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New Guide for Working With Grantees: Critical Advice for Foundation Program Staff

Date: June 27, 2013

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June 27, 2013


Cambridge, MA—In a new guide released today that draws on years of research, The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) shares critical advice for program staff at our nation’s philanthropic foundations. Each year, foundations distribute billions of dollars to fight some of the most pressing challenges we face. Working Well With Grantees: A Guide for Foundation Program Staff seeks to ensure that those grant dollars are used as effectively as possible.

“The importance of having a good working relationship with grantees cannot be overstated, even if it is often overlooked,” said co-author and CEP President Phil Buchanan. “Without grantees, foundations are just a repository of dreams and dollars. Grantees translate a foundation’s resources into action. And our research shows that program officers can be the distinguishing factor between a foundation that makes a difference—and one that simply makes grants.”

The report covers five essential areas where program staff can have a positive impact on grantees:

  • forming strong relationships
  • providing assistance beyond the grant
  • offering operating support
  • creating a reporting and evaluation process that helps grantees
  • preserving relationships while declining funding requests

The analysis of each topic includes insights from highly rated program officers and foundations, as well as a blend of ideas to consider and questions to ask.

“The findings and suggestions in Working Well With Grantees are based on data from tens of thousands of surveys of nonprofits conducted by CEP during the past decade,” explained co-author Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president of research. “We’ve updated, summarized, or expanded upon findings from six of our publications that focus on how foundations and grantees can best work together, to provide readers with practical ideas for working with grantees.”

“We also share for the first time some new data and analysis about what foundations might want to consider when declining funding to nonprofits, based on our surveys of declined applicants. The insights from this analysis are important because, in many cases, the declined applicant of today is the grantee of tomorrow,” said Buteau.

While the guide notes that context is everything and advises program staff to find a strategy that is appropriate to their foundation, it also highlights the universal importance of strong relationships with grantees.

“When program staff don’t listen to the nonprofits they fund, the consequences are real,” said Buchanan. “One grantee reported that site visits from their funder started to feel like ‘interrogations’ and confessed to being ‘far less forthcoming’ with this funder than when the two met as ‘equal partners, attempting to solve social issues together.’”

The guide also uses positive experiences to illustrate the power of working well with grantees. As one declined applicant said of their experience with a foundation, “I found the interaction and communications clear, honest, and helpful. Even though we didn’t get the grant I totally understood why—I probably would have done the same. At some time in the future, we will apply again.”

Working Well With Grantees contains important information for novice and veteran program staff alike, so we’re mailing complimentary copies to some 1,500 foundations and making it available for free on our website—,” said Buchanan.


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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