Two and a Half Years of CEP’s Global Expansion: Time to Take Stock

Charlotte Brugman

It seems like only yesterday that I announced I’d be moving to Amsterdam in January 2019 to lead CEP’s work with funders in Europe and beyond. Two and a half years and a global pandemic later, the time has come for me to say goodbye to CEP. In August I’ll leave my position at CEP to devote time to finishing the children’s book I started writing (a fictional novel about climate change and Artificial Intelligence for teenagers).

This was a tough and scary decision. CEP has been my home and family over the past five-and-a-half years, and it truly is a great place to be. If you’ll indulge me for a moment: it’s great because of its people. Without exception, my colleagues are smart, kind, empathetic, and care a lot about each other as people, what’s happening in the world, and creating rigorous approaches to improving philanthropy. CEP’s organizational culture is dedicated to excellence, listening, and learning, fostered by inspiring leadership who support its people to both do great work and live fulfilling lives. For me, a good example of this was the trust that CEP demonstrated by supporting my idea to move across the world, set up shop in Amsterdam, and work on expanding CEP’s global assessment and advisory services on an international level. Thank you feels like an understatement.

Taking Stock of CEP’s Global Progress

Based on the past two-and-a-half years, I’d like to share a few personal reflections. First, listening is tough. Really tough. Personally, it takes me real effort and multiple failed attempts before I hear what my husband is telling me, let alone successfully acting on what was said. This is even tougher as a group –  to truly listen to partners and grantees, acknowledge the power dynamic, and be humble. And then to get on the same page about what change is needed and collectively alter the organizational culture as well as your own practices and behaviors as an individual.

But it’s possible! I’ve seen it happen numerous times in the wake of CEP’s Grantee Perception Report, like how Mama Cash streamlined and simplified its application and reporting process, Laudes Foundation deepened trust with its partners, and Comic Relief worked on better communicating the request for general operating support. I deeply believe in the Grantee Perception Report as an organizational tool and practice for ongoing listening and improvement. Because listening is an ongoing practice and never a ‘check-the-box and now we did it’ kind of thing.

Second, despite clear and growing evidence that trust-based philanthropy – in combination with multi-year unrestricted support – enables nonprofit organizations to achieve the most impact, European foundation leaders (just like the in the US) have trouble breaking out of old habits. It’s tough to build trust with new grantees and to let go of the feeling of control through detailed logic models or KPI matrixes. However, slowly but surely, this conversation is starting to take place within funders’ Board rooms. Examples such as Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, an India-based funder rated in the top 1 percent of CEP’s GPR comparative dataset for grantees’ perceptions of trust, are inspiring, as captured in this video interview with Founder Rohini Nilekani and her team: Building Trust through Grantee Feedback.

Still, foundations’ staff and particularly their Boards throughout Europe, the U.K., and beyond are far too white and male-dominated, as captured in this report prepared for the Association of Charitable Foundations. George Floyd’s death and the ensuing Black Lives Matter protests, however untimely and horrific, felt like a ‘wake-up call’ for the global philanthropic community. For instance, Trust for London shared in a recent newsletter that they were looking for new Board members, particularly people with ethnically diverse backgrounds, with lived experience, or with a gender identity other than male. This new emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the philanthropic community gives me hope.

Taking stock of the past couple of years, I’m proud that we’ve achieved a number of important milestones to support future momentum for CEP’s global work:

  • Being based in Amsterdam allowed us to organize local funder events throughout Europe, like the 2019 Relationships Matter workshop in London. It also enabled us to network and speak at conferences like the European Venture Philanthropy Association in the Hague in 2019. Or to simply have a coffee with funders in Zurich, London, Paris, or Berlin.
  • From mid-2019 through mid-2020, we’ve engaged 22 global funders that participated in the Grantee Perception Report and made use of CEP’s advisory services. Of these, 13 funders were new to us, including the National Lottery Community Fund (U.K.) and Tote Board (Singapore). In 2021, we’ve had the opportunity to work with five more global funders, three of which are new and headquartered in Europe: Equipop, Voice (a partnership between Oxfam Novib and Hivos), and the IKEA Foundation.
  • This year, we’re excited to work with the European Climate Foundation on a major advisory project following its 2019 Grantee Perception Report.
  • We created a series of case studies with examples of high-ranking global funders in our Grantee Perception Report dataset, all accessible here.

• Mama Cash explains how it created a helpful selection process.

• Luciana Campello from Laudes Foundation shares how she built strong relationships with her partners.

• The America for Bulgaria Foundation tells the story of providing intensive non-monetary support  to its grantees.

• City Bridge Trust reflects on the importance of transparency in its grantmaking.

  • We launched a new Global Advisory Group. The purpose of this group is to gain advice from seasoned philanthropic leaders in Europe, the U.K., and beyond on how to ensure CEP’s efforts in these areas are well-known, and as helpful and contextualized to local needs as possible.

Future Plans

CEP remains very committed to growing its work and deepening relationships with international funders. My colleague Mena Boyadzhiev, director of assessment and advisory services based in CEP’s Cambridge, Massachusetts office, will manage CEP’s global portfolio until a new Global Lead is recruited and trained. CEP plans to continue having an in-person presence in Europe, the U.K., or India. Fortunately, with vaccination rollouts slowly picking up steam in various parts of the world, coffees and conferences will hopefully soon start complementing our Zoom calls once more.

For any questions about CEP’s global assessment and advisory services moving forward, please contact Mena Boyadzhiev, director of assessment and advisory services, at menab@cep.org. You can also learn more about CEP Global on here.

As for me, I’ll be in Amsterdam, writing away! Please stay in touch with me or shoot me a note through my LinkedIn.

Charlotte Brugman is manager of assessment and advisory services, Amsterdam, with the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

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