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Foundations Aren’t Reaching Grantees Through Social Media: New research by CEP underscores the challenges of using social media

Date: July 26, 2012

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July 26, 2012


New research by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) shows that when it comes to social media, nonprofits aren’t closely following their foundation funders or their funders’ staff.

“While foundations and their grantees are both using social media—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs—the nonprofits simply are not following their funders,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president of research for CEP and co-author of the report. “That raises questions about who foundations are intending to reach through their social media—grantees are a crucial audience for most foundations and if they are not paying attention to their funders’ social media, who is?”

Key findings from the new research include the following:

  • The majority of both foundations and nonprofits in the survey are using social media
  • However, few grantees use social media from their foundation funders or their funders’ staff
  • Of the small percentage of grantees that do use foundations’ social media, the majority of them aren’t doing so to interact with foundations: they simply want information about their funder and content that is relative to their work
  • Finally, grantees find social media to be the least helpful resource for learning about the foundation

The findings, taken from a 2011 survey of leaders and senior managers at 6,000 nonprofits with a median operating budget of $1.3 million, were released today in a report titled Grantees’ Limited Engagement with Foundations’ Social Media. All of the grantees were responding about one of the 34 foundations in CEP’s research. These questions about social media were included in a broader survey administered as part of CEP’s Grantee Perception Report®, which explored dimensions of foundation performance ranging from relationships with grantees to perceptions of foundation impact on the grantee organization, local community, and field.

“We thought that perhaps the grantees weren’t interested in using their funders’ social media,” said Andrea Brock, research manager at CEP and co-author of the report. “But that didn’t appear to be the case. For example, fifty percent of the grantees said they would use their funders’ videos if the videos were made available. And yet, 68 percent of the foundations have posted videos. Our survey doesn’t tell us why grantees are seemingly unaware of their funders’ social media, but clearly it is an issue for future investigation. ”

“I think our survey findings raise critical questions for any foundation that wants to use social media to connect to grantees,” said Phil Buchanan, president of CEP. “It’s not enough to simply be online. You need to be intentional about what you are trying to achieve with social media. As in any philanthropic endeavor, making a difference requires clear goals, the right strategy to achieve those goals, and measures of progress.”



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, and assessment tools, see

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