New Research Brings Benchmarking Data on Evaluation Practices to the Field

There are so many vexing questions when it comes to foundation evaluation. “How much should we be spending?” “What can we do to ensure that what we’re learning is useful?” “With whom should we be sharing evaluation results?” “What do our peer foundations do when it comes to evaluation?”foundationevaluation1-082416

To help inform answers to these questions, CEP partnered with the Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) to produce the most comprehensive dataset on evaluation practices, which you can now see in our new publication, Benchmarking Foundation Evaluation Practices.

The report is a straightforward presentation of data points and infographics on crucial topics related to evaluation at foundations, such as evaluation staffing and structures, investment in evaluation work, and usefulness of evaluation information. The goal is for the data in this report to help foundations determine what evaluation systems and practices align best with their respective strategies, cultures, and missions. As CEP Vice President – Research Ellie Buteau and CEI Director Julia Coffman write in a letter introducing the report, “Ultimately, we hope the information in this report helps you prepare your foundation to better assess its progress toward its goals and its overall performance.”

In just a few weeks since its release, the report has been downloaded more than 1,200 times, and has been discussed widely. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on the research, and Buteau introduced the report with a blog post sharing background on the data collection effort and adding context to several data points that were both affirming and surprising in light of findings from past CEP research. Evaluation staff at several foundations have also reacted to the findings on the CEP blog:

Nancy Csuti, director of research, evaluation and strategic learning at The Colorado Trust, wrote about the importance of fully integrating evaluation into a foundation’s culture, mission, and everyday work.

Marc Holley, evaluation unit director at the Walton Family Foundation, highlighted several data points and shared additional questions for foundations to consider as they look at their evaluation work.

Chera Reid, director of strategic learning, research and evaluation at The Kresge Foundation, drew on the data and her own experience leading the creation of an evaluation practice, sharing five thoughts for those at the beginning of their evaluation journeys to consider.

Additionally, CEI’s Tanya Beer shared thoughts on what foundations can do to ensure that evaluation delivers on its promise, and Fay Twersky, director of the Effective Philanthropy Group at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and CEP Board member, found the report’s findings that few foundations consistently share their evaluations with their grantees, other funders, or the public to be sobering data that needs to change.

Guest posts reacting to the report’s findings will continue over the rest of the fall — subscribe to the CEP blog to ensure you don’t miss a single one of them!

Registration for the 2017 CEP Conference in Boston is Now Open!


Early bird registration for the 2017 CEP Conference, which will be held at the historic Boston Park Plaza Hotel, is now open! The CEP Conference is a can’t-miss event for foundation leaders. Next April, nearly 400 foundation CEOs, VPs, and trustees/donors will come together to hear from inspiring and thought-provoking speakers, discuss pressing issues facing philanthropy, and leave energized with resources to maximize their effectiveness.

The program is already coming together, and our list of confirmed speakers includes: Raj Chetty, MacArthur fellow and professor of economics at Stanford University; Vu Le, author of the popular Nonprofit With Balls blog; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Douglas Stone, co-author of the New York Times business bestseller, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.

Attendance at the conference is capped to allow for more meaningful conversation, so register now to reserve your spot and take advantage of the early bird discount. CEP conferences always sell out, so don’t delay. You can learn more by visiting the conference website or by contacting Ying Tao, associate manager, programming and external relations, at or (617) 492-0800 x186, if you have any questions.

CEP Awarded Grant to Continue Research on Foundation Openness

CEP has been awarded a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight as part of its “Foundation Openness” program. The grant will support a new research project investigating how foundations are assessing what’s working and what isn’t (both in their programmatic areas and in their internal operations), how they use that information, and how they decide what to be open about. This research follows up Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency, a report CEP released earlier this year with support from Shared Insight, which finds that, among other things, little information about what does and does not work is being shared by, and among, funders.

YouthTruth Debuts New Survey Offerings and Research Findings

Between the new school year kicking off, new survey launches, and new research, it’s been a particularly busy and exciting time for YouthTruth. Last month,YT_FamilyStaffSurvey2.pngYouthTruth announced the release of new Family and Staff surveys to complement their core Student surveys on school climate/culture and teacher feedback. These new 15-minute surveys are designed to provide school and district leaders with complementary information about the most critical elements of the school experience, such as school culture, relationships, and engagement and empowerment.

lfsv_bullying_cov“Education leaders have a responsibility to build partnerships with staff and the community to drive learning and achievement,” writes YouthTruth’s Director of Partnerships and Outreach Sonya Heisters in an op-ed for LA School Report. “Like students, the families, teachers, and staff within a school system are uniquely positioned to provide actionable feedback about performance that simply can’t be captured through other measures.”

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. “If we can show the value of this kind of data in the field of education, which is the most common program area among large foundations, we hope to inspire listening to beneficiaries more widely,” explains CEP President Phil Buchanan. “While many nonprofits have for years sought to hear from those they seek to help, there isn’t enough of an infrastructure for collecting these views. Too often, funders undervalue the point of view of those they seek to help, and effectiveness suffers.”

YouthTruth also released its third Learning from Student Voice report, which shares findings on bullying in schools based on analysis of data collected from nearly 80,000 students across the country in grades five through 12. The report finds that rates of bullying vary widely across schools; most bullying happens in person and not online; and the top three reasons students believe they are being bullied include their appearance, their race or skin color, and because other students thought they were gay. Learn more about the study’s findings, and download the report to read in its entirety, here.

Phil Buchanan Named The NonProfit Times Influencer of the Year

nptimesawardCEP President Phil Buchanan was recognized last month as “Influencer of the Year” by The NonProfit Times. Buchanan received the award in Washington, D.C. at the publication’s annual gala honoring the work of the “2016 Power and Influence Top 50,” a list recognizing leaders for their contributions to the nonprofit sector.

In announcing the award, Paul Clolery, editor-in-chief of The Nonprofit Times, cited Buchanan’s willingness to forcefully take on those who misunderstand philanthropy and the nonprofit sector as the reason for his selection. Buchanan writes widely on effective philanthropy and the role of the sector on the CEP blog and as a columnist for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and he is also a regular speaker at major conferences. His essay, Big Issues, Many Questions, released in May, has been downloaded more than 5,000 times and is used as the basis for many board and staff discussions at major foundations.

In his acceptance speech, Buchanan said the award was completely unexpected. He spoke to the power of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and thanked those working on the front lines at nonprofit organizations. “I hope CEP has made their work a little easier by helping funders to be more effective, and by elevating the voices of grantees, intended beneficiaries, and others,” Buchanan said.

New Look, Same Great Content on the CEP Blog

CEP made some updates to its website last month, including a major facelift for the CEP blog! Check out the new look and catch up with all the posts over the past few months:

Jessica Bearman and Michelle Greanias of Grants Managers Network wrote on why the how of grantmaking should be everyone’s business at an effective foundation.

Megan Tompkins-Stange discussed openness, accessibility, and public trust in foundations in the context of Policy Patrons, her new book on how four major funders have sought to influence education policy in the U.S.

Jonathan Raymond, president of the Stuart Foundation, contributed a post on the power dynamic in funder-grantee relationships, writing, “Working in philanthropy is a privilege  —  and our impact and legacy are tied to what we choose to do with that privilege.”

CEP Vice President, Assessment and Advisory Services, Kevin Bolduc explained why the analogy of “customer service” is a less than apt frame of thinking when discussing how funders should treat their grantees.

Bolduc also contributed a second post about the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change contest, this time focusing on the important role that feedback can play in prize philanthropy — for the contest winners and denied applicants alike.

CEP Vice President, Programming and External Relations, Grace Nicolette also contributed a second post about feedback, sharing key takeaways from Thanks for the Feedback, the latest book from Douglas Stone, who will speak at the 2017 CEP Conference.

Jeff Kutash, executive director of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, shared an entertaining post with important takeaways about forming partnerships with grantees that are authentic and meaningful.

Medina Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Teunon reflected on what her foundation learned from the Grantee Perception Report (GPR), and why she believes listening to grantee feedback is so crucial to the Foundation’s work.

And Austin Long, CEP director, assessment and advisory services, and Dave Biemesderfer, president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, each shared reflections on the Forum’s annual conference in Indianapolis in July, expressing optimism for the Forum’s new vision to be the place where philanthropy-supporting organizations come together.

CEP in the News

Kevin Bolduc contributed a blog post on the ripple effect of foundation culture to the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s series on grantee inclusion, curated in partnership with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. “What happens inside a foundation doesn’t stay inside a foundation,” Bolduc writes. “A funder’s internal culture and practices affect the experiences and work of its grantees.”

Following the release of an open letter to foundation leaders sounding the call for support of nonprofit infrastructure organizations, Phil Buchanan and GuideStar CEO Jacob Harold co-authored an op-ed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy further advocating the letter’s message. Buchanan also co-authored another op-ed in The Chronicle, this time with Patti Patrizi, that addressed the debate around philanthropic strategy — arguing that the issue is not with strategy as a concept, but with “strategy misunderstood, misconstrued, and misapplied.”

Buchanan appeared on a segment of Take Two, a morning program on KPCC (Southern California National Public Radio), to discuss funding and social movements in light of the partnership between IDEX and Black Lives Matter. He also commented in two stories related to the high profile of foundations and charities in the current election, in both The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Bloomberg.

And CEP Senior Coordinator, Human Capital, Leaha Wynn was interviewed about CEP’s approach to staffing and hiring as part of the “HR Insider” series on the Idealist Careers blog.

New Faces at CEP

CEP and YouthTruth both welcomed new staff members over the summer! Max Dugan-Knight, working out of the San Francisco office, Emma.pngMax.pngis the newest YouthTruth analyst, while Emma Growney has joined the Cambridge office as coordinator, programming and external relations.

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