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New Report Illuminates Keys to Foundation Staff Satisfaction: Employees Need to Feel Empowered, Respected in Workplace

Date: December 12, 2012

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December 12, 2012


CAMBRIDGE, MA—In a report released today, Employee Empowerment: The Key to Foundation Staff Satisfaction, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) shared the key to creating satisfied employees in the philanthropic sector.

“If you’re a foundation leader,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan, “the bottom line is that you have the power to increase your staff’s satisfaction. It doesn’t have to cost you money or involve a reduction in staff workload. Our data shows that you can empower your employees by providing clear direction, showing devotion to your employees, and giving useful performance reviews. In other words, it’s all about leadership.”

The report is based on survey responses from 1,168 staff members at 31 foundations. The surveys were conducted from 2007 to 2011 as part of CEP’s Staff Perception Report (SPR), which analyzes feedback from foundation staff about their work experiences and views of the foundation’s overall operations. Employee Empowerment combines quantitative analysis of those surveys and in-depth interviews with key staff from two foundations who received high marks from their staff on their recent SPRs: The Skillman Foundation and The Commonwealth Fund.

“The data were very clear,” said CEP’s Vice President of Research Ellie Buteau. “No other factor came close to explaining staff satisfaction like employee empowerment.”

When it came to identifying those employees who felt empowered, Buteau explained that her research team found 14 statements such employees strongly agreed with.

“Empowered employees agree with statements such as ‘I thoroughly understand my roles and my duties,’ ‘I can tell my supervisor the truth without fear of reprisal,’ and ‘I’m excited about how my work contributes to the goals of the foundation,’” said Buteau.

“The implications of our findings take us to the issue of foundation effectiveness,” said Buchanan. “We know that grantees are critical to a foundation’s success, and our preliminary analyses indicate that there is indeed a correlation between the survey results of a foundation’s staff and its grantees. But we need more data before we can truly test that hypothesis.”

Still, Buchanan said, the importance of staff satisfaction is clear.

“Research of other sectors has established a correlation between employee satisfaction and job performance and the experiences external stakeholders have with organizations. We didn’t find anything during the course of our research to suggest that this wouldn’t be true for the philanthropic sector,” he said.

“If you’re a foundation CEO, there are some important questions you need to ask yourself,” concluded Buchanan. “How do you seek to understand your staff’s experience? Do your staff really understand the direction of the foundation—your goals, your strategy? Do they believe you care about them?”

Buteau will explore the issue of employee empowerment with foundation leaders during CEP’s National Conference in Detroit, MI, May 21-22.



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, see

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