond to a New Political Context, shows that most of the 162 foundation CEOs that responded to a survey we conducted in February and March are making, or are planning to make, some change in response to the Trump presidency. While some are making fundamental moves, such as adding new goals or changing strategies, others are shifting emphases. More than 40 percent, for example, report planning to increase their emphasis on collaboration and on advocacy at the state and local levels.

We were also struck by how many foundation leaders — even among those who see significant challenges in a Trump Administration — see opportunity. Some wrote, for example, of opportunities to increase civic engagement.

We saw the full gamut of responses to the survey. There are, of course, foundation CEOs who see alignment between their goals and those of the White House, as well as others who don’t believe their work is much affected by changes in D.C. And there are also some who believe it’s still too soon to tell what the effect will be, and how their foundation should respond — if at all.

Our report lays this all out so that foundation leaders can see what their peers are thinking. We undertook this research in response to many questions we were asked about what we saw foundations doing, as well as numerous articles and op-eds we have seen suggesting foundations should do this, or do that, in response to a new political climate. We wanted to know what foundations were actually doing, so we asked them.

We hope the data in this report is useful in informing foundations about the state of play at this moment in time. In addition, we’ll be running a series of blog posts from foundation leaders and foundation watchers in the coming weeks highlighting their reactions to the data and their sense of what foundations can — and should — be doing.

We’re especially interested in hearing from foundations that have made shifts who are willing to talk about what they have done and why they have done it. If you are a foundation leader who would like to tell your foundation’s story of response to a new political climate on our blog, please send my colleague Ethan McCoy a note ( Or simply weigh in below with a comment.

The report is free for download. You can also watch video of a presentation I made previewing the data at the CEP conference earlier this month.


Phil Buchanan is president of CEP. Follow him on Twitter at @philxbuchanan.

CEO perceptions, foundations, leadership, policy, research, Shifting Winds
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