bf-coverpage-300x174New CEP Research on
Beneficiary Feedback

CEP released a new research report this October focusing on the importance for nonprofits and foundations to understand the perspectives of those they seek to help — their ultimate beneficiaries.

The report, Hearing from Those We Seek to Help: Nonprofit Practices and Perspectives in Beneficiary Feedback,reveals that most nonprofits are using beneficiary feedback to improve their programs, but leaders of those organizations believe most of their foundation funders lack a deep understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs. The report describes how, in the eyes of nonprofits leaders, the foundations that best understand their beneficiaries’ needs are deeply connected to — and actively engaged with — with their work and are open, humble, and collaborative in their approach.

“The perspectives of those that nonprofits and foundations strive to help can be some of the most important in building projects and programs that are effective and bring significant positive change to individuals and communities,” said CEP Vice President, Research, Ellie Buteau, who co-authored the report.

The report shows that most nonprofits are collecting and using feedback from their beneficiaries. But even though 60 percent of nonprofit leaders surveyed share this feedback with most or all of their organization’s foundation funders, nonprofit leaders believe the perspectives in this feedback are not deeply understood by most of their funders. The report reveals that this perceived lack of understanding matters – 73 percent of nonprofit leaders believe only some or fewer of their funders have funding principles that reflect a deep understanding of the intended beneficiaries’ needs, and 84 percent believe only some or fewer of their funders have programmatic strategies that reflect that understanding.

“Our research shows a disconnect between foundations and their grantees when it comes to listening to the people whom both groups are seeking to help,” said CEP President Phil Buchanan, who co-authored the report. “Foundation strategies will be most effective when they are informed by those who will be affected.”

CEP’s findings suggest that nonprofits believe foundations can benefit from deeper engagement with beneficiary feedback, and that foundations can do this well by engaging with their grantees and learning about their work; fostering open, humble, and collaborative relationships; and finding ways to stay connected to the larger contextual issues.

“Our data shows how valuable listening to beneficiaries is for nonprofits,” Buchanan said. “We hope that our findings help their foundation funders realize and act upon that value, as well.”

The report was co-authored by Buchanan, Buteau, and Ramya Gopal, associate manager, research, for CEP. The new research comes at a time of growing momentum and advocacy in favor of foundation openness and feedback loops with beneficiaries and grantees.

In the weeks after the report’s release, the CEP blog was a busy place for discussion and response to the research. Kathy Reich, organizational effectiveness and philanthropy director at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, wrote a reaction to the research in which she described the timeliness of the report and how the Packard Foundation and the six other funders it partnered with to form the Fund for Shared Insight are undertaking initiatives to encourage feedback loops and openness with beneficiaries, grantees, and fellow foundations.

For Marny Sumrall, Executive Director of CEP’s YouthTruth Initiative, the report’s findings affirmed her belief in the importance of soliciting and acting upon feedback from the beneficiaries in schools: students. She responded on the blog with a post sharing the story of High Tech High in San Diego and how they have worked with YouthTruth to learn from their students’ perspectives.

Additionally, the blog saw insightful reactions from Feedback Labs and GlobalGiving co-founder Dennis Whittle and Keystone Accountability co-founder and chief executive David Bonbright; Social Venture Partners Seattle executive connector Paul Shoemaker; and former CEP colleague and YouthTruth co-founder Valerie Threlfall.


CEP awarded two grants from the Fund for Shared Insight

We are excited to share that CEP has been awarded two grants in the inaugural grant period of the Fund for Shared Insight. A collaboration between seven funders, the Fund awarded 14 grants this week to projects aimed at improving the field of philanthropy through increasing openness and feedback in foundations. One of the awarded grants will fund a new CEP research project on foundation transparency. Expanding on our previous research that led to the publication of Foundation Transparency: What Nonprofits Want, this project will investigate the relationship between foundation attitudes and practices and how grantees experience transparency and openness, and explore the degree to which funders are being transparent about the issues that really matter to grantees. The second award will go towards the continued advancement of CEP’s YouthTruth initiative, and aims to facilitate school leaders and education funders hearing and utilizing student perceptions in order to make better decisions to lead to better student outcomes. We are grateful for this support, and are excited to move forward with these two projects contributing to the growing movement towards openness, feedback, and transparency in the philanthropic sector.


A Warm Welcome to New Faces at CEP This Fall


This fall, CEP is excited to have welcomed four new staff members to its Cambridge office.

In September, Rob Correia joined CEP’s senior leadership team as Director, Finance and Administration, where he oversees numerous functions including financial reporting, strategic financial modeling, scenario and capacity planning, office management, and information technology. Correia brings a wealth of experience to the office after holding significant leadership positions in finance and operations throughout his career at Taza Chocolate, the Transportation Security Administration, and Ocean Spray Cranberries. You can read more about Correia and his onboarding here.

Naomi Orensten joined CEP’s Cambridge office in October as Manager, Assessment Tools, after working as a senior consultant at Informing Change and as Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Jewish Federation of North America. Thea Nielsen, Ph.D. also joined the Cambridge office in October as Manager, Research, after completing her Ph.D. in agricultural economics and serving as a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. Megan Dunne, a recent graduate of Villanova University with a master’s degree in political science, joined the Cambridge office in September, as well, as an Americorps RISE fellow from New Sector Alliance.


CEP on the Road

This fall has been a busy season for our staff hitting the road to share our research and findings at various national and regional events across the country for philanthropic leaders.

CEP President Phil Buchanan delivered the luncheon plenary, “Driving Donor Satisfaction, Future Giving, and Referrals,” at the 2014 Advancement Network Conference in Cleveland on October 19. He also joined a panel titled “A Sea of Data: Sink or Swim?” at the Independent Sector National Conference in Seattle on November 17.

Kevin Bolduc, Vice President, Assessment Tools, spoke at the Exponent Philanthropy National Conference in Washington, D.C. on November 1. In his talk, “The Practice of Listening to Your Grantees,” Bolduc led a discussion on listening to grantees to assess and improve upon your foundation’s strengths.

Associate Manager, Research, Ramya Gopal delivered a talk titled “Linking Values to Practice: Developing an Effective Working Relationship With Your Grantees” at the 2014 Southeastern Council of Foundations Annual Meeting in New Orleans on November 13.

Austin Long, Director, Assessment Tools, discussed strategies for funders to strengthen grantee performance in a talk titled “Improve Performance by Listening to Your Grantees” at the 2014 Animal Grantmakers Conference in Phoenix on November 18.


Thank You to Marny Sumrall

After two wonderful years with CEP, YouthTruth Executive Director Marny Sumrall will be leaving her position in December.

Since joining in 2012, Marny’s dedication to student voice and YouthTruth’s mission has been remarkable.She led YouthTruth’s conversion to an online, interactive reporting system for its survey results, spearheaded the creation of new survey offerings, including an elementary school specific survey, and helped strengthen the YouthTruth team with astute hires and inspired leadership. President Phil Buchanan thanked Marny and recognized her invaluable contributions to the growth of YouthTruth in an October blog post that updated the progress of YouthTruth.



CEP is Hiring

With Marny’s departure, we are now actively seeking a highly-motivated and entrepreneurial Executive Director for our YouthTruth initiative. The executive director will be the strategic leader of YouthTruth and its team of six, overseeing all program operations, marketing and recruitment efforts with schools and districts, and new and existing funder relationships. The director will be the public face and voice of YouthTruth, and as part of the senior leadership team, will report to the president and work closely with other CEP senior staff. The successful candidate will have strong leadership experience in a fast-paced and high-growth environment, superior analytical skills, and a commitment to the role that data can play ni improving the performance of education improvement efforts. The position will be based in our San Francisco, CA office.

We are also looking for an entrepreneurial and experienced individual to help develop and lead CEP’s new advisory services efforts as the Director of Advisory Services. Partnering with CEP’s vice presidents and president, the director will establish the strategy and define the structure of our nascent advisory services, as well as serve as a client lead and develop new, and maintain existing, relationships with foundation leaders. The successful candidate will have significant experience in management and strategy consulting, an innovative mindset, strong analytical skills, and a passion for the nonprofit sector and the effectiveness of philanthropy. The position will be based in our Cambridge, MA office.

Please share these postings in your network! For more information and to apply, visit our Careers page.


On the CEP Blog

This fall, the CEP Blog has continued to be an active forum for CEP staff and esteemed guest bloggers from the field to share their stories, ideas, research, and insights into the foundation and nonprofit world.

Jeff Poulos, executive director of Associated Grant Makers, shared an entertaining story about how a sock mishap at a large conference pushed him to think more deeply about questioning his orthodoxies and embracing change when it comes to his work with AGM (in addition to his wardrobe).

CEP President Phil Buchanan recounted an inspiring foundation success story of how the work of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund and the Gill Foundation to advance gay and lesbian rights demonstrates how foundation strategy and social movements can indeed work together.

Ronna Brown, president of Philanthropy New York, discussed the importance of analyzing the role that institutional philanthropy can play in helping communities rebuild when disaster strikes, sharing a new research report that PNY co-authored on the philanthropic response to Hurricane Sandy.

William Keator, vice president for programs at The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and regular contributor to the blog, discussed enlistment, empowerment, and generating long-term outcomes among the funder-grantee relationship.

Trista Harris, president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, questioned the focus on effective grantmaking, and whether we are losing our humanity as we attempt to use our philanthropic dollars in the most effective ways.

Jeff Clarke, CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, contributed a post on public policy and philanthropic freedom in a post as part of our series of perspectives from regional grantmaking associations.

And in the first post of another series, on philanthropy-funded education efforts and education reform, Nick Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, described the ways in which Nellie Mae has worked to endorse and encourage student-centered learning efforts and direct community engagements.

Also on the blog, we introduced a new series we are undertaking this fall that requires your help. We are starting a Q&A series and are actively encouraging our audience to send us queries about our tools and research findings to generate lively discussion. Send your questions to!


CEP in the News

CEP’s work and the views and commentary of its staff have appeared in the media several times over the past few months.

Our most recent research report, Hearing from Those We Seek to Help, was featured upon its release in a feature article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which reported key findings and data from the study and shared quotes from CEP President Phil Buchanan, one of the report’s co-authors.

Buchanan was also interviewed by CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen for a segment on the influx of $100 million to the ALS Association as a result of this summer’s viral “ice bucket challenge” trend. Additionally, he was quoted in an article in Crain’s New York Business about the F.B. Heron Foundation’s recent decision to move its entire endowment into social-impact investments, and was interviewed by the Harvard College Effective Altruism group, with a write-up of the Q&A posted on the group’s blog.

Vice President, Research, Ellie Buteau, Ph.D., discussed “Transparency, Performance Assessment, and Awareness of Nonprofits’ Challenges: Are Foundations and Nonprofits Seeing Eye to Eye?”, the recent Foundation Review article she co-authored on the importance of foundations and nonprofits understanding one another, in a Q&A on The Conference Board’s popular blog, “Giving Thoughts.”

In a webinar hosted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, CEP Board members Hilary Pennington and Fay Twersky discussed the newly-found Fund for Shared Insight and highlighted the work of CEP and YouthTruth as examples of encouraging feedback loops and openness in foundation work.

Blogger and composer Aaron Gervais referenced CEP’s Nonprofit Challenges research report in his interesting blog series on funding for the arts in America.

And YouthTruth was cited as an example of an organization harnessing the power of student feedback in anEdSurge article on how educators can work to better empathize with and understand student perspectives to design better schools.


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