The Plan for CEP 2011-2014

I have argued on this blog that strategic planning processes — at both nonprofits and foundations — should be open and inclusive. I have called for an approach to strategy that runs “counter to the typical MBA approach to strategy development, in which strategy is formulated under a cloak of secrecy intended to deny potential competitors any knowledge of your intentions.”

With this in mind, I am pleased to release here the result of a 15-month strategic planning process undertaken by CEP. Better Data, Better Decisions, Better Philanthropy: The Plan for CEP 2011-2014 was unanimously approved by CEP’s Board of Directors in December.

In leading this planning process, I remained ever-mindful that, as my mentor and former boss Joanne Creighton has noted, “a vision cannot be simply imposed from without.” Even at a young organization like CEP, where I have served as the first chief executive since 2001, it would be foolish to imagine that I could single-handedly chart the right path forward. Writing about college presidents, Creighton has argued that a president should seek to understand “constituents’ hopes and dreams for the institution, and should collect, like a magpie, the best and most doable ideas.” I run a small nonprofit, not a college, but I think it’s good advice all the same.

To that end, our planning process was highly iterative and consultative. A Board Task Force, chaired by Nadya Shmavonian, president of Public/Private Ventures, played a crucial role, as did CEP’s full Board of Directors, chaired by Stephen Heintz, President of Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Our staff and our 35-member Advisory Board also provided input and ideas as well as comments on early drafts.

I am extremely excited about our Plan. You can download it in its entirety here, or read the very brief synopsis below.

The Plan for CEP 2011-2014 in Brief

The Plan builds on CEP’s strengths — sustaining and strengthening ongoing work while also laying out bold, new initiatives for improving foundation effectiveness. We have seen CEP’s work meaningfully influence foundation practice over the past nine years: in some cases, that influence has been dramatic. But we believe that most foundations have a long way yet to go before they are maximizing their effectiveness.

We seek a future in which foundations operate, to a much greater degree than they do today, in a manner that is consistent with what we believe is required for effectiveness. In order to do all we can to contribute to this future, CEP will need to grow so that the knowledge and insight we develop can have the most possible influence on the practice of philanthropy.

The initiatives outlined in this Plan capitalize on CEP’s core strengths of data development and analysis while also tapping into technological changes occurring within philanthropy and our society. During the Plan period, CEP will undertake a variety of initiatives, including:

  • a new study on foundation performance assessment practices, to understand changes since CEP’s initial research on the topic nearly a decade ago;
  • more rapid data-gathering and release of frequent research publications to influence practice;
  • development of new data on foundation strategy that will be made available to groups and networks of funders working toward the same goals in order to increase their effectiveness;
  • creation of an online dashboard for displaying results of CEP assessment tools, allowing for greater interactivity between CEP tool subscribers and their data;
  • establishment of a stronger community of users of our assessment tools — facilitating the exchange of information and practices through technology and in-person meetings.

CEP will need to continue to grow both its earned revenue and contributed revenue during 2011–2014 to undertake these initiatives — as well as the other ones we describe in this Plan. The Plan envisions continued improvement in the economics of the tools as well as a modest growth in board designated reserves to ensure CEP’s long-term stability and financial health.

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