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New CEP Research Finds Funders Are Not as in Touch with Nonprofits’ Needs as They Think

Date: October 2, 2018

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Media Contact: Grace Nicolette, Vice President, Programming and External Relations: 617-492-0800 x236


Cambridge, MA — New research out today from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) finds that foundations are not as in touch with nonprofits’ needs as they think they are. The report, titled Strengthening Grantees: Foundation and Nonprofit Perspectives, also finds that nonprofits most desire help in fundraising, staffing, and communications, and nonprofit CEOs see general operating support as having the greatest impact on strengthening their organizations.

“Nonprofits and foundation funders are not in alignment in how they view funders’ roles in strengthening nonprofit organizations, how much they believe funders care about grantee organizations’ overall health, and how aware they believe funders are of grantees’ needs,” says Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president, research, and co-author of the report. “Both nonprofits and foundations must play a role in addressing this gap so that nonprofits can build organizations that are best positioned to make a difference.”

Findings in the report are based on survey responses from 170 nonprofit CEOs on CEP’s Grantee Voice panel and 187 foundation leaders who primarily oversee programmatic work at their organizations. Sixty-four percent of nonprofit CEOs surveyed say that, to a large extent, they take into consideration what they think foundations prefer to fund when determining what support to request to strengthen their organizations. On the other side of the table, 78 percent of foundation leaders say they give a great deal of consideration to a grantee’s request when considering this support. Thus, grantees are saying what they think foundations want to hear, and foundations are hearing it and acting accordingly.

“To break this cycle, both nonprofits and foundations must play a role in improving their communications,” Buteau says. “Nonprofits should ask for what they really need — not what they think funders want to provide — and foundations should be working to minimize the power dynamics that prevent nonprofit CEOs from feeling that they can ask for what they need.”

The report also shares data on the current state of foundation practices to strengthen grantee organizations. Thirty-two percent of foundation leader respondents say their foundation provides general operating support to the majority of grantees, 18 percent say they provide capacity-building or organizational effectiveness grants to the majority of its grantees, and 29 percent say they provide assistance beyond the grant to the majority of its grantees.

This research was supported in part by funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

The report 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, and assessments and advisory services, visit

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