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Effective Matters: March 2019

Date: March 28, 2019

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New CEP Research on Start-Ups, Policy Coming Soon

What can early-stage grantmakers learn from those who came before them so they can avoid common pitfalls as they get their giving up and running? How are foundations seeking to influence policy through their work, and what is the role that funders should play in this arena? CEP’s research team has been hard at work on projects exploring these questions over the past year, and we’re excited to be sharing the findings of two studies in the coming months.

To be released next month, Greater Good: Lessons from Those Who Have Started Major Grantmaking Institutions seeks to guide, inform, and instruct the next generation of grantmakers as they bring their giving up to speed. For this study, which was commissioned by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to mark its 10th anniversary, CEP interviewed 35 leaders of 14 organizations that were established or experienced significant growth in the past 20 years. Based on the insights gleaned from these interviews, Greater Good shares information on how funders getting their grantmaking up and running can avoid common mistakes. While there is no single blueprint for funders to follow in their early days, the study reveals three key elements required for effectively getting a grantmaking organization off the ground. Watch your inbox for news about this report’s release in the coming weeks.

CEP is also working on a new major study that explores foundation efforts to influence public policy at the national, state, and local levels. Our research team fielded a survey to private and community foundation CEOs that asked questions on topics such as the role of foundations seeking to influence policy, why and how those that do are incorporating public policy work into their strategy, and the challenges of this work. Our belief is that this research will prompt foundation leaders to consider more critically whether, and how, their foundations should seek to influence policy as a means to achieve their goals.

Philanthropic leaders will have the opportunity to delve into data and findings from both of these research initiatives at the 2019 CEP Conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul this May. CEP’s Kevin Bolduc and Ellie Buteau will share initial findings of CEP’s policy study for the first time on the plenary stage, which will be followed by a panel discussion among foundation leaders and trustees about when and how foundations should influence policy and what these actions might mean for democracy (full findings of the complete study will be published later in 2019). And conference-goers who work at a grantmaking organization started in the past 20 years are eligible to attend a pre-conference session in which they can explore the findings from Greater Good, hear candidly from exemplars, and connect with peers at a similar juncture in their philanthropy.

We’re looking forward to sharing our findings from these two studies in the coming months. To access any of CEP’s already published research, you can download any of our reports for free on our website.

Giving Done Right is out in less than three weeks!


Lauded by Equal Justice Initiative Co-Founder Bryan Stevenson as “a must read for those who really want to make a difference when supporting nonprofits,” Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, the first book by CEP President Phil Buchanan, is out April 16!

Giving Done Right shares compelling and data-driven lessons and insights for givers of all stripes — from the foundation CEO or program officer to the mega-donor to the everyday check writer — about what effective philanthropy takes, while also making a passionate plea for the unique role that giving and the nonprofit sector play in American society.

You can get a taste of one of the book’s key arguments in an excerpt recently published on Giving Compass, in which Buchanan makes the case for why giving is different — and more difficult — than investing. “There is no formula — no ‘plug and play’ analogy to be adopted by the world of giving. There are many choices and many ways to be an effective giver, but none are simple,” he writes. “Thoughtful givers open themselves up to learn how uniquely challenging giving is.”

You can learn more about the book and why giving effectively is challenging, yet immensely rewarding, by listening to this conversation between Buchanan and Devin Thorpe, which aired earlier this month on The Social Impact Podcast – Your Mark on the World with Devin Thorpe.

Published by PublicAffairs, the book’s release in 19 days will be marked with special launch events this April in Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. If you’re in any of those regions, we hope you’ll join us for these events, which will feature conversations with philanthropic leaders about what effective giving entails. Learn more about these events here, and keep an eye on that page to see where you can catch Buchanan speaking next.

To be sure you have your copy in hand on April 16, you can place pre-orders on AmazonBarnes and Noble, or IndieBound. And if you’d like to place bulk pre-orders for your staff, board, network, or book group to read and discuss together, time is quickly running out on special pre-publication discounts at 800ceoread or BookPal.

Last call to register for the 2019 CEP Conference!


It feels like just yesterday that we were sending out save-the-dates, but the 2019 CEP Conference, Stronger Philanthropy, is now only 39 days away! On May 7, more than 450 foundation leaders, trustees, and major donors will come together at the Hilton Minneapolis for three days of thought-provoking plenaries, focused breakout sessions, and opportunities to connect with peers to share best practices and reflect on what’s working — and what isn’t — when it comes to today’s pressing issues in philanthropy. The conference program is set, and we have a wealth of engaging speakers on the docket who will share insights on topics ranging from the housing crisis in America to philanthropy’s role in moving beyond political division to applying a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens to grantmaking.

Not yet registered? There are fewer than 10 empty seats remaining! You can register for the conference here. We cap attendance at the conference to optimize interactivity and audience discussion, so please do not delay if you are considering joining us and your colleagues in Minneapolis-St. Paul!

Already attending? Learn how to maximize your time with us in this recent blog post from Grace Nicolette, CEP’s vice president of programming and external relations and conference-planning leader.

Full details, including a list of all attendees, are also available on the conference website,

Ready for feedback in 2019?

If you’re thinking about collecting honest and actionable feedback from your grantees, staff, donors, or other stakeholders this year, now is the time to start the conversation about conducting a CEP assessment in 2019. Our spring survey window is full, but there are a few spots left for our fall survey round. Don’t miss out on the chance to learn from some of your most important partners — or to gain insights into your work by partnering with CEP on a customized advisory engagement. Contact CEP’s Austin Long to get the conversation started today.

In Case You Missed It: On the CEP Blog

In a six-part series, CEP Director, Research, Naomi Orensten, and former Associate Manager, Research, Matthew H. Leiwant, highlight findings from a recent survey of CEP’s Grantee Voice panel — a nationally representative sample of U.S. nonprofit leaders across a broad range of geographies, fields/issues, and sizes — about what they think foundation funders could improve upon in their work. Covering topics like improvements to foundation processes; the provision of flexible, multiyear funding; and building stronger relationships between funders and grantees, the series distills the most common suggestions that nonprofits have for their foundation funders. Acting on these suggestions can help funders be more effective — and in doing so can have a profoundly positive impact on nonprofit organizations and the people and communities they serve.

In response to three “iffy assertions” about philanthropy gaining traction recently, CEP President Phil Buchanan debunks a few of the most prevalent — and largely misguided, he argues — critiques of the current moment in philanthropy. “The effectiveness of philanthropy is too vital for us not to learn from successes or for us to be consumed by unproductive debates or hand-wringing rooted in critiques that exaggerate, overgeneralize, or at times even distort,” he writes. “Philanthropy remains a defining strength of our country, and the diverse array of nonprofits it supports are often doing heroic work to help lift up the most vulnerable. It’s important we not lose sight of that, especially now.”

Drawing from findings in CEP’s report, Strengthening Grantees, Rusty Stahl, president and CEO of Fund the People, urges funders to consider the problem with investing only in the executive leadership of a grantee organization while ignoring the needs of the rest of the organization’s staff.

Jara Dean-Coffey, founder and principal of Luminare Group and director of the Equitable Evaluation Initiative, invites funders to consider the ways in which an equity lens can improve current methods of philanthropic evaluation. “Foundations have the ability to shift and influence the way in which evaluation is ‘used’ with communities and nonprofits,” she writes. “Funders, the journey to a new paradigm begins (but does not end) with you. Equitable evaluation is an opportunity for all of us to challenge norms in philanthropy and its partners (nonprofits, philanthropy-supporting organizations, consultants, etc.) in regard to acceptable evaluation practice that reflects and is in service of equity.”

Kim Williams-Pulfer, postdoctoral research appointee for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, offers an assessment of the ways in which diversity is being talked about in the philanthropic field and describes how diversifying nonprofit boards could drive meaningful steps towards a more inclusive sector.

Meg Long, president of Equal Measure, and Clare Nolan, co-founder of EngageR+D, identify and discuss five common tensions that occur in funder-intermediary-evaluator relationships, and offer recommendations as to how each one can be approached to generate more cohesive partnerships and, in turn, higher levels of impact.

In preparation for the 2019 CEP Conference in Minneapolis, Kate Wolford, president of McKnight Foundation, discusses the current state of democracy and civic life in Minnesota and the role that philanthropy could play in strengthening a healthy democracy — in Minnesota and beyond.

Kate Frykberg, philanthropy advisor and trustee of the Te Muka Rau Trust, shares her experience in learning to foster trust and partnership between funders and indigenous communities — specifically Māori — in her home country of New Zealand.

In a behind-the-scenes look at the work of a funder collaborative, Meera Mani of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Janet Froetscher of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation discuss how they overcame a make-or-break moment.

Richard Tagle, CEO of the Andy Roddick Foundation, and Celine Coggins, executive director of Grantmakers for Education, dive into the data of Grantmakers for Education’s recent benchmarking report and discuss the potential for collaboration and policy work to strengthen the efforts of education funders.

Like what you see? Subscribe to the CEP blog to receive every new post directly in your inbox! You can subscribe by filling out the short form on the right-hand side of the page on any of the posts linked above.

CEP is looking for a finance and operations leader to join our staff!

We just launched a search for a vice president, finance and operations, to join our Cambridge, MA office. This person, who will be a key member of CEP’s senior staff, will be responsible for advancing CEP’s approach to financial and operational management, contribute to CEP’s overall strategic direction, ensure that accurate and useful financial reporting and modelling guides CEP’s decision-making, and manage CEP’s finance and administration team, among other responsibilities.

Check out the full job posting here, and learn more about CEP’s mission, vision, and values here.

Please help us spread the word about this opportunity!

New Faces at CEP

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CEP has welcomed a batch of new staff members across teams thus far in 2019. The assessment and advisory services team added two analysts, Terah Ehigiator and Alina Tomeh, in the Cambridge office. In San Francisco, Analyst Juan Cruz and Partnerships Lead Jen de Forest joined YouthTruth. And Writer, Development and Communications, Sarah Martin is the newest member of the programming and external relations team in Cambridge.

Will you consider a gift to CEP?

While earned revenue accounts for about half of CEP’s total revenue, we are dependent on philanthropic support for much of our work. If you believe in CEP’s work, and if it benefits you and your organization as you seek to do yours, please consider making a grant or an individual contribution to CEP. Supporting CEP means supporting more effective philanthropy.

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