Few foundation CEOs see progress on goals

Change is slow in coming on issues that foundations care about, and it could be accelerated through better collaboration, communication and information, according to a survey of foundation CEOs.

Only one in four foundation CEOs surveyed by the Center for Effective Philanthropy sees a lot of progress by organizations focused on the goal in which their own foundation invests the biggest share of its resources.

And just over half say they are only somewhat or a little confident in their assessment of that progress, says a report from the Center, which is based on survey responses from 211 CEOs of U.S.-based foundations.

Still, 60 percent believe their own foundations have contributed a lot to the progress that has been made, while 30 percent believe their own foundations have contributed a modest amount, says the report, How Far Have We Come? Foundation CEOS on Progress and Impact.

Ninety-four percent of CEOs who responded believe improved communication across organizations about what they are learning through their work could improve their assessment of  progress that has been made, while 91 percent believe more evidence about what works and does not work in making progress could improve their assessment.

And 88 percent believe greater consistency in metrics and indicators that organizations use to measure progress could improve their assessment, while 73 percent believe more research about social factors connected to the foundation’s goal could improve their assessment.

Forty-five percent of CEOs strongly agree that, compared to a decade ago, their foundation has made progress in being able to understand its impact, compared to 46 percent that somewhat agree.

And 14 percent of CEOs strongly agree and 64 percent somewhat agree that, compared to a decade ago, foundations overall have made progress in being able to understand their impact.

Asked what is the greatest barrier to foundations’ ability to make progress, 76 percent of CEOs cited the current government policy environment, while 76 percent cited the current economic climate, 54 percent cited the availability of evidence-based practices, and 51 percent cited grantees’ difficulty in accessing their progress.

Asked what practices could increase a foundation’s impact, 86 percent of CEOs cited working with organizations across sectors toward a shared goal, 86 percent cited working with other foundations toward a share goal, 73 percent cited seeking feedback from the ultimate beneficiaries of foundation’s work, 71 percent cited supporting nonprofits’ efforts to collect data about their performance, 70 percent cited scaling successful programs or organizations, 43 percent cited impact investing, and 17 percent cited sunsetting.

While the share of CEOs who said their foundations do in fact engage in those practices generally was similar to the share of CEOs who said those practices could boost a foundation’s impact, only 59 percent of CEOs said their foundations actually seek feedback from the ultimate beneficiaries of their work.

Seventy-seven percent of CEOs said they believe foundations do not  do a good job of publicly sharing what has not been successful in their experience, 57 percent believe foundations should provide more funding to increase the availability of evidence about what works, and 55 percent believe foundations are too risk-averse.

Todd Cohen

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