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Press Release

New Report Dispels the Myth of Nonprofit Complacency: Nonprofits Want to Measure Impact but Lack Support from Funders

Date: September 13, 2012

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September 13, 2012


Amidst growing pressure for nonprofits to measure and assess their performance, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) finds that nonprofits sorely lack the support they need. In a report released today, Room for Improvement: Foundations’ Support of Nonprofit Performance Assessment, CEP finds that 81 percent of the nonprofits surveyed believe that nonprofits should demonstrate the effectiveness of their work by using performance measures.

“Nonprofits are routinely castigated for their unwillingness to make a hard-nosed assessment of their impact,” says CEP President Phil Buchanan. “Some even suggest that what we need are hybrid businesses that combine a for-profit focus on the bottom line with a mission. But when we actually stop and listen to nonprofits a very different picture emerges. The 177 nonprofit leaders we surveyed overwhelmingly care about measuring their impact. What they need is help—financial and practical help from their funders.”

Key findings from the report include the following:

  1. The majority of nonprofit leaders surveyed, 71 percent, report receiving no foundation support – monetary or nonmonetary – for their organization’s assessment efforts.
  2. Only 32 percent of respondents say their funders have been helpful to their ability to assess their progress in achieving their goals.
  3. But more than 60 percent would like more help from their foundation funders in these efforts.

“It’s important to understand that nonprofits aren’t simply asking for more money to assess and improve their performance—though that would certainly be a welcome start,” notes Buchanan. “They also want to have meaningful discussions with their funders about which measures are important and how best to make those measurements.”

“I think there’s a real opportunity here for grantees and their funders to work together to maximize the effectiveness of nonprofits,” said Buchanan. “And society needs that to happen—nonprofits tackle the tough issues that government and business can’t, or won’t.”

The report, by CEP’s Research Manager Andrea Brock, Vice President of Research Ellie Buteau, and Research Analyst An-Li Herring, is part of CEP’s The Grantee Voice project: 300 nonprofit leaders from across the country who have agreed to complete short surveys about topics relevant to their experiences working with foundation funders.

“We created the Grantee Voice panel in response to foundations’ requests for faster, more timely feedback,” said Ellie Buteau.

“Through short papers like this one, CEP intends to provide an overview of nonprofits’ experiences and perspectives. We aim to contribute data, as well as new questions, to further important conversations about how foundations and grantees can work most productively together,” said Buteau.

The 177 nonprofits whose leaders surveyed in Room for Improvement represent a mix of nonprofits. The organizations vary widely in size and age. In addition, these nonprofits are located across the country and represent a range of program areas, including human services, the arts, health, community development, the environment, and education. The typical nonprofit in this sample has an average of 10 full time employees, annual expenses of $1.1 million, been in operation for 28 years, and receives 20 percent of its revenue from foundations.

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