At CEP, we watch the development and progress of new assessment tools very closely, using the same kind of data-driven feedback that we provide to our foundation clients. The first few years of a new tool tell us a lot about the utility of the tool to foundation leaders and its future prospects; in some cases, we haven’t hesitated to pull the plug on assessment tools that have not worked out.
Other assessment tools have grown to meet or exceed our expectations. A new third party assessment of the Donor Perception Report (DPR) suggests that it is very useful to a broad range of community foundations, and I’m happy to say that it will be around for a while. We learned that community foundations are using DPR data—based on a comparative survey of donors—to change and improve practice as they seek to create more satisfied donors who will contribute more in the future.
Since we first piloted the DPR in 2009 with a few funders, and support from the James Irvine Foundation, we’ve worked with community foundations from across North America to survey their donors. More recently, grant support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped us with the broad roll-out of the DPR.
The DPR covers donors’ views on funders’ community impact and leadership, engagement with the community foundation, and their plans for future giving. To date, 48 community foundations of all sizes, scopes, and geographies have commissioned a DPR to gather vital feedback on how to improve their work with donors.
CEP has commissioned an independent evaluator (LFA Group: Learning for Action) for the second time to survey DPR subscribers, this time capturing feedback from community foundations who commissioned a DPR in 2011 to 2012.
The first time we commissioned such a study two years ago, we learned a lot about the utility of this tool. The initial results were positive and also helped us make the tool even more useful. The goal of the current evaluation was to assess whether the DPR is still helping subscribers drive change and to further improve it. Here are just a few things we have learned this time around and why we hope that more funders will use the tool in the future (you can download the executive summary here):
- DPR Catalyzes Change: Eighty percent of respondents reported that the DPR drove change in at least one area of their work, with 47 percent indicating they made “significant change.” Seventy-five percent of subscribers reported making some change to their foundation strategy as a result of the DPR. Subscribers reported the greatest changes in the areas of their approach to working with existing donors and modifying internal staff roles. One subscriber explained it this way, “We realized that for existing donors, we were not engaging in a proactive way with them—the DPR helped us define what the donors understood by that and we are adjusting our offerings and our services to them to meet their need.”
- DPR Users Are Highly Satisfied: Specific themes that emerged from the data were high satisfaction with the survey customization process and CEP’s presentation of DPR results. One community foundation subscriber said, “Community Foundations are all very different in nature and focus area. CEP clearly understands this, and took the time to get to know our unique identity and needs.”
- Suggestions for Further Improvements: Subscribers shared several ideas for how to enhance the value of the DPR experience, including:
- Further increasing the level of customization to the survey instrument and results
- Highlighting more actionable next steps as part of discussing the results
As the manager at CEP responsible for this tool, I’m always excited to receive this kind of feedback, because we want to make the DPR as useful as possible. We’re looking forward to digesting all the findings and coming up with ways to address some of these suggestions going forward. One solution already in the works is CEP’s new online reporting system that we’re launching this summer for the DPR, allowing subscribers more control of and access to their customized data.
One thing is certain: these results confirm to us that the Donor Perception Report has become one of CEP’s major assessment tools. Its value to community foundation clients ensures that we’ll continue to be investing in it for years to come.
Grace Nicolette is a Manager on the Assessment Tools team at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.