Looking Back with Gratitude, Moving Forward Together

Kevin Bolduc

One of the founding ideas of our work at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) was that funders could — and should — learn from each other’s experience — not just in an anecdotal way, but systematically. Today that doesn’t sound like such a wild idea, but back in 2001 there weren’t many ways to do so except at the periodic Council on Foundations or regional association of grantmakers’ conferences.

We at CEP spent a lot of time convincing a couple dozen funders to experiment with a comparative approach to listening to their grantees, learning from what they heard, and acting on it. Today, that early approach has grown into CEP’s Grantee Perception Report (GPR) and the other listening and feedback tools through which we partner with funders. CEP has come a long way these last 20 years, but not in a vacuum: our sector’s infrastructure is also very different, comprising an increasingly diverse set of philanthropy serving organizations, online resources, and research that have influenced our efforts.

Despite all these advances, cross-organizational learning still requires real commitment, resources, and effort. So, when I look back at 2021 and the dozens of you around the world that chose CEP as a partner in your efforts, I’m deeply thankful. I’m appreciative of the ways you supported each other. You gave of your time, and not once in the last year did any of you say “no,” when my colleagues and I reached out with a request to connect you with another funder to share about something you were doing well. You shared and planned alongside each other in CEP’s first formal learning community of funders acting on recent GPR results. (New communities coming later this year.) You gave us valuable feedback and advice through our own third-party assessment of our work with you. (More soon on what we learned and what we’re doing in response). You blogged, shared case studies and interviews, and made assessment results transparent to the field, all in a bid to increase our collective knowledge and impact.

The continuing pandemic and the needed increase in attention to movements for racial equity mean that every funder should be thinking about how to listen carefully, comprehensively, and authentically to partners, internal and external. Many of you did in 2021 and more will in 2022, amplifying all our impact through your commitment to collective learning and action. My colleagues and I are deeply grateful.

Thank you to the following funders that commissioned at least one assessment or advisory engagement with CEP in 2021 and allowed us to list their partnership with CEP publicly.

Kevin Bolduc is vice president, assessment and advisory services, at CEP. Follow him on Twitter at @kmbolduc.

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