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New CEP Research Reveals Insights on Beneficiary Feedback

Date: October 20, 2014

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Media Contact: Grace Nicolette, Director – Marketing and Communications: 617-492-0800 x236

Cambridge, MA – A new research report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) reveals that most nonprofits are using beneficiary feedback to improve their programs, but leaders of those organizations believe most of their foundation funders lack a deep understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs. The report describes how in the eyes of nonprofits leaders, the foundations that best understand their beneficiaries’ needs are deeply connected — and actively engaged — with their work and are open, humble, and collaborative in their approach.

“We’re extremely excited to share this research focusing on beneficiaries,” said CEP Vice President – Research, Ellie Buteau, who co-authored the report. “The perspectives of those that nonprofits and foundations strive to help can be some of the most important in building projects and programs that are effective and bring significant positive change to individuals and communities.”

The report, Hearing from Those We Seek to Help: Nonprofit Practices and Perspectives in Beneficiary Feedback, shows that most nonprofits are collecting and using feedback from their beneficiaries. “For nonprofits, collecting feedback from beneficiaries can be financially and logistically challenging,” Buteau said. “But despite that, many nonprofits work to overcome those hurdles because of how vital listening to and understanding the needs of those voices can be to improving programs.”

But even though 60 percent of nonprofit leaders surveyed share this feedback with most or all of their organization’s foundation funders, nonprofit leaders believe the perspectives in this feedback are not deeply understood by most of their funders. The report reveals that this perceived lack of understanding matters – 73 percent of nonprofit leaders believe only some or fewer of their funders have funding principles that reflect a deep understanding of the intended beneficiaries’ needs, and 84 percent believe only some or fewer of their funders have programmatic strategies that reflect that understanding.

“Our research shows a disconnect between foundations and their grantees when it comes to listening to the people whom both groups are seeking to help,” said CEP President, Phil Buchanan, who co-authored the report. “Foundation strategies will be most effective when they are informed by those who will be affected.”

To better understand how nonprofits collect feedback and use it to improve their work, the research profiles three organizations whose leaders rated them highly on understanding their beneficiaries in the survey: Crittenton Children’s Center in Kansas City, Mo., ONE DC in Washington, D.C., and Lifetrack in St. Paul, Minn.

“These three nonprofits work in different spheres and yet all find ways to collect meaningful feedback from their beneficiaries,” said Ramya Gopal, associate manager, research at CEP and another co-author of the report. “We hope these reflections from their leaders shed light on how nonprofits can effectively factor beneficiary feedback into their strategy and decision-making processes.”

CEP’s findings suggest that nonprofits believe foundations can benefit from deeper engagement with beneficiary feedback, and that foundations can do this well by engaging with their grantees and learning about their work; fostering open, humble, and collaborative relationships; and finding ways to stay connected to the larger contextual issues.

“Our data shows how valuable listening to beneficiaries is for nonprofits,” Buchanan said. “We hope that our findings help their foundation funders realize and act upon that value, as well.”

CEP’s report comes at a moment of increasing funder interest in hearing from beneficiaries. Last month, seven funders launched the Fund for Shared Insight, which states among its goals to help make foundations more open “by providing grants to nonprofit organizations to encourage and incorporate feedback from the people we seek to help” and “understand the connection between feedback and better results.” The seven funders are: the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Ford Foundation, JPB Foundation, Liquidnet, the Rita Allen Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“As the important work of the Fund for Shared Insight gets underway, we hope our data can help ground these new and exciting efforts in knowledge of the current state of practice,” Buteau said.

The report is available for free download on CEP’s website.


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

The Center for Effective Philanthropy – Improving foundation performance through data and insight.

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