How Can Funders Develop Understanding of Beneficiaries? New CEP Report Profiles Five Exemplars

Learning from beneficiaries — those foundations are ultimately seeking to help — holds a great deal of promise for increasing impact. That’s what foundation leaders told CEP in research we conducted on the future of foundation philanthropy last year. But our research also shows that both funders and grantees alike don’t always see this learning happening.

How can foundations get better at this? Gaining insights from exemplars can help, so CEP put together and released this week profiles of five foundations rated highly by their grantees for their understanding of their beneficiaries’ needs.

The report, titled Staying Connected: How Five Foundations Understand Those They Seek to Help, shows how Nord Family Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, the Duke Endowment, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and SC Ministry Foundation go about developing understanding of their beneficiaries — ranging from students to individuals in need of affordable health care. Each foundation profiled in the report ranked among the top 15 percent of foundations that commissioned a Grantee Perception Report (GPR) between 2016 and 2017 when it comes to how their grantees rated them on questions related to their understanding of intended beneficiaries’ needs.

“When it comes down to it, all nonprofit work is about need of some sort,” writes Jennifer Glickman, manager, research, and co-author of the report, in a post on the CEP blog. “And you can only address needs — whether they are the needs of an organization, a community, or a population — if you truly understand what they are.”

“For some foundations, applying the resources and time to develop that understanding may seem daunting. Many would like to invest more in this task, but don’t know where to start,” Glickman goes on to say. “Fortunately, learning from the work of other foundations can help.”

The insights and practices that the leaders of these five foundations share in this report offer important lessons for funders of all types. We hope you find these profiles insightful, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

CEP Digs into the Funder-Grantee Relationship

When it comes to building strong funder-grantee relationships, program officers play a vital role in the equation. And the most powerful ways for program officers to strengthen those relationships are to develop an understanding of grantee organizations and the context in which they work, and to be transparent.

That’s what CEP found when we analyzed the perspectives of nearly 20,000 grantees of 86 foundations and interviewed 11 program officers whose grantees provided high ratings about their funder experience through the Grantee Perception Report (GPR). We share what we learned in a report titled Relationships Matter: Program Officers, Grantees, and the Keys to Success, released last month.

As Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president, research, and co-author of the report writes in a blog post, funder-grantee relationships are crucial because they “form the groundwork that enables grantees to feel they can get in touch with their program officer if they need information, or let their funder know when the work is not going according to plan. These relationships ultimately determine what it’s like for a grantee to work with a funder. And, most importantly, these are the experiences that either fuel or impede a nonprofit’s progress towards its goals.”

Following the report’s publication, the CEP blog has been a busy place for discussion of the importance of strong funder-grantee relationships and insights on how to build them. Houston Endowment Senior Program Officer Elizabeth Love, one of the 11 program officers profiled in the report, describes how Houston Endowment’s strong and trusting relationships with its grantees and community partners were invaluable for its rapid-response recovery grantmaking following Hurricane Harvey’s devastation earlier this fall. In a separate post, another of the profiled program officers, Graciela Selaimen of Ford Foundation, shares tips about building the qualities that are necessary for program officers to be effective, including humility, empathy, and trust.

Also on the blog, CEP’s Kevin Bolduc argues that funder-grantee relationships matter not just for their role in creating impact, but also because they have inherent value in that they demonstrate the crucial elements of humanity and common action that are at the heart of the nonprofit sector’s work. John Esterle of the Whitman Institute reflects on why the “how” of grantmaking is fundamental to building trusting relationships with grantees. And Amy Shields describes how findings from CEP’s and GEO’s respective research complement one another to demonstrate the potential for strong relationships to be a lynchpin of the philanthropic field’s approach to its work.

The report’s findings were also featured in an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Kathleen Cravero and Kelvin Taketa Elected to CEP Board

Oak Foundation President Kathleen Cravero and former Hawai’i Community Foundation President and CEO Kelvin Taketa have been elected to join CEP’s Board of Directors. Cravero has served as president of Oak Foundation, based in Geneva, Switzerland, since 2009, where she leads the foundation’s work addressing issues of global, social, and environmental concern, particularly those that have an impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. Taketa is senior fellow at the Hawai’i Community Foundation, the state’s largest foundation, after having served as its president and CEO from 1998 until he stepped down earlier this year.

“Kathleen and Kelvin bring unique perspectives and a wealth of experience to the CEP Board,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan in a press release. “Kathleen’s leadership of an international family foundation and Kelvin’s experience as an innovative community foundation leader will complement the wealth of experience already around the CEP board table.”

Both will begin serving three-year terms beginning January 1, 2018, joining a Board that includes: Chair Grant Oliphant(President, the Heinz Endowments), Paul Beaudet (Executive Director, Wilburforce Foundation), Phil Buchanan (ex officio, President, CEP), Tiffany Cooper Gueye (Former CEO, BELL, Building Educated Leaders for Life), Richard Ober(President and CEO, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation), Hilary Pennington (Vice President, Education, Free Expression, and Creativity, Ford Foundation), Christy Pichel (Former President, Stuart Foundation), Vince Stehle(Executive Director, Media Impact Funders), Fay Twersky (Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation), and Lynn Perry Wooten (J. Nolan Dean and Professor of Management and Organizations, Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management).

Welcome, Kathleen and Kelvin!

2019 CEP Conference to be held in Minneapolis!

We are thrilled to share that the 2019 CEP Conference will be held at the Hilton Minneapolis May 7-9, 2019! Our biennial national conferences provide philanthropic leaders with resources to maximize their effectiveness. Stay tuned for more details to come in mid-2018, but for now, mark your calendars and save the date!

YouthTruth Analysis Strengthens Understanding of Student Engagement

Educators and education funders know that student engagement matters when it comes to academic achievement and school climate. But it’s an area that has proven difficult to measure and monitor. Things like test scores and attendance records can track engagement, but they are less useful when students are not turning in assignments to be scored or showing up to school — and they don’t tell us anything about why these things might be happening.

Asking students directly about how they feel about their engagement can help answer these questions. With that in mind, YouthTruth analyzed survey data about engagement from more than 230,000 students in grades 3-12, and just last week released its findings in the latest Learning from Student Voice report. YouthTruth’s analysis finds that across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged and most students take pride in their work, but less than half of secondary students feel what they’re learning in class helps them outside of school, and only half of secondary students enjoy coming to school most of the time.

As YouthTruth’s Hannah Bartlebaugh writes in a blog post discussing the key takeaways from the data, “These findings demonstrate the type of powerful insights that leaders in schools, communities, and foundations can garner when they ask students about their experiences. After all, as the ones in the classroom each and every day, students have a unique vantage point into what’s working and what’s not. It is our job to listen and learn from them.”

Upcoming Webinar Will Discuss Insights on Navigating the Funder-Grantee Power Dynamic

On Tuesday, January 30 from 2:00-3:00 pm ET, join CEP, Leap Ambassadors Community, and the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust (EFCT) for a webinar on how to build strong relationships with grantees and support organizational performance, not just programs. In the webinar, CEP President Phil Buchanan and EFCT Executive Director Jennifer Hoos Rothberg will discuss CEP’s Relationships Matter report and EFCT’s grantmaking approach, including how they work to shift the power imbalance in their relationships with grantees. When EFCT surveyed their grantees through the Grantee Perception Report (GPR) in 2015, their grantees rated them more positively than grantees at the typical funder on a range of dimensions, including relationships with grantees and the helpfulness of their application and reporting processes. It’s going to be a great conversation you won’t want to miss — register here.

Thank You to Our 2017 Assessment and Advisory Services Clients

Thank you to the above foundations for their commitment to continually improving their vital work — and also thank you to the grantees, declined applicants, staff, and donors who shared their experiences in their responses to CEP’s assessment surveys, and without whom we would not be able to bring data-driven insights to funders. Through our assessments, CEP collected feedback from 11,467 grantees, 727 declined applicants, 1,627 community foundation donors, and 1,123 staff members in 2017.

Thank you!

On the CEP Blog

Citing examples of success stories, Fund the People President and CEO Rusty Stahl describes how “thoughtful funder investments in grantee staff can increase the performance, impact, and sustainability of people, organizations, and movements.”

John Seitz of FoundationMark digs into investment performance, arguing that foundations’ increased focus on improvement in this area could dramatically grow the resources available to support nonprofits working on the front lines.

And in the latest post in our Q&A series, CEP’s Grace Nicolette answers a reader’s query about how the grantmaking field measures, and takes into account, the health of organizational culture. If you have a question related to foundation effectiveness that you’d like answered by CEP’s experts, submit it to Ethan McCoy at

CEP is Hiring

YouthTruth is searching for a partnerships lead to help scale and deepen its impact. Based in CEP’s San Francisco office, the partnerships lead will be tasked with helping YouthTruth develop new partnerships, strengthen existing relationships, and deliver professional development coaching to deepen clients’ engagement with and utility of YouthTruth data. Know the perfect fit? Spread with your networks and/or apply today!

Sign up for a CEP Assessment in 2018

The end of the year is almost here, but it’s not too late to sign up to use any of CEP’s core assessments — the Grantee Perception Report (GPR)Staff Perception Report (SPR), and Donor Perception Report (DPR) for community foundations — in our next survey round in February 2018. Contact Director, Assessment and Advisory Services, Austin Long, at 415-391-3070 x127 to learn more.

Support CEP in 2017!

If you believe in CEP’s work, and if it benefits you as you seek to do yours, please consider making a contribution online as part of your year-end giving.