Changes in Board Leadership at CEP

The New Year has marked important changes for the CEP board of directors as Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, completed his three-year term as board chair. Phil Buchanan spoke of the effect he has had on CEP at a board dinner last fall, citing his ability to raise the standard for board discussion and deliberation and thanking him for all he has done for the organization.

“As Chair, you have been spectacular,” said Buchanan. “I have never worked with anyone, in my years in higher education, in my brief time in corporate consulting, or in my work at CEP, who leads a meeting as well as you do. In a meeting you lead, Stephen, everyone is heard and engaged because of the way you preside; everyone raises their game to try to be as insightful and concise and productive as you are; everyone listens and respects the voices of others, as you do; in short, everyone gets better. To be in a meeting you lead is a privilege.”

Pat Kozu, managing director of the National Employment Law Project, also completed her term on the Board. Buchanan spoke warmly of her many contributions to CEP over her five years of service, as a “thoroughly engaged Finance Chair,” and for her ability to find the key detail in a board discussion and link it to compelling insights that have helped to shape CEP’s evolving culture.

Stepping up as CEP’s new board chair is Kathy Merchant, president and CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation.  Buchanan called Merchant “A leader with national standing in philanthropy, and a champion of the cause of raising the assessment bar through the use of research and analysis.”

In addition, Christy Pichel, president of the Stuart Foundation, joined the CEP board on January 1, 2012. A leader in philanthropy whose work in Child Welfare was the subject of a CEP case study on foundation strategy development, Pichel also brings deep knowledge of the West Coast philanthropic community.

Spotlight: A Conversation with CEP Board Chair Kathryn Merchant

Kathryn Merchant comes to a new role at CEP with a long and close familiarity with the work of the organization. Her term as board chair began January 1, but she first came to appreciate the work of CEP earlier in her tenure as the long-time president and CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF).

“I was aware of CEP and had commissioned its tools well before I joined the board,” she said. “We used the Grantee Perception Report (GPR) and found it genuinely exciting. We had tried to measure grantee attitudes before, but no other resource had been as effective as CEP’s tool because of the unbiased feedback and benchmarking with other foundations.”

It took commitment to the survey process on her part to discover its power, although it provided meaningful information from the start.

“We used the information from our first GPR as strategic leverage to make some important changes in our grantmaking, and then we were able to see the effect of those changes in the second round,” she said.

Merchant recently spoke about her new leadership role, succeeding outgoing board chair Stephen Heintz, who stepped down at the end of 2011 as a result of term limits. In addition to a deep respect for CEP’s use of data and analysis to examine and compare how foundations are perceived by key constituent groups, she brings a long and accomplished personal history of leadership in philanthropy at both community and national levels.

She served as a member of the board of the Council on Foundations from 2001 until 2007, holding a number of leadership positions there, including a term as vice chairman from 2006 to 2007. Merchant also served on the Community Foundations of America Board from 2000 to 2008. She was chair of that organization from 2003 until 2006.

Merchant’s dual trajectory — as a leader both locally and nationally — has afforded her a crucial role at a time when philanthropy and the organizations and people it supports have been buffeted by a serious economic downturn. In important ways, however, she described the reality of economic distress as a longstanding reality affecting many people — what seems new is the broad visibility of the problems it causes.

“When I first moved to Cincinnati, I was struck by hidden poverty,” Kathy said. “People in the suburbs can come into the city to work or for the evening to have a great time, and then go home without ever seeing the extent of the disparity in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

Not long after she took her leadership role at GCF, these racial and economic disparities burst into the open, with civil unrest in the city of Cincinnati in 2001. Her organization responded with the use of data to deeply probe the realities of people’s lives, in search of critical issues that lay behind the growing inequality of opportunity.

As part of a collaborative funders group called Better Together Cincinnati, the Foundation turned to the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research to unbundle data on education, employment and criminal justice and scrutinize what could be learned. The result for GCF was a decision to focus on education as the best way to reduce disparities. “We could see that education is the way that opportunity is created,” Merchant said.

At about the same time, the Strive Partnership was created with the ambitious agenda of helping students in Cincinnati and two nearby cities in Kentucky achieve success from ”cradle to career.” Strive has since become a national model of a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing the educational needs of students. GCF has been part of Strive since 2006, and Merchant has chaired Cincinnati’s Strive Partnership since 2009.

Her respect for the power of data and for the efficacy of comparative survey data and analysis made Kathy a strong advocate for the development of CEP’s new Donor Perception Report, which is geared to community foundations, gathering donor perspectives and putting them in a comparative context.

“I really pushed for the new donor survey,” she said. “We have already found it to be an incredible source of unbiased information that helps us improve our service and value to donors.”

Merchant does not have a preconceived agenda for CEP, trusting in a strong record of creative development and an organizational leadership she said has consistently impressed her with its level of engagement and productivity.

The fragile underpinning of nonprofit finance is a topic she identifies as a defining national issue, and she cares a great deal about generational change and its impact on philanthropy. “We have learned a lot about the children and grandchildren of donors, and we have to continue to be able to respond to their interests and needs,” she said.

“It is a blessing to work with an organization that truly practices what it preaches,” Merchant said. “The use of feedback is a constant at CEP, and we hold ourselves to stretch outcomes. The use of outside research to create objective information about our own performance is so important. We are always thinking about how this organization is performing, and that commitment defines the culture of the board as well as the staff. The commitment to ‘thought diversity’ is real and remarkable — I have never gone to a meeting where I didn’t learn something.”

A New Initiative Seeks to Amplify the Nonprofit Voice

A new CEP initiative is designed to do more to bring the voice of nonprofits to foundation funders through a series of surveys. Called The Grantee Voice: Feedback for Foundations, the project involves a panel of nonprofit leaders from across the country who will share their perspectives on working with foundations.

This effort builds on CEP’s surveys of grantees on specific foundations, which inform the Grantee Perception Reports (GPRs) delivered to more than 200 foundations over the past decade as well as CEP’s research reports. The Grantee Voice seeks nonprofit perspectives on working with foundations broadly, rather than focusing on a specific foundation.  The surveys will be issue-specific, timely, and short.  The panel will include leaders from several hundred nonprofits that receive funding from larger foundations.

YouthTruth Expands its Reach, Builds New Partnerships

YouthTruth, a CEP initiative that surveys beneficiaries — in this case, high school students — to generate meaningful feedback for teachers, administrators, and funders, is expanding. By the end of the 2011-2012 school year, YouthTruth will have surveyed 100,000 students in 220 schools, in 27 districts and networks, in 22 states.

Meanwhile, the idea of student surveys as a significant source of feedback continues to gain momentum within the broad national debate about how to achieve the goal of improving American public education. New research sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its Measures of Effective Teaching project (MET) offers testimony to the power of feedback and the use  of student surveys in helping to inform assessments of teaching effectiveness. “Combining observation scores [of teachers] with evidence of student achievement gains and student feedback improved the predictive power” of efforts to assess teacher quality, according to the report released January 6, 2012.

YouthTruth now receives grant support from a number of foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Stuart Foundation, Houston Endowment, The W. Clement & Jessie Stone Foundation, Foundation for the MidSouth, East Bay Community Foundation, Oakland Education Funders Collaborative, and the Children’s Trust .

YouthTruth extended its impact and its ability to inform teacher-level assessments in particular with a new strategic partnership. YouthTruth recently joined with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) to design and implement a process for gathering feedback from 60,000-plus students taught by more than 750 teaching fellows recruited by TNTP. The goal is to combine YouthTruth’s expertise in collecting and analyzing student feedback with TNTP’s ongoing development of a comprehensive system to assess teachers in schools across the country.

Timothy Daly, president of TNTP and a national leader in the effort to strengthen teaching practice in a systematic way, described the partnership this way: “Getting a meaningful picture of how teachers are doing in their classrooms requires multiple measures. Student voices are one critical component in these assessments, and YouthTruth’s rigorous and proven model for gathering actionable student feedback makes them an ideal partner.”

According to Valerie Threlfall, vice president – YouthTruth, current goals for the initiative include continuing to scale YouthTruth nationally; developing more streamlined offerings that can be delivered quickly and efficiently to schools; and connecting YouthTruth to a growing body of research, affirming the effectiveness of student feedback for informing the burgeoning need for comprehensive teacher-level feedback.

2013 Conference Will Be in Detroit

CEP is excited to announce its next biennial conference, to be held in Detroit, from May 20-22, 2013. The conference, which will take place at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel Detroit, is designed for CEOs, other senior foundation executives, and board members of larger foundations (with annual grants of $5 million or more).

CEP’s 2011 conference in Boston saw record participation numbers and featured sessions with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes, economist Esther Duflo, and actor and foundation founder Michael J. Fox. Planning for the 2013 conference program is underway.

Webinar on Strategy at Community Foundations Draws a Crowd

A webinar hosted by CEP on January 10 in partnership with the Council on Foundations drew a large national audience of more than 150. The webinar focused on research findings from CEP’s report, Rhetoric Versus Reality: A Strategic Disconnect at Community Foundations, released in September.  The report’s lead author Ellie Buteau, vice president – research at CEP, presented the findings. Spicer Bell, president of the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, also spoke. His foundation was profiled in the report for its strategic approach to its programmatic work.

Kathy Merchant, president and CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and CEP board chair, hosted the webinar along with CEP president Phil Buchanan.

Key findings from the report have been presented in other gatherings, including the Indiana Grantmakers Alliance’s Fourth Annual Leadership Academy in November and a gathering of community foundation leaders in Arizona this month. In February, Buteau will present the research at the Florida Philanthropic Network’s winter 2012 meeting.

The full webinar is now available on the CEP website.

CEP is Hiring

The search is on to fill three roles at CEP: a director of talent; research analyst; and administrative assistant.

For detailed job descriptions of each position, information about CEP’s work culture and values, and directions for applying, visit our careers page.