In New CEP Report, Foundation CEOs Say: “We Can Do Better”

future-of-foundation-philanthropyWhen foundation CEOs reflect candidly on the state of foundation philanthropy, whether foundations are living up to their potential, and what lies in the future ahead, what do they see? New CEP research released last week reveals a picture of foundation CEOs that are highly self-critical, deeply anxious, and seeking urgently to do better.

Based on the perspectives of more than 200 foundation CEOs collected through in-depth interviews and responses to a survey from May to June of this year, The Future of Foundation Philanthropy: The CEO Perspective captures foundation leaders’ views on challenges and concerns about the changing landscape in which they work, practices they believe to hold the most promise for helping foundations reach their potential, and the most pressing issues that will influence society and foundations in the coming years.

Among its findings, the report reveals that two-thirds of foundation CEOs believe in the potential of foundations to make a significant difference in society, but most do not see foundations taking full advantage of their opportunities for impact. Yet, it also finds reasons for optimism: much of what CEOs see as standing in their way is under their control to change, and they identify a number of ways foundations can get closer to realizing their potential for the future — such as learning from the experiences of those they are seeking to help, and from the knowledge and experiences of their grantees.

When it comes to pressing issues, 65 percent of CEOs interviewed named inequality as one of the pressing issues that will influence society in the coming decades — the most frequently mentioned issue in response — followed by climate change and the environment and education.


The report was commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and was released in conjunction with the Foundation’s 50th anniversary. CEP President Phil Buchanan debuted the findings in a presentation last week at a symposium hosted by Hewlett at Stanford University, “From Promise to Progress in the Social Sector.”

Accompanying the report is a companion publication of thoughtful reflections on the findings from CEOs of several foundations varying in size and mission: Carol Larson of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, Judy Belk of The California Wellness Foundation, Kate Wolford of The McKnight Foundation, Kelvin Taketa of Hawai’i Community Foundation, Kevin Jennings of Arcus Foundation, Nicky Goren of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, and Stuart Comstock-Gay of Delaware Community Foundation.

Buchanan and Ellie Buteau, CEP vice president, research, and co-author of the report, penned a blog post for the Social Innovation Review sharing thoughts on the findings and its implications for the field. “We’ve been taking the pulse of foundation leaders for 15 years at CEP through various surveys and research studies, and we’ve never heard foundation leaders exhibit so much angst about their efforts or their prospects for impact,” they write.

Additionally, the report was covered in Fast Company, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The NonProfit Times, and the Hewlett Foundation discussed the research, along with a separate report from historians Ben Soskis and Stanley Katz looking at the past 50 years in philanthropy, on its website.

Download the report and CEO reflections here.

Clock is Ticking on Early Bird Registration for the 2017 CEP Conference!


The New Year is just around the corner (we can’t believe it either), which means that the 2017 CEP Conference is, too! The conference, which will be held April 4-6 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, is shaping up to be a can’t-miss event for foundation leaders, starting on day one with an opening plenary from Bryan Stevenson.

Stevenson is an acclaimed public interest lawyer and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery, Alabama-based organization that provides legal representation to prisoners denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. His 2014 book, Just Mercy, is a New York Times bestseller, and his TED Talk is necessary viewing. We wrote more about the immediacy and critical importance of Stevenson’s and EJI’s work on the CEP blog, and we are thrilled that attendees will be able to listen to — and engage with — his ideas and wisdom at the conference.

Other plenaries on topics crucial to foundation effectiveness are also taking shape — from panels on fighting inequality and learning from critiques of philanthropy, to a presentation of new data-driven findings from CEP, to a session on effectively navigating difficult conversations and giving and receiving feedback. And a full slate of breakout sessions will take deeper dives in smaller group settings into topics like foundation culture, evaluation, and supporting nonprofit sustainability, to name a few.

See the full schedule here and the confirmed list of speakers thus far here.

April may feel like a long time away, but the conference will sell out, so make sure that reserving your seat is on your end-of-year checklist! And by registering now, you can take advantage of our early bird discount — the lowest priced registration we’ll offer for the conference.

Additionally, if you’ve worked with CEP using an assessment or through an advisory services engagement, be sure to sign up for this exclusive pre-conference workshop!

We sincerely hope you’ll join us in Boston next spring. If you have any questions, contact Ying Tao, associate manager, programming and external relations, at or (617) 492-0800 x186.

Sign Up for a CEP Assessment in 2017

As 2016 wraps up, it’s that time of year again to think up a New Year’s resolution. In your work in philanthropy, making a commitment to listening to the perspectives of key constituents and improving your effectiveness in 2017 makes for a great one — and CEP can help. To discuss using any of CEP’s core assessments — the Grantee Perception Report (GPR), Staff Perception Report (SPR), and Donor Perception Report (DPR) for community foundations — or working with CEP on a custom advisory services project in 2017, please contact Vice President, Assessment and Advisory Services, Kevin Bolduc at 617-492-0800 x202.

Support CEP with a Year-End Donationsupport-cep_thin

Foundation effectiveness matters because of foundations’ unique ability to contribute to change. And to be effective, foundations need the tailored resources — research, assessment and advisory services, and programming — to do their work better. That’s where CEP comes in. Help us help foundations do their work better by making a year-end gift.

Thank You to Our 2016 Assessment and Advisory Services Partners

cep-assessment_subscribers-2016_fornl_3In 2016, CEP worked with 72 different partners in 28 states and eight countries through our assessments — the Grantee Perception Report (GPR), Staff Perception Report (SPR), and Donor Perception Report (DPR) — and advisory services. Ranging in size and scope — and including community foundations, family foundations, and healthcare conversion foundations — the missions our 2016 clients are working toward are varied. Thank you to these foundations and their respective boards and staffs for their commitment to continually improving their vital work.

YouthTruth Releases New Findings on School Culture

yt-lfsv-culture-covWhat do students say about school culture? Earlier this month, YouthTruth released the fourth set of findings in its Learning from Student Voice series, which shares analyses of YouthTruth’s aggregate dataset of perceptions from more than 80,000 students in grades 5-12 — this time on school culture. The analysis shows that: 1.) only one in three students rate their school culture positively; 2.) students recognize that they and their peers are less respectful to adults than adults are to them; 3.) less than half of students feel that discipline at their school is fair; and 4.) students who identify as other than male or female report profoundly less positive perceptions of school culture.

As a growing body of research shows that schools that focus on improving culture and school climate often see a range of positive outcomes (like higher student engagement and achievement and lower teacher turnover), listening to students’ perceptions of culture can be key in helping educators make more informed decisions about how to improve.

YouthTruth is an initiative of CEP’s that is designed to demonstrate the power of funders and grantees listening to and learning from the rigorously collected perspectives of intended beneficiaries. Learn more about YouthTruth on its website, and be sure to check out this recent article in Christian Science Monitor that features YouthTruth’s findings and discusses the power of student surveys to improve academic outcomes.

What’s New on the CEP Blog

In a time of political change, it is crucial for funders to listen to how their grantees are experiencing such change. Kevin Bolduc discusses in this post and shares new questions about political context that CEP will offer in the upcoming round of Grantee Perception Report (GPR) surveys.

Missouri Foundation for Health President and CEO Bob Hughes explains what lessons foundations can learn from the performance of polls in this year’s election.

Stuart Foundation President Jonathan Raymond also contributes a post reflecting on the election, writing, “As organizations that support advocates on the front lines of social change, foundations have an extraordinary obligation  —  now more than ever  —  to say loud and clear that we are here for our partners and grantees.”

On the blog prior to the election, two posts from Phil Buchanan discuss the role of foundations in influencing policy.

In a Q&A with CEP’s Ethan McCoy, New York Times bestselling author Douglas Stone, who will speak at the 2017 CEP Conference, discusses tactics for effectively navigating difficult conversations — and giving and receiving feedback in ways that are productive for both parties involved.

Justina Acevedo-Cross, program officer at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Diego Arancibia, director of ASAPconnect, share lessons learned about developing and following a strategy with many partners involved, drawn from Packard’s work to improve summer learning experiences for students in California.

There were also several more guest posts reflecting on findings from Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices, the research report from CEP and the Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) released in September. Jara Dean-Coffey provides important historical context to the field of evaluation and shares two shifts she believes are needed for foundations to realize their potential as true learning organizations. Additionally, David Goodman, director of impact at Fluxx, stresses the importance for funders to undertake developmental and formative evaluation.

Michael Alberg-Seberich and Diya Khanna look at the issue of migration in Europe and argue that philanthropy must stay true to its underlying values — and look across borders — to find solutions.

And YouthTruth’s Hannah Bartlebaugh emphasizes how important it is for education funders and teachers to incorporate beneficiary feedback into decision-making, using what YouthTruth learned about bullying from student perceptions as a powerful example.

CEP on the Road

This fall, CEP President Phil Buchanan returned to his homeland to deliver a plenary at the Philanthropic Foundations Canada National Conference in Vancouver, and debuted CEP’s new research on the future of foundation philanthropy at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s 50th anniversary symposium, “From Promise to Progress in the Social Sector.”

And last week, Buchanan was in Phoenix to deliver a talk at the Arizona Grantmakers Forum Annual Meeting.