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New CEP Research Reveals Data on Foundation Governance

Date: October 26, 2015

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Cambridge, MA – The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) released new research today on current practices of foundation boards. The findings, on topics including board composition, member expertise, involvement, and characteristics of meetings, are presented as data points and infographics in a new publication entitled Benchmarking Foundation Governance.

“It’s often frustratingly difficult to get basic information on foundation boards: their size, their structure, and their composition,” wrote CEP President Phil Buchanan in a blog post discussing the report. “We hope this report can serve as a resource to foundations as they consider their own structures and practices.”

The report includes data on a range of important topics pertaining to board structure and practice. For example, the study finds that relatives of a foundation’s original donor serve on 50 percent of boards, 95 percent of board members have program specific knowledge, and 46 percent of foundations compensate all board members.

When it comes to board members’ involvement in grantmaking, the study finds that 39 percent of foundation boards have discretionary funds from which board members can make grants with little or no staff involvement. The median board member’s annual discretionary grant budget is $50,000, and for 25 percent of boards, the discretionary budget is greater than or equal to $100,000.

“There is no single right way for a foundation board to organize itself,” said CEP Vice President, Research, Ellie Buteau. “Form needs to follow function. That said, it can be very helpful to understand the range of choices foundation boards have made as board members consider what will work best for them.”

Findings in the report, co-authored by Buteau and Jennifer Glickman, are based on survey responses from CEOs at 64 private, U.S.-based foundations giving at least $10 million annually. The report is part of a larger operational benchmarking study funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and survey questions related to governance were designed in partnership with BoardSource.

“This study is a powerful window into the practices of foundation boards,” said BoardSource President and CEO Anne Wallestad, “and an opportunity to reflect on what is most important as trustees lead their institutions toward greater philanthropic impact.”

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 assessment tools, visit

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