A Note from Phil Buchanan:

Welcome to our fall newsletter. As the presidential election approaches, and the roles of government and business are hotly debated, we hear much less in the public discourse about the role of philanthropy.

That’s a shame.

At CEP, we believe that philanthropy and the nonprofit sector are vitally important. Foundations have the potential to play a unique and powerful role in taking on issues other actors in our society cannot – or will not.

But, to fulfill that role, they need to be more effective. And we continue to see both many inspiring examples of effective foundation practices and too many sobering instances of a disconnect between foundation rhetoric and practice.

That’s why we are analyzing our research to highlight those disconnects and identify good practices. We’re preparing our next round of assessment tools for 2013, which will allow foundations to gauge how they are doing, often through comparative feedback from those who might not otherwise provide it directly. And during our upcoming conference in Detroit in May 2013, we’ll bring together foundation leaders to wrestle with the challenge of getting to—and sustaining—foundation effectiveness.

As always, we welcome your reactions and feedback.


Events: CEP Conference Registration Opens

Register now for our national conference, “Pursuing Results: Effective Foundation Practice,” to be held May 21-22, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. CEP’s biennial conferences provide foundation CEOs, trustees, and senior managers with resources to maximize their effectiveness. CEP will unveil new research on what foundation leaders see as the barriers to—and facilitators of—impact. Leaders of foundations working in Detroit will then discuss what has and hasn’t worked in their efforts to help one of the most challenged cities in America.

The conference will cover issues ranging from the merit of impact investing to a frank discussion among current and former CEOs on what it takes to be an effective foundation leader.

Harvard professor and recipient of a 2011 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant Roland Fryer, who has taken a data-based approach to his research on education reform, will discuss what he’s learned and the broader implications of his work for organized philanthropy.

Author Peter Sims, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, will discuss his research on how creative thinkers practice a set of simple but often counterintuitive experimental methods to explore and develop new ideas.

The preliminary program and list of presenters are available online. Please contact us at conference@cep.org for additional information.

Look for CEP at the upcoming Independent Sector 2012 Conference. President Phil Buchanan will join a panel discussion about the pros and cons of “Blending Profit and Purpose” and Vice President of Assessment Tools Kevin Bolduc will be among those leading a discussion about using data effectively.

At the Grantmakers for Education Conference, October 24-26, Manager Mendi Blue used her insights and experience working with CEP’s Strategy Landscape Tool (SLT) to discuss how data-sharing can catalyze K-12 education funders. To see how the SLT allows foundations to easily see and understand grantmaking strategies and patterns within and across institution you can explore our online demo.

Staff Updates: New YouthTruth Executive Director

We’re pleased to announce that Marny Sumrall has joined CEP as executive director of our YouthTruth® program. Through student surveys, YouthTruth brings the critical voice of the students to the decisions that shape education and serve our youth. Under Marny’s leadership, YouthTruth has the potential to transform education nationwide by ensuring that the voices of students are a critical part of the conversation about education. One of Marny’s first goals is to hire a National Student Survey Project Manager. YouthTruth was recently profiled by Markets for Good on their website as one of “the many initiatives underway to improve the system for generating, sharing, and acting upon data and information in the social sector.”

Kevin Bolduc, vice president of assessment tools, was selected as one of 12 Emerging Nonprofit Leaders by the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization that fosters leadership based on enduring values and provides a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

Assessment Tools: Kudos for Transparency

Kudos to the Arizona Community Foundation, which joins Napa Valley Community Foundation in sharing publicly the full results of its most recent donor perception report, noting that “the insights shared are shaping our immediate and long-term plans.”

Planning is underway for our 2013 surveys.  If your foundation wants to participate and learn more about its key stakeholders, please contact one of our managers.

New Research on Assessment and Social Media

Our latest reportRoom for Improvement: Foundations’ Support of Nonprofit Performance Assessment, explores the relative lack of foundation support for their grantees. On the CEP blog, Elizabeth Boris of the Urban Institute calls the report “a wake-up call for foundations that seek to promote effectiveness in the nonprofit sector,” while Nathan Hutto of Horizons for Homeless Children proposes a way for foundations and nonprofits to effectively collaborate on the issue of assessment.

Dan Cardinali, president of Communities in Schools, and Fay Twersky, senior fellow at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, discussed the implications of the report during our free webinar. The recording is available here if you missed their insights.

The report is the first in a series from The Grantee Voice, a panel of several hundred nonprofit leaders who have agreed to share their experiences about working with foundations with CEP.

In a report released in July, Grantees Limited Engagement with Social Media, we found that while foundations are using social media, it’s not clear that grantees are listening. Guest blogger Elizabeth Christopherson of the Rita Allen Foundation explored whether foundations’ activities in social media are worth it,” while Stuart Comstock-Gay of the Vermont Community Foundation used his foundation’s response to Tropical Storm Irene to highlight other ways to consider the power of social media. During our webinarElizabeth Miller of the Knight Foundation and Bruce Trachtenberg from the Communications Network offered ways to improve the conversation between funders and grantees.

In the next few months, look for our forthcoming research on foundation staff satisfaction. And you can always visit our research pages if you’ve missed a report or want to find a summary of our work on assessing performance, developing strategy, and the funder-grantee relationship.

What We’re Thinking About

  • Senior Research Analyst Elizabeth Kelley has read thousands of grantee comments about foundations. Her blog post, “Grantee Feedback: A Tool for Assessing Program Officers,” is a must read for program officers and their supervisors alike.
  • President Phil Buchanan urged charities to resist drinking the ‘kool aid’ of business superiority in an op-ed that appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
  • Also in the Chronicle, Phil reviewed Dan Pallotta’s latest book, Charity Case, and concluded that “nonprofits need a stronger voice, but not from the wrong messenger.”
  • If you’re looking for other publications relevant to philanthropy, our blog recently featured reviews of Caroline Fiennes It Ain’t What You Give, It’s the Way You Give It and Peter Sims’ Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

You can find a list of other topics and guest bloggers you might have missed by visiting our blog. Follow us on Twitter, where we discuss all our work and comment on breaking news from the philanthropic sector.