CEP Survey of Foundation Leaders Shows Varied Responses to Changes in D.C. 

The reactions and responses of U.S. foundations to the recent shift in national political context vary widely, but most foundations are changing their practices or shifting their emphases. This is what we learned through our recent survey of foundation CEOs, the results of which we just released earlier this week in a new report titled Shifting Winds: Foundations Respond to a New Political Context.

After being repeatedly asked about how foundations were responding to the shift in presidential administration, and after reading numerous articles and op-eds across the sector wrestling with this topic, we decided to survey foundation CEOs to obtain a snapshot of how foundations are reacting to this shift — and the degree to which they are making changes as a result. The findings in the new report are based on survey responses between February 21 and March 10 from 162 CEOs of U.S. independent and community foundations making at least $5 million in grants annually.

The data shows that 48 percent of foundation CEOs believe the change in presidential administration will have a negative effect on their ability to achieve their goals — while 24 percent say they anticipate a mix of positive and negative effects, and 17 percent say it is too soon to tell. Additionally, almost three-quarters of foundation CEOs responding to the survey report making, or planning to make, some change in their work as a result of last year’s election, and about two-thirds of CEOs report planning to increase their emphasis on at least one practice in response (the most frequently cited being collaborating with other funders, advocacy/public policy at the state and/or local level, and convening grantees).

Phil Buchanan, CEP president and co-author of the report, debuted the findings during his plenary presentation at the 2017 CEP Conference earlier this month in Boston, which you can watch here. Buchanan also introduced and contextualized the study in a post on the CEP blog, and the report’s findings were covered earlier this week in a piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Our hope is that this report is helpful to funders at this moment in time as they consider how their own work may or may not be affected by changes in Washington. You can download the report for free here, and stay tuned in the coming weeks as foundation and nonprofit leaders respond to the data on the CEP blog. Let us know your thoughts and reactions with a comment.

New CEP Research Shows There is No One Way to Spend Down 

The limited life approach in philanthropy has received increased attention in recent years. But across foundations, perpetuity is often still seen to be the default, and there is considerable uncertainty about the practice of spending down. That’s why CEP decided to interview leaders of 11 limited life foundations to learn more about their decision to spend down and the ways in which they grapple with several important issues along their journey to pursuing goals in a finite period of time. The result of these interviews is A Date Certain: Lessons from Limited Life Foundations, as well as an accompanying publication of case studies of three of the funders interviewed, released last month.

The research, which was supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, illustrates the ways in which limited life foundations approach spending down in nine key areas: why spend down, investing, staffing, grantmaking and strategy, what they owe to their grantees, collaborations, communications, evaluation, and archiving knowledge. It finds that most leaders of limited life foundations choose to spend down because of the belief that it will lead to greater impact. And though these foundations’ leaders wrestle with a similar set of issues in their work, there is no one way to spend down — we saw great diversity in the decisions leaders of limited life foundations make about how to address these issues.

“For all the different decisions that leaders of these foundations have made and are making, what we learned they have in common is a shared commitment to planning: planning for how to responsibly exit their relationships with grantees; planning for how to make their financial investments match their time horizon; and planning for how to staff appropriately for the eventuality of closing their doors,” writes CEP Vice President, Research — and co-author of the report — Ellie Buteau in a blog post introducing the research. “Our hope is that this research will help foundations that are spending down — or those that are considering spending down — explore a range of approaches as they consider their own planning and strategies,” Buteau added in a press release.

Joanne Florino, project lead for the Atlantic Philanthropies Archives at Cornell University, also shared her reaction to the research on the CEP blog, focusing on the reasons interviewees gave for spending down, as well as their plans for archiving knowledge. Additionally, the report’s findings were covered in pieces in The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Fast Company.

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

2017 CEP Conference Inspires, Sparks Thought

Earlier this month, more than 400 foundation CEOs, senior leaders, and trustees came together at the 2017 CEP Conference for three days filled with inspiring stories, new data and insights, and sharp discussion of issues that are central to foundations’ ability to maximize their impact. It was an action-packed several days in Boston — including a moving opening plenary from Bryan Stevenson about injustices in the criminal justice system and the need to confront the legacy of racial inequality in the U.S., an enthralling one-woman performance from Sarah Jones portraying the interplay between different perspectives and ideas at play in philanthropy, and a closing plenary of masterful storytelling from Harvard Business School Professor Nancy Koehn to illustrate lessons of leadership and courage when times are tough.

These were among a number of thought-provoking plenaries, panels, and breakout sessions. If you were unable to join us in Boston or want to revisit the conference, there are several ways to catch up. See recaps of each of the three days of the conference, featuring thoughts and reactions from attendees on Twitter using #CEP2017, from Ethan McCoy on the CEP blog. Also on the blog, Barr Foundation’s Stefan Lanfer and CEP Board Member Crystal Hayling share their main takeaways from the conference — on lessons of leadership communications and the need for foundations to be supportive and responsive to nonprofits’ needs, respectively. Additionally, you can read the powerful welcoming remarks from the Heinz Endowments President and CEP Board Chair Grant Oliphant, “Effective Philanthropy: Steadfast in our True Values in Troubling Times,” in their entirety on the blog.

Attendees of the conference are sharing thoughtful reactions and takeaways elsewhere, as well, including Nell Edgington on Social Velocity, Arum Lansel on the David and Lucile Packard Foundation blog, and Hilary Pearson on the Philanthropic Foundations Canada blog.

And lastly, stay tuned in the coming weeks for videos of several of the plenaries at the conference, which we will be posting on CEP’s YouTube page.

CEP Advisory Services and Surdna Foundation Partner to Publish Paper on Family Foundation Governance

Good governance may not make headlines, but an effective board is an important component of effective philanthropy. It’s not hard to point to examples of funders whose efforts are hindered by dysfunction or strained relationships, often at the board level. Because of this perception, it’s important to understand foundations’ efforts to put in place good governance — from creating well-thought-out structures to carefully planning for creating and maintaining meaningful engagement of new generations of family board members.

A new CEP publication, Family Ties: Multigenerational Family Foundation Board Engagement, seeks to tell some of those stories at family foundations. This past winter, CEP’s advisory services partnered with the Surdna Foundation to create this publication on the occasion of the foundation’s centennial. The Surdna Foundation, a family foundation based in New York, N.Y., seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For more than five generations, the foundation has been governed largely by descendants of its founder, John Andrus.

Through interviews with foundation CEOs and board chairs, Family Ties explores the practices and structures that Surdna and six other large, multigenerational family foundations have used to maintain family involvement, engage family members across generations, and focus on impact. Interviewees include Phillip Henderson and Peter Benedict II of Surdna,  Stephen Heintz and Valerie Rockefeller Wayne of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Carol Larson and Susan Packard Orr of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Grant Oliphant and André Heinz of the Heinz Endowments, among others. The publication identifies six common practices identified by these funders in pursuit of board effectiveness.

To learn more about CEP’s advisory services offerings, including commissioned publications, check out the advisory services page of our website or contact Mena Boyadzhiev.

What’s New on the CEP Blog

Phil Buchanan takes on the “sector agnostics” and makes the case for why nonprofits are best positioned to take on society’s most vexing problems.

Surdna Foundation President Phillip Henderson discusses the learning process behind Surdna’s decision to commit 10 percent of its endowment toward impact investing — and shares three takeaways from the process.

“What obligations — if any — do foundations and new donors have to local communities in which they are based?” Alexa Cortes Culwell and Heather McLeod Grant explore this question, with a focus on inequality.

Keecha Harris discusses diversity, equity, and inclusion in environmental philanthropy, sharing examples of actions several funders are already taking to advance DEI in the environmental sector.

Timothy Ogden, managing director of the Financial Access Initiative, a research center at NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, shares an adapted excerpt of his new book on randomized control trials (RCTs) and figuring out what works in aid, philanthropy, and development.