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Press Release

Nonprofit Challenges: What Foundations Can Do

Date: September 16, 2013

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Media contact: Mark Russell, Director of Communications: 617-492-0800 x280

Cambridge, MA—According to research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a crucial knowledge gap exists between foundations and grantees. CEP’s most recent report, Nonprofit Challenges: What Foundations Can Do, reveals that nearly 50 percent of the nonprofit leaders CEP surveyed believe that foundations are unaware of the challenges they face. In fact, less than one-third of nonprofit leaders believe foundations take advantage of their myriad resources to help them address their challenges.

“Given the hesitance nonprofits may have about openly sharing their challenges with their funders, we hope this report helps set the stage for foundations to do more to strengthen those they fund. After all, foundations depend on their grantees to help them achieve their goals,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan.

The data in the report is drawn from CEP’s Grantee Voice, a panel of some 300 nonprofit leaders from across the country who have agreed to provide CEP with feedback about their experiences with foundations. For this report, 121 nonprofit leaders responded to a survey of 15 potential challenges that nonprofits faced, ranging from developing and training staff to engaging their board of directors and securing government funders.

“Nonprofits want more support in three key areas: meeting the demand for their programs and services, using technology to improve their effectiveness, and developing leadership skills,” said CEP’s Vice President of Research Ellie Buteau, who co-authored the report.  “Seventy-three percent of the nonprofit leaders we surveyed said they lack the resources to develop their leadership skills. That’s a huge opportunity for any foundation that wants to take the long-term view and fuel leadership development.”

The report also highlights the challenges of generating earned revenue. Of the 85 percent of the nonprofits for whom earned revenue is a relevant issue, nearly 45 percent want more help from foundations. When asked how foundations can help, one nonprofit leader said, “Support bridge grants that allow organizations to transition to different business models so they can generate more income.”

At the same time, CEP’s analysis of the data from nonprofit leaders around the country clearly showed that nonprofits are not looking to foundations to solve all their problems.  Indeed, there are some problems that nonprofits think cannot be solved by foundations at all.

“The picture that emerges from this data and our previous research is clear,” said Buchanan. “Although foundation staff tend to be interested in providing assistance beyond the grant, it can be hard to know exactly how to do so. To help your grantee, you need engage in an open conversation that can only be based on a trusted relationship that you’ve built over time.”



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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