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CEP and CEI Partner to Release New Comprehensive Review of Foundation Evaluation Practices

Date: September 20, 2016

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Media Contact: Ethan McCoy, Senior Writer – Development and Communications: 617-492-0800 x263

Cambridge, MA – New research released today by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) represents the most comprehensive data collection effort to date on evaluation practices at foundations. The data, on topics such as evaluation staffing and structures, investment in evaluation work, and the usefulness of evaluation information, is presented in a new publication titled Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices.

“We believe this joint effort provides foundations with a much-needed comprehensive set of data on evaluation practices at foundations,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president, research, at CEP and one of the co-authors of the report. “Our hope is that it will help foundation leaders get a sense of what other foundations are doing, and how to think more deeply about their own evaluation choices.”

Data in the report is based on survey responses from individuals who were either the most senior evaluation or program staff at 127 foundations in the U.S. and Canada giving at least $10 million annually, or members of the Evaluation Roundtable, a network of foundation leaders in evaluation convened by CEI.

When it comes to foundations’ investment in evaluation efforts, 71 percent of respondents say their foundation invests too little in disseminating evaluation findings externally, and 69 percent believe their foundation invests too little in improving grantee capacity for data collection or evaluation.

The report also includes data on a range of topics pertaining to the use of evaluation information and the challenges foundations experience in their evaluation efforts. For example, 76 percent of respondents say having evaluations result in meaningful insights for their foundation has been at least somewhat challenging, and 82 percent say it has been at least somewhat challenging having evaluations result in useful lessons for grantees. Further, 91 percent of respondents say program staff’s time is a challenge for program staff’s use of information collected through, or resulting from, evaluation work.

The report shares information about the basic structure of evaluation responsibilities within foundations, as well. While only 34 percent of foundations have a dedicated evaluation unit or department separate from their program department, 62 percent of respondents report directly to the CEO or president of their foundation.

“While there is no one right way to structure and scope evaluation at foundations,” said Julia Coffman, CEI director and co-author of the report, “our benchmarking data offer a good sense of how the philanthropic sector is currently positioning evaluation and where evaluation staff are focusing their attention.”

The report also shares what respondents hope to see change when it comes to foundations’ collection and use of evaluation information in the coming years. Most commonly, respondents express a desire to see foundations be more strategic in the way they plan for and design evaluations so that information collected is meaningful and useful.

Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices is available for free download on CEP’s website.

About the Center for Effective Philanthropy

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP’s work, including its research, publications, programming, assessments, and advisory services, visit

About the Center for Evaluation Innovation

The Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. with a mission to push philanthropic and nonprofit evaluation practice in new directions and into new areas. CEI specializes in areas that are challenging to assess, such as advocacy and systems change. For more information on CEI, visit

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