CEP Perspectives

may 1, 2020

Center for Effective Philanthropy Leader Talks About Philanthropy’s Response to the Pandemic (Podcast)

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

This episode of the Business of Giving podcast features Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. He speaks with podcast host, Denver Frederick, about:

• why foundations should give more now,

• the rapid-response grantee feedback tool, and

• the challenge to nonprofit revenue models….>listen

march 27, 2020

How to Best Support Nonprofits through Uncertainty

Hannah Martin

National Center for Family Philanthropy “Family Giving News Blog”

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is complicating an already complex funding landscape for nonprofits. While the need for nonprofits’ programs and services is increasing—exponentially for some—nonprofits are having to cancel events, and donors and foundations are losing money in a volatile stock market.

At the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), we believe that the nonprofit perspective on issues that affect the sector provides crucial insight into how funders can have greater impact. In November of 2019, we surveyed nonprofit CEOs from our Grantee Voice panel—a national sample of CEOs from nonprofit grant-seeking organizations that receive at least one grant from foundations giving $5 million or more annually—to learn how they are thinking about and responding to a variety of anticipated changes and challenges. All of these issues are even more relevant as the coronavirus pandemic—and its economic implications—intensifies….>read more

march 26, 2020

Leading an Organization Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Phil Buchanan

BoardSource Blog

Editor’s note: Running an organization is a huge responsibility on its own, but doing so in today’s environment is truly a different beast. We are in uncharted waters. This post, originally published as a series of tweets by Phil Buchanan — president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count” — touches on 15 things to keep in mind as you adjust to the many new realities that COVID-19 has created. You can view the original thread on Twitter, but we have posted it here with Phil’s permission for the BoardSource community.

Being in a leadership position of any kind at an organization of any size is a challenge in this moment. Some thoughts (which may or may not be helpful or remotely right but are running through my head).

  1. You can’t communicate enough. People want to know what’s going on — and that you’re not minimizing and that you’re on it. Use all the channels you have to communicate with folks. Be open and honest but also encouraging…>read more

march 9, 2020

Recommended Reading: Giving Done Right: A frank discussion with Phil Buchanan about how he is getting it done right.

Ops & Asks: The Musings of a NYC Fundraiser
Juliana Weissbein

A majority of American households give to charity in some form or another–from local donations to food banks, religious organizations, or schools, to contributions to prevent disease or protect basic freedoms. Whether you’re in a position to give $1 or $1 million, every giver needs to answer the same question: How do I channel my giving effectively to make the greatest difference?

In Giving Done Right, Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, arms donors with what it takes to do more good more quickly and to avoid predictable errors that lead too many astray. This crucial book reveals the secrets and lessons learned from some of the biggest givers, from the work of software entrepreneur Tim Gill and his foundation to expand rights for LGBTQ people to the efforts of a midwestern entrepreneur whose faith told him he must do something about childhood slavery in Ghana. It busts commonly held myths and challenging the idea that “business thinking” holds the answer to effective philanthropy. And it offers the intellectual frameworks, data-driven insights, tools, and practical examples to allow readers to understand exactly what it takes to make a difference.

I am thankful to have had the chance to sit down with Phil to discuss how he is getting it done right….>read more

february 27, 2020

When Billionaires Give To Charity


WGBH’s Greater Boston
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently pledged to invest $10 billion of his money into an initiative to fight climate change, but he did not provide many details about where the money will go. His announcement placed renewed attention on his company’s large carbon footprint — which a group of Amazon employee activists have long challenged — and raised bigger questions about how to respond to the ultra-wealthy’s charitable giving efforts.


Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, Emily Barman, professor of sociology at Boston University and author of Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value in the Market, and Michael Serazio, an associate professor of communication at Boston College and the author of Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerilla Marketing, spoke with Jim Braude Thursday on Greater Boston….>watch here

February 6, 2020

Listening and Learning Is Not Enough

Charlotte Brugman

Association of Charitable Foundations Blog

ACF’s report Impact and Learning: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice defines learning as a “proactive and lifelong process of reflection and open listening” that “takes time and is an iterative process.” As the report argues, this means a stronger foundation should “regularly review its mission to ensure it is still fit for purpose” by listening and “making efforts to understand the realities of the people, issues and causes with which the foundation seeks to engage.”

From my vantage point leading the Center for Effective Philanthropy‘s work in Europe, I couldn’t agree more.

In order to stay relevant, focus on what matters, and do no harm, funders need to proactively and regularly seek candid feedback from the people they’re engaging most closely with on the work: their grantees, beneficiaries, partners, and other key stakeholders. Listening and learning needs to be a constant practice, preferably benchmarking feedback results against that of other funders and structurally tracking performance over time. This helps foundations to stay agile and adaptable, to keep program officers aware of actual needs, and to make sure that strategies achieve intended impact….>read more

january 21, 2020

What’s The Role Of Philanthropy In Connecticut?

Carmen Baskauf & Lucy Nalpathanchil
Where We Live (WNPR)

Demand for social services in Connecticut has grown in the same decade that’s seen the state struggle to pass balanced budgets. The nonprofit sector has provided more and more of these services but now its facing more pressure, as Americans charitable donations decline and government cutbacks continue.

This hour, we talk with national and local experts about the role philanthropy plays in helping Connecticut residents today. How much of a role should the state government play in supporting Connecticut’s nonprofits?…>listen here


From 2019

December 23, 2019

Opinion: If the economy is booming, why is charitable giving in trouble?

Phil Buchanan
The Boston Globe

Philanthropy is in trouble. Giving USA reported a decline in giving by individuals in 2018, likely driven by changes in the tax code to dramatically reduce the number of itemizers who benefit from the charitable deduction. An end of year drop in the stock market that year probably didn’t help, either. Meanwhile, data from a variety of organizations tell us the proportion of households that give has declined over the past decade, that even the very wealthy are donating at a very low level relative to their assets, and that young people are contributing at low rates. While it is true that a majority of Americans still give — and donation levels are high relative to other countries — the warning lights are flashing…>read more

November 26, 2019

Opinion: Four Mistakes to Avoid in Giving to Improve Public Education

Phil Buchanan
The CT Mirror

The pledge made earlier this year by hedge fund investor and billionaire Raymond Dalio and his wife, Barbara, to commit $100 million to promote public education and economic opportunity for young people in Connecticut has rightly generated attention, praise, and also some concern. This commitment, which is to be matched by another $100 million in public money and possibly another $100 million in matching philanthropic gifts, is a meaningful effort in a state that is notorious for the gap between rich and poor — and for socioeconomic and racial disparities that are both manifested in, and perpetuated by, inadequate funding for schools in the poorest areas…>read more

November 4, 2019

How Foundations are Looking to Increase Impact

Justin Miller with Phil Buchanan
Critical Value (Podcast)

Institutional philanthropy is in a remarkable era of expansion and experimentation. Foundations are looking to increase their impact in innovative ways and also contending with the implications of their increasing influence. Host Justin Milner speaks with Arnold Ventures President Kelli Rhee, Hudson Webber Foundation President Melanca Clark, Center for Effective Philanthropy President Phil Buchanan and Urban researcher Ben Soskis to survey the emerging landscape. >listen here

October 23, 2019

The joy & complexity of giving w/ Giving Done Right author Phil Buchanan

Grant Oliphant with Phil Buchanan
We Can Be (Podcast)

In 2018, Americans gave $427 billion to charities of their choice. Phil Buchanan, founding chief executive of The Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count,” is working to make certain people have the best possible information to ensure those hard-earned dollars do the most possible good.

Phil has his father to thank for his sense of empathy, and his urge to give where it can be most impactful. An ardent social justice and worker’s rights activist, Phil’s father “sought to build relationships with people whose lives and experiences were vastly different from his, all in effort to understand them and create genuine connections.”

Those lessons became a cornerstone of Phil’s being, driving him to found The Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2001 and continue to serve as its president ever since. The center does research for many of the most-recognized names in the giving community, including Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Packard, and The Heinz Endowments.  His on-the-ground experience culminated in his 2019 book “Giving Done Right.”

Host Grant Oliphant’s conversation with Phil covers the “heart-versus-head conundrum” about giving that both individuals and philanthropies must wrestle with, the dangers of taking tainted money from donors with dubious – or worse – reputations, and why America’s nonprofit leaders are “our country’s unsung heroes.” >listen here

September 17, 2019

The MIT-Epstein Story Spurs A Debate About Dirty Money In Philanthropy

Jim Braude with Tina Opie and Phil Buchanan
WGBH News: Greater Boston

A bombshell report from The New Yorker this month detailed how MIT’s Media Lab continued to accept donations from Jeffrey Epstein after his 2008 conviction for soliciting minors, going to considerable lengths to conceal his gifts to the school as anonymous. Now other large schools, including Harvard and Stanford, are now also facing questions about their ties to the now-deceased Epstein. The development has spurred larger debate about how charities, foundations, and other powerful institutions should handle donors. Whose money is too tainted to take?

Jim Braude was joined by Tina Opie, an associate professor at Babson College and currently a visiting associate professor at MIT, and Phil Buchanan, the president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.>watch here

September 9, 2019

Moral Crisis at MIT’s Media Lab

Tiziana Dearing, Max Larkin, and Zoë Mitchell with Phil Buchanan
WBUR: Radio Boston

MIT’s Media Lab appears to be in a moral crisis.

The President of MIT said the university will bring in an outside firm to investigate the connections between the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the Lab. This comes after Media Lab Director Joi Ito resigned after a New Yorker piece revealed how he had concealed his connection to the financier.

Where does MIT go from here?


August 28, 2019

Be Honest, Be Direct

Phil Buchanan and Tiffany Cooper Gueye with Sandy Cyr
The Nonprofit Experience (a podcast of Philanthropy Journal)

Nonprofits often feel pressure to put on a show of positivity, especially in front of funders. In this episode of The Nonprofit Experience, Phil Buchanan from the Center for Effective Philanthropy and Tiffany Gueye of Blue Meridian Partners talk about the importance of sometimes brutal honesty about nonprofits’ needs, inequities and barriers to equal treatment in the sector, and fighting for a work-life balance.>listen here

August 10, 2019

EP 90: Why People Don’t Donate (and What You Can Do About It) (with Phil Buchanan)

Phil Buchanan with Joan Garry
Nonprofits are Messy with Joan Garry (Podcast)

There are so many people out there who want to make a difference in the world. Your nonprofit is a vehicle for them to do just that. So why can it be so hard to get people (or foundations) to open their checkbooks?

One reason comes down to a simple word… trust. If they give you their hard earned money, how can they trust it will do the most good? How can you show potential donors why your organization is the perfect vehicle to satisfy their desire for impact?

Is it simply about providing more data? Showing a graph of donations spent on programs versus overhead? (Hint… it’s not).

Phil Buchanan, founding chief executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) tells us that defining high performance within nonprofits has a bit of a template. In this podcast hear more about strategic giving and why you don’t necessarily need to be business savvy. Learn how you can achieve long term flexible commitments in an organization and communicate effectively so donors are confident they will see their dollars go farther.

Whether it’s data systems to track outcomes or finding ways to be in close touch with your mission, the importance of benefiting from knowledge that is widely available and educating your donors will help you execute your organization’s philanthropic goals.>listen here


July 8, 2019

A Conversation with Phil Buchanan

Michael E. Hartmann
Philanthropy Daily

Michael E. Hartmann talks to the president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count.”…>read more

June 26, 2019

The Link Between Thoughtful Leadership and Effective Philanthropy with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan with David Nelson
The Discovery Pod (Podcast)

The less we understand what philanthropy is all about, the less our ability to have the impact that we want. Guest Phil Buchanan, the President of The Center for Effective Philanthropy, greatly advocates for the importance of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector and helps foundations and individual donors to maximize their impact. On The Discovery Pod, Phil dives deep into the link between thoughtful leadership and effective philanthropy, giving advice to leaders who are being pulled into starting their own organization. He lays down the difference between social profit and philanthropy and shares his perspectives on the “right” indicators of performance, the importance of “getting proximate” to the people within and without the organization, and the challenge of creating an organizational culture and processes to identify and pursue the best ideas.>listen here

June 26, 2019

Making Fundraising Less Ackward

Phil Buchanan
Moolala: Money Made Simple with Bruce Sellery (Podcast)

Host Bruce Ellery talks to the president of the Center For Effective Philanthropy, Phil Buchanan as he takes listeners through some fundraising etiquette tips.>listen here

June 13, 2019

Do we know best what others need? Podcast with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan with Michael Alberg-Seberich
Wider Sense Podcast

In this issue, Phil Buchanan, Chief Executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), and Michael Alberg-Seberich discuss why business methods might not work best in the world of giving, why in philanthropy strategy has to be shared, how the most effective organizations in philanthropy work. And, of course, they talk about CEP’s work and Phil’s latest book “Giving Done Right – Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count”.>listen here


June 11, 2019

Giving Done Right

Phil Buchanan
KATU’s AM Northwest

Americans like to pitch in when they see a need. In fact, a majority of households give to charity in some form or another. But givers of all levels – from the middle-class family giving to their local community foundation to the heads of major foundations – often worry about how to truly make an impact. Phil Buchanan, author of the new book Giving Done Right, joined AM Northwest to discuss ways to make sure your money does the most good.>listen here.


May 31, 2019

5 Mistakes Mackenzie Bezos and Other Mega-Donors Should Avoid

Phil Buchanan

Mackenzie Bezos’ recent announcement that she’d take the Giving Pledge and dedicate at least half of her $35 billion in net worth to philanthropy has sparked attention, partially because her ex-husband, Jeff Bezos, wouldn’t sign the pledge. Her commitment to the Giving Pledge, spearheaded by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett in 2010, should be lauded, especially in light of the current cynicism about the giving of mega philanthropists.

“My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful,” she wrote in her letter announcing the pledge. “It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait.”

I hope others—including Jeff Bezos as well as those who will earn fortunes from the recent initial public offerings of Lyft, Uber, and Pinterest and the potential IPOs of Slack and Airbnb—will follow MacKenzie Bezos’ lead. I hope they share her commitment to giving and her wisdom about the care such giving takes. Because it is anything but easy…>read more

May 28, 2019

Effective Giving & Being Positive About Philanthropy

Phil Buchanan
Giving Thought Podcast

In episode 50, we talk to Phil Buchanan- founding CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of a new book: Giving Done Right: Effective Giving and Making Every Dollar Count. We discuss current debates about philanthropy and what we need to do to ensure a positive narrative about the value of giving in our society as we head into the future…read more

May 20, 2019

Critiques of Philanthropy Are Important, but Some Have Entered the Realm of the Absurd

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Critiques of philanthropy and the nonprofits it supports have jumped the shark. It’s true that philanthropy, given its significant role in American society, deserves scrutiny and that there has often been too little of it in recent decades. But there has lately been a turn from helpful and thoughtful criticism to off-based generalizations and statements that veer into the absurd.

Even a stirring announcement Sunday at the Morehouse College graduation ceremony by Robert Smith – the billionaire investor who founded Visa Equity Partners – that he would pay off the debt of the graduating class was met with reflexive skepticism in some quarters. Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World was quoted in a New York Times article about the gift worrying that it “can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems.”

Perhaps no philanthropy critic is more ubiquitous today than Giridharadas, whose book rightly skewers those who believe (or maybe just pretend to believe, to serve their narrow purposes?) that business and market-oriented solutions will fix all of our most pressing problems. It also questions those who seem to have confused taking a job at McKinsey with signing up for the Peace Corps….read more

May 7, 2019

Make Your Donation Dollars Go Farther

Phil Buchanan
The Motley Fool Podcasts: Motley Fool Answers

Phil Buchanan, author of the book Giving Done Right, joins The Motley Fool Podcast to talk about philanthropy and charitable giving….> listen here

May 6, 2019

Getting Real About Nonprofit Performance Assessment

Phil Buchanan
Philanthropy Journal News

When it comes to assessing nonprofit performance, stereotypes and caricatures often get in the way of good practice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it said that nonprofits aren’t that interested in assessing their performance. This was definitely the prevailing view when I was a student at Harvard Business School two decades ago, and it remains so today – including, unfortunately, among some major donors and foundation staff. I hear donors talk about how nonprofit leaders don’t care about performance assessment – and need to be held to account by donors.

But this is wrong. Several years ago, my Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) colleagues and I surveyed foundation-supported nonprofits about their practices, and this is what we found:

  • Almost all nonprofits we surveyed report collecting information to assess their performance; still, many nonprofit leaders want to collect additional—or better—data.
  • The nonprofits surveyed are mainly using their performance information to improve their programs and services, inform their strategic direction, and communicate about their progress; to a lesser extent, they are using it to share what they’re learning with other organizations or to manage staff.
  • A minority of nonprofits report receiving support from foundations for their performance assessment efforts…> read more

April 30, 2019

Tuesday on Lake Effect: Giving Done Right, Ag And Climate Change, Police Craft

Phil Buchanan
Lake Effect on WUWM 89.7 with Mitch Teich and Joy Powers 

In this episode, Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of the new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count explains how you can ensure the money you give to charitable causes really makes the difference you hope.> listen here

April 29, 2019

Phil Buchanan
Mountain Money KPCW with Doug Wells and Roger Goldman

In the second half of the program, Doug and Roger visit with Phil Buchanan. Phil is the  author of Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. In the book, Phil explores what it takes to make an impact on issues you care about – whether you have a little or a lot to give.>listen here.

April 29, 2019

Phil Buchanan
Wesleyan University Magazine

Philip Buchanan ’92, the president the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), has some tips on what to look for in an organization before you open your purse.

Charitable giving in the U.S. topped $400 billion in 2017. And more than half of American households give annually—more than vote in presidential elections. That giving supports a vast and diverse nonprofit sector that has been a defining strength of this country. Philanthropy has fueled progress—from reductions in teen smoking, to greater civil rights, to strong arts and culture organizations in communities both rural and urban. But givers often struggle to know how to give effectively, or whether their contributions are making a difference.

Too often, an understandable desire to quantify leads to a focus on dumbed-down measures that tell you little or mislead. Especially in the past two decades, we’ve seen a “biznification” of philanthropy that has pushed for universal measures—equivalents to metrics like return on investment or profit that allow those in the corporate world to compare by the same metrics companies in completely different industries. Philanthropy gets analogized to investing, nonprofits rebranded as “social enterprises,” and, along the way, crucial distinctions are lost…>read more.

April 25, 2019

Effective Philanthropy with Phil Buchanan

Phil Buchanan
Successful Generations with Ellie Frey Zagel

In this episode, Ellie interviews Phil Buchanan, President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of the new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. Phil describes four dimensions of effective philanthropy and much more. > listen here

April 24, 2019

Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy Takes on the Naysayers

Phil Buchanan
Let’s Hear It Podcast with Eric Brown and Kirk Brown

Phil Buchanan, the President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, has been helping foundations do their work better for almost two decades. But given that philanthropy is one step removed from the action, does that mean that Phil is helping people to help people who help people? What role do foundations and the organizations that support them play in improving people’s lives? And maybe most important, how can donors of all kinds figure out how to make sure their funding is as effective as possible?

In this episode of Let’s Hear It, Phil talks with Eric about how philanthropy can make a difference, and they discuss Phil’s new book, Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. Eric notes that Phil, a former door-to-door fundraiser, has gone from playing the kazoo in the subway to conducting at Carnegie Hall. > listen here

April 18, 2019

Phil Buchanan discusses his new book with Carol Massar and Jason Kelly on Bloomberg Businessweek Radio

Phil Buchanan
Bloomberg Businessweek Radio (Podcast)

Phil Buchanan joined Bloomberg Businessweek to discuss some of the main ideas in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count with hosts Carol Massar and Jason Kelly. The segment featuring Buchanan begins around the 7:30 mark.> listen here

April 16, 2019

Phil Buchanan talks about his new book Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count on Moolala

Phil Buchanan
Moolala: Money Made Simple with Bruce Sellery (Podcast)

Phil Buchanan joined Bruce Sellery on Moolala to discuss some of the main ideas in Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count. The segment featuring Buchanan begins around the 20:50 mark.> listen here

April 15, 2019

Philanthropy’s blighted reputation threatens global giving

Phil Buchanan
Financial Times

Charitable giving worldwide supports a diverse and vital group of non-government organisations working on issues from disaster relief and global poverty to educational opportunities for girls. But today, at least in the US, it faces what experts warn may be the beginnings of a decline due to a recent trend of lower giving among small-gift givers. Initial projections show giving in 2018 in the US may have increased at a slower rate than inflation — Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact pegs the increase at just 1.5 per cent, down from a more than 5 per cent increase the previous year.

Decreases among everyday donors would be cause enough for concern on its own. But there is another looming, less discussed, threat: giving among the biggest donors worldwide may also fall as their charitable efforts are increasingly caricatured as self-protective ruses. In the case of the Sackler family, some of whom own Purdue Pharma — who appear to have used their philanthropy to burnish their reputations with one hand while fanning the flames of the opioid epidemic with the other — the shoe fits. The Sacklers have suspended their giving to UK museums, amid increasing wariness about being associated with the family name.

It’s tempting to portray the Sacklers as the norm, and many can’t resist. The very rich, once criticised for not giving enough of their fortunes away, are now being chastised for being too philanthropic. Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman made a viral splash at Davos when he took the World Economic Forum’s attendees to task, suggesting they should stop talking “about all these stupid philanthropy schemes” and “start talking about taxes”… >read more.

April 15, 2019

How Christians Can Better Support Nonprofits

Phil Buchanan and Grace Chiang Nicolette

In seeking to better steward their resources, Christians may sometimes wonder how their giving to the poor and marginalized might better reflect God’s ultimate gift and sacrifice. The truth is that giving well and wisely isn’t easy – as givers from Andrew Carnegie to Warren Buffett have observed – and it requires wisdom and its own set of skills.

Maybe you’re faithfully tithing to your church and also supporting other important ministries or nonprofits. Or maybe you’ve struggled to identify the right organizations beyond your church to which to give. Or maybe you’re just getting started with giving, period.

Regardless, the questions are the same: Now what do I do? Which organizations do I support?

April 14, 2019

Phil Buchanan discusses his new book with Denver Frederick on radio show The Business of Giving 

Phil Buchanan
The Business of Giving

Phil Buchanan, president of CEP, was recently interviewed by Denver Frederick, host of the radio show The Business of Giving.The program is the only show of its kind that focuses on solutions to today’s complex social problems. Each week, listeners hear from philanthropists, corporate  CEOs, nonprofit luminaries, celebrity ambassadors, government officials, and social entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of the transformative changes that are occurring around the world.> listen here

April 11, 2019

Keeping the Faith and Closing the Distance

Phil Buchanan
Giving Compass

Jason Hackmann comes from the small, rural town of Winfield, Missouri. He describes his childhood as ordinary, growing up in a lower-middle-class family. He graduated from his small high school—his graduating class had just sixty-eight students—in the spring of 1995.

That’s also when his brother was killed by a drunk driver. The crushing loss of his brother fueled Hackmann’s ambition to be successful and to break free of the small-town life he’d grown up living. He built a successful career, eventually founding a life insurance agency in St. Louis that caters to wealthy clients. After his first child was born, in 2004, Hackmann began thinking about what really mattered to him. “It was at that time that I began my journey back to Christ,” he told me. His past giving, he confessed, had been made with “ulterior motives” related to his business interests.

It was on a vacation in Turks and Caicos in 2008 that his perspective changed. One day on the beach, Hackmann said to his wife, Jennifer, that he felt uninspired by the books he had brought on the trip. Jennifer pulled out a just-released book and suggested Hackmann read that. The book was called Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace, by Pam Cope. It chronicles the author’s story and the link between her loss of her 15-year-old son to an undiagnosed heart ailment and her desire to help others, particularly to do something about child slavery in Ghana.

Hackmann connected with her story, reading the book in a day, and decided he, too, wanted to do something about the issue… >read more.

April 2, 2019

What Grant Makers Can Do to Help Small, Local Nonprofits Thrive

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Julie Phelps grew up “really poor,” as she calls it, in rural Minnesota. In high school, she worked at the local Burger King, the best-paying job she could find. She was so organized, and such a natural leader, that she was promoted to night manager while still a teenager.

Phelps had always loved theater and the arts, particularly dance, even though her family could not afford formal lessons. But when she went to Macalester College in St. Paul, with the support of significant financial aid and scholarships, she majored in psychology. “I didn’t really know — and no one told me — that you could actually study the arts in college, that it could be a viable option,” she says.

But Phelps’s passion for the arts never left her. When she moved to San Francisco after graduating from Macalester, she worked in cafes and got involved in dance performances at local nonprofits. Today, at age 34, Phelps runs one of those organizations, CounterPulse, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. CounterPulse provides “space and resources for emerging artists and cultural innovators, serving as an incubator for the creation of socially relevant, community-based art and culture.” Its $1.2 million budget includes about $230,000 in ticket sales and other earned revenue, with the rest coming in contributions, primarily foundation grants.
Getting to CounterPulse’s door often involves navigating huddles of homeless, mentally ill, and drug-afflicted people — those desperately in need of services and help in the shadows of the gleaming towers of San Francisco’s financial district. CounterPulse stands as a pillar community arts organization in a neighborhood that desperately needs pillars.

As its leader, Phelps is among a legion of unsung American heroes: nonprofit executives running small, community-based organizations. While doing research for my forthcoming book Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count, I interviewed some of these executive directors: of the health organization in Texas serving the desperately poor, of the youth organization in Massachusetts seeking to lure the most violent gang members out of gang life, of the legal-services organization in New York providing pro bono representation for undocumented minors…. >read more.

March 31, 2019

Disaster relief done right: 4 mistakes people make when trying to help after a disaster

Phil Buchanan

The cyclone that hit Southeastern Africa in mid-March and devastated regions of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe has taken at least 700 lives, left hundreds of thousands in need, and has escalated into an even bigger humanitarian crisis due to waterborne and infectious diseases. It’s been described by the UN as possibly the worst ever disaster to strike the southern hemisphere.

Yet Cyclone Idai and the havoc and suffering it has created has received less attention in the media than other terrible, but less catastrophic, natural disasters. This almost certainly means less giving will go to help those affected than would have been the case if this crisis received the attention that, in my view, it deserves. Indeed, one nonprofit leader I know involved in disaster relief globally told me matter-of-factly that there is “not much donor interest” in this event. I can’t imagine that would have been the case if a major natural disaster of this order had occurred in, say, Europe or Canada.

But, sadly, such is the nature of disaster-related philanthropy, which is largely driven by media attention, which of course is affected by whatever biases – implicit or otherwise – the media may hold…. >read more.

March 13, 2019

Giving Effectively More Difficult Than Getting, Expert Says

Phil Buchanan
Your Mark on the World

CEP president, Phil Buchanan, recently joined Devin Thorpe, on The Social Impact Podcast – Your Mark on the World with Devin Thorpe to share some of his insights about philanthropy. Devin is an author, educator, speaker, and founder of the Your Mark on the World Center, and has established himself as a champion of social good. Your Mark on the World Center seeks to solve the world’s biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.

In this podcast, Buchanan notes philanthropy is different from investing–in many ways more difficult–and requires a unique set of skills. He also argues that nonprofits must by their nature collaborate rather than compete…. >listen here.

From 2018

October 27, 2018

5 Philanthropy Book Recommendations From The Center For Effective Philanthropy

Grace Chiang Nicolette
Giving Compass

Here’s what we’ve been reading at CEP in recent years that has shaped our thinking on philanthropy:

New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans

At first glance, the title of this book may not reveal its relevance to philanthropy, but the connections are vital. Henry Timms, head of New York’s famed 92nd Street Y, is also the founder of the global #GivingTuesday phenomenon. He and his co-author, Purpose CEO Jeremy Heimans, are very attuned to the changing landscape around social movements and how modern change is being made in the age of social media and instant news. Filled with memorable and often hilarious stories, the authors are clear-eyed about the enormous opportunities that “new power” can wield, as well as its dangers. This book will make you look at the world around you with different eyes.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

At CEP’s 2017 conference, Bryan Stevenson nearly brought the house down with a stirring talk based on his critically-acclaimed and bestselling book. Drawing from his stories representing juveniles and the wrongly-accused on death row through his organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson brings us vividly into the sobering realities of mass incarceration and racial injustice in the United States. His stories are indelible, and his hope for America’s future on these intractable issues is contagious… >read more.

October 22, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians In An Age Of Inequality

Grace Chiang Nicolette
Giving Compass

Like many, I flocked to see the romantic comedy film Crazy Rich Asians in August, drawn in by the previews of the cross-cultural love story written by author Kevin Kwan — and by the excitement of supporting a practically all-Asian international cast. Since its opening, the film has grossed over $169 million at box offices worldwide, making it the most successful romantic comedy of the past decade, not to mention its significance in advancing Asian representation in Hollywood.

As someone who lived in China for seven years earlier in my career and traveled extensively in the Asia-Pacific region, there was something comforting about seeing familiar and beloved city scenes and hearing the different Chinese dialects spoken on the big screen. Having worked in the philanthropic sector there, it was also striking to see glittering reminders of the enormous wealth among the relatively few. There are now more billionaires in Asia than in the North America1, and the rising economic tides of the last two decades have been both a boon, raising millions out of poverty, and a contributor to pervasive social and economic inequality… >read more.

October 10, 2018

Using Client Feedback to Stay on Course

Kevin Bolduc and Phil Buchanan
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Like a good GPS system, signals from multiple sources—grantees, staff, other funders, and beneficiaries—can help pinpoint where foundations stand.

“Make a legal U-turn.” “Exit right in two miles.” When we drive, many of us now have an electronic voice telling us the shortest route, how to avoid detours, and how to correct wrong turns. We’ve recycled our atlases and put our trust in global positioning systems—GPS. The power of GPS is immense. It knows exactly where we are, even when we don’t. Using a process called trilateration, it locates our position via simultaneous signals from four different satellites. Thanks to this precise measurement, overlaid on maps in our digital navigation systems, we’re never lost and can usually travel along a continually updating, optimized route.

So what does this have to do with foundations trying to navigate toward solutions to tough social and environmental problems? Foundations can take almost any course of action, but they don’t always have enough input to choose the best direction and stay on course. The good news is that there are at least four, readily available feedback sources—four signals—that can help them hone in on the most effective approaches for achieving impact. These include feedback from grantees, foundation staff, other funders, and beneficiaries. Taken together, they can help pinpoint where foundations stand…>read more.

September 4, 2018

Amid Healthy Critiques of Big Philanthropy, Don’t Lose Sight of Its Crucial Role

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Critiques of philanthropy and nonprofits appear to be intensifying, in part fueled by a broad and understandable distrust of powerful institutions and of the “elites.” That is healthy, of course: There is legitimate reason to be concerned about those who seek cynically to wrap themselves in a flag of charitable do-gooding only to perpetuate inequality or stand in the way of real change.

“Even as they give back, American elites generally seek to maintain the system that causes many of the problems they try to fix — and their helpfulness is part of how they pull it off,” writes Anand Giridharadas in a provocative op-ed in the New York Times. “Thus their do-gooding is an accomplice to greater, if more invisible, harm.”

Books such as The Givers: Money, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, by David Callahan, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Giridharadas, and the forthcoming Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better, by Rob Reich, raise important questions about whether philanthropists are wielding inappropriate levels of power and influence.

Such skepticism of big givers is often warranted and has always been part of our country’s philanthropic history. But I worry about the potential to overlook the positive stories about giving in the United States and about all the nonprofits that depend on private giving to support their missions.

Let’s not take for granted the good — indeed vital — work being done each day by crucially important nonprofit organizations, often supported by generous donors across a range of income levels who don’t look anything like the Davos-attending ultrawealthy power brokers whom Giridharadas describes (and often rightly calls out)…>read more.

July 27, 2018

Forum Annual Conference 2018: When learning is both personal and professional

Grace Nicolette
Alliance Blog

One of the unique aspects of working in philanthropy is that when we come together with peers in our field, the lessons we learn can be both personal and professional in nature. I was reflecting on this truth after the United Philanthropy Forum conference in Boston last week, where a consistent theme threaded throughout the sessions was the importance of racial equity and inclusion.

The professional takeaways as they relate to racial progress are loud and clear. From each plenary speaker, we heard the call to action for funders and philanthropy-serving organisations (PSOs) to take up the mantle to speak out and advocate for policy change in a time when so many marginalized communities and civic institutions are in crisis. It was necessary to be faced with our painful history, hard data, and moving stories — and to be able to celebrate hard won victories together — in order to sharpen our collective sense of urgency and the knowledge of what’s possible. The week was also a great response to the Forum’s own racial equity scan of philanthropy-serving organisations, which found that 43 per cent of PSOs say that they are just beginning their race equity journey, with a request for more frameworks, resources, and peer learning…>read more

April 4, 2018

Putting ‘New Power’ to Work in Philanthropy

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Black Lives Matter, the ice-bucket challenge, the National Rifle Association, and ISIS don’t, at first glance, appear to have much in common. But all are highlighted in an important new book by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms for their ability to harness what the authors have dubbed “new power” — a power that is “made by many … open, participatory, and peer-driven.”

New power, they argue, operates “like a current and, like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges.” Contrast that with “old power,” which is “held by few … closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven,” operating “like a currency.”

Their rich and deeply researched book — filled with business, government, and nonprofit examples — is called New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You. It describes a fundamental shift in the way people get things done in an age in which our devices connect us wherever we go — and in which expectations for participation and engagement are high, especially among millennials…>read more.

From 2017

August 17, 2017

In Defense of Perpetuity

Phil Buchanan
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Limited-life foundations are currently all the rage, but Fleishman’s book reminds us that perpetual, endowed foundations are in many cases preferable.

Perpetuity is so yesterday. Or so it sometimes seems, as many high-profile philanthropists make clear their intention to do their “giving while living,” rather than establish endowed, perpetual institutions. The once-multibillion-dollar Atlantic Philanthropies is in the final stages of winding down operations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend down within 20 years of its founders’ deaths. And donors such as Sean Parker (of Napster and Facebook fame) have announced that their foundations will be time-limited.

Parker has gone so far as to publicly deride perpetual organizations. “The executive directors of most major private foundations, endowments, and other nonprofit institutions are dedicated, first and foremost, to preserving the resources and reputations of the institutions they run,” he wrote in a 2015 Wall Street Journal essay. “This is achieved by creating layers of bureaucracy to oversee the resources of the institution and prevent it from taking on too much risk.” The best way to avoid “philanthropic decay,” Parker argued, is “spending down all of your philanthropic assets during your own lifetime.”

But in his persuasive new book, Putting Wealth to Work, Duke University’s Joel Fleishman, formerly an executive at the Atlantic Philanthropies, argues that Parker has it wrong….>read more.

August 9, 2017

Working With Big Business Isn’t Always the Way for Foundations to Achieve Their Goals

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

There’s much talk lately among foundation leaders and major donors about the need to work in collaboration with business. Proclamations about “harnessing the power of the markets,” “sector agnosticism,” and “blurred boundaries” are now the norm at philanthropy conferences. Everyone nods.

Indeed, out of a list of 24 potentially promising practices for increasing philanthropy’s impact, foundation CEOs rated collaboration with business and other spheres in the top five in a survey conducted last year by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, which I lead, Fifty-nine percent said that “foundations simultaneously collaborating with other foundations, business, government, and nonprofits” holds “a lot of promise” for boosting impact.

But in my work with grant makers and donors over the past 16 years, I have grown worried that too many are naïve about business as a “partner.”

Of course, business plays a crucial role as an employer, a provider of needed (and unneeded) products, and, sometimes, a driver of progress and innovation. Business, big and small, affects all of us. For good or ill (or a mix of both), it influences many of the challenges philanthropists and foundations seek to address. But these statements of the obvious are too often followed by a reflexive declaration that, therefore, “we need to work with business.”…>read more.

May 3, 2017

Barriers to Funder Collaboration and the Will to Overcome Them

Phil Buchanan
Stanford Social Innovation Review

Any thoughtful observer of philanthropy will note that, when working on stubborn societal problems, no single actor—even the wealthiest of foundations—can accomplish much by itself. This is both a historical fact and a present day reality.

Yet most would likely agree that there still isn’t enough collaboration and that the collaborations that do occur aren’t always effective. According to research we conducted at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), commissioned by the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, foundation leaders see a lack of collaboration as a barrier to progress. However, they also believe more and better collaboration could unlock much more impact.

This begs the question, if foundation leaders themselves acknowledge collaboration as crucial, why isn’t it happening more?…>read more.

From 2016

December 5, 2016

Foundation CEO Angst: Moral Imperatives and Insomnia

Phil Buchanan and Ellie Buteau
Stanford Social Innovation Review

More than two-thirds of the CEOs of large, staffed foundations in the United States believe foundations have the potential to make a significant difference in society. That’s the good (and perhaps hardly surprising) news in a new report from our organization, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).But there is bad news, too, and some may find it more surprising. A much smaller proportion—just 13 percent—of the 167 foundation CEOs responding to a survey we fielded believe that foundations are making a significant difference today. Instead, most characterize the current difference foundations make as “moderate” and cite a number of barriers that impede foundation impact. For the most part, foundation leaders point the finger not at others—such as their grantees or the government—but at themselves, with two-thirds saying internal barriers at their own foundations are getting in the way of greater impact…>read more.

October 4, 2016

Ditch Strategic Philanthropy — but Don’t Throw Out Strategy With It

Phil Buchanan and Patricia Patrizi
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Recently, there has been a kind of backlash against “strategic philanthropy.” The term has come to take on some very negative connotations, conjuring up images of arrogant, overpriced consultants and their large foundation clients issuing top-down edicts that are ineffective and divorced from the realities nonprofits face.Strategic philanthropy, in this conception, is seen as overly formulaic and linear, denying the complexity of the tough, interdependent challenges foundations and nonprofits try to address. Moreover, feedback from grant recipients is usually absent, because the idea is that the donor knows best.Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that even prominent proponents of strategic philanthropy are having second thoughts. Hal Harvey wrote a much-discussed mea culpa that was published earlier this year by The Chronicle of Philanthropy (“Why I Regret Pushing Strategic Philanthropy,” April 4)…>read more.

September 7, 2016

Black Lives Matter partners with charity in sign of growth

Phil Buchanan
Take Two (KPCC 89.3)

Phil Buchanan, president of CEP, recently joined Alex Cohen, host of the radio show Take Two to discuss the implications of the recently announced partnership between International Development Exchange’s (IDEX) and the national Black Lives Matter movement. Take Two explores news and culture through the lens of Southern California and is the top-rated public radio show in the country’s largest market on the West Coast. KPCC reaches an audience of over 800,000 listeners… > listen here

August 22, 2016

HR Insider: Hiring Practices at the Center for Effective Philanthropy

Leaha Wynn (Interviewed by Victoria Crispo)
Idealist Careers

As part of our “HR Insider” series, I recently interviewed Leaha Wynn, a long-term Idealist user and Senior Coordinator, Human Capital at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP). We talked about how she got into this type of work, the recent growth at her organization, and what makes a job candidate really stand out.Great to speak with you today, Leaha! Tell us a little bit about how you got into this work.I’ve been working at CEP for a little over a year and a half, and I’m new to nonprofit HR overall. I work mainly with our human capital department, which includes recruiting, professional development, and talent management initiatives at the organization.I fell into the field of nonprofit HR through a recruiter. I had been looking for ways to be more involved in the public service sector, in policy or philanthropy. A recruiter I had worked with in the past recommended that I might be interested in these areas. And I started out working in a split role, actually: Human Capital and Research…>read more.

 August 16, 2016

The Ripple Effect of Foundation Culture

Kevin Bolduc
Stanford Social Innovation Review

What happens inside a foundation doesn’t stay inside a foundation. We’ve written and spoken these words before: A funder’s internal culture and practices affect the experiences and work of its grantees.This isn’t just speculation. At the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), we’ve surveyed tens of thousands of grantees from hundreds of funders about the ways in which grantees experience work with their funders. Funders ask us to create Grantee Perception Reports for them out of a belief that grantees are important partners in creating social impact—and out of a commitment to engage grantees’ feedback as an important influence in learning and planning. In grantees’ open-ended comments about their funders, we find evidence of things funders do that accelerate or impede grantees’—and by extension, funders’ own—effectiveness. We somewhat regularly see cases where a funder’s internal culture seems to fairly directly influence a grantee’s experiences…>read more.

July 6, 2016

Think Giving to Groups That Support Nonprofits Is a Waste? You’re Wrong.

Jacob Harold and Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

America’s nonprofits are the envy of the world for their strength and diversity. Yet as these organizations grow in scale and complexity — and as the problems they seek to solve become more urgent -— the nonprofit world lacks sufficient investment in research, training, and other tools to help them grow stronger.”Like a body without a backbone, a sector without a strong infrastructure will crumble,” wrote Cynthia Gibson, a philanthropic adviser and former Carnegie Corporation program officer, in a 2008 special issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly dedicated to infrastructure. Eight years later, with the level of investment in infrastructure essentially flat, we — along with more than 20 other nonprofit leaders — are issuing a renewed call for foundations to invest in strengthening how charitable organizations work…>read more.

 May 29, 2016

Phil Buchanan interviewed by Denver Frederick on radio show The Business of Giving 

Phil Buchanan
The Business of Giving

Phil Buchanan, president of CEP, was recently interviewed by Denver Frederick, host of the radio show The Business of Giving.The program is the only show of its kind that focuses on solutions to today’s complex social problems. Each week, listeners hear from philanthropists, corporate  CEOs, nonprofit luminaries, celebrity ambassadors, government officials, and social entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of the transformative changes that are occurring around the world.> listen here

May 3, 2016

5 Issues Foundations Must Confront to Stay Relevant

Phil Buchanan
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Despite what you may have read in the wake of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he will do his giving through a limited-liability company, it’s hardly the case that foundations have become obsolete. They will remain crucial players and influencers in the nonprofit world.That said, they should not be complacent, and they must focus on changing to accommodate new realities. Here are five issues that should be front and center for America’s grant makers.Confront mounting criticisms of foundations and major donors. Compared with big business, Congress, the press, and so many other parts of society, we should be happy that nonprofits continue to enjoy a high level of trust among the public. But foundations should not assume that the trust the public places in operating nonprofits applies to them as well. As historianBenjamin Soskis noted, we have come out of a “brief, balmy” season — which he argues is a historical aberration — when major donors and foundations received little scrutiny. It is increasingly clear that season is over…>read more.

From 2015

December 2, 2015

Zuckerberg May Have Learned Philanthropy Lessons from Newark

An Interview with Phil Buchanan

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, have announced they’ll give most of their $45 billion fortune to groups working to solve the world’s problems — specifically, they say, by focusing on advancing human potential and promoting equality. The couple made the announcement in celebration of the birth of their daughter, Max.But Zuckerberg’s first foray into large-scale philanthropy did not go well. There were mixed results from his $100 million donation to a non-profit supporting the Newark Public Schools, including criticism he didn’t get enough community input.Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, said Zuckerberg learned from that experience.”I think he’s pretty explicit about what he learned,” Buchanan said. “[He] explicitly talks about the need to take a long-term view, that change isn’t going to happen quickly, and the need to engage directly with the people you’re trying to help.”In this interview, WNYC’s Jami Floyd talks with Buchanan about Zuckerberg’s latest move, and what it could mean for future philanthropic efforts…>read more.

October 5, 2015

The Leaner-Is-Always-Better Myth: One Size Doesn’t Fill All Foundations

By: Phil Buchanan

To hear some tell it, big, heavily staffed foundations are on their way out. Like bookstores and taxis, they’ll soon be obsolete, if they’re not already.

Sean Parker, of Napster and Facebook fame, declared in an essay in The Wall Street Journal that “the executive directors of most major private foundations, endowments, and other nonprofit institutions are dedicated, first and foremost, to preserving the resources and reputations of the institutions they run. This is achieved by creating layers of bureaucracy to oversee the resources of the institution and prevent it from taking on too much risk.”

As a result, he writes, “many large private foundations become slow, conservative, and saddled with layers of permanent bureaucracy, essentially taking on the worst characteristics of government…”>read more.

 July 6, 2015

In Search of the Magic Formula for Philanthropy

By: Phil Buchanan

Foundation staff and major donors may not hear much direct criticism of their foundations or giving, surrounded as they are by grantees and grant seekers. But it seems like everyone has a point of view on what philanthropists should be doing: You can’t flip through more than a few pages of The Chronicle of Philanthropy or Stanford Social Innovation Review — and recently The New York Times and Wall Street Journal — without finding an article with the words “foundations should” or “philanthropists should.”

Yes, I admit it. I have sometimes uttered — and written — those words. So have many inside and outside philanthropy — including Silicon Valley tycoons and consultants and foundation leaders seeking to influence the practices of their peers…>read more.

April 23, 2015

Why Philanthropy Should Push Back Against the Business Mindset

An Interview with Phil Buchanan

Giving more money to altruistic initiatives should make those programs stronger, right? Not necessarily. Even some of the most well-known, well-intentioned programs have fallen short of their promises, especially ones funded on hunches instead of data.

Take the anti-drug program D.A.R.E. and the anti-incarceration program Scared Straight.

“(Both) received lots and lots of funding without clarity about whether they work,” says our guest Phil Buchanan, President of the Center for Effective Philanthropy…>read more.

January 20, 2015

Technology Start-Ups Don’t Hold All the Answers for ‘Broken’ Nonprofits

By: Phil Buchanan

For the 13 years I have worked in philanthropy, I have heard again and again the same sweeping generalizations about the supposed ineffectiveness of the nonprofit sector—typically followed by a pronouncement that the answer lies in “business thinking” or acting “like a start-up.”
It has become downright tiresome.
And just when I think that, maybe, just maybe, the sea monster of arrogance and ignorance about nonprofits has been slain, it rises, horror-movie like, to prey again on those who don’t know better…>read more.

From 2014

October 23, 2014

Q&A With Ellie Buteau: Foundations and Nonprofits Disconnected on Key Issues

By: Ellie Buteau

“In order for nonprofits and foundations to work most effectively together, they must understand each other’s perspectives.” This is a key point that opens a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, entitled Transparency, Performance Assessment, and Awareness of Nonprofits’ Challenges: Are Foundations and Nonprofits Seeing Eye to Eye? The problem is these two groups misunderstand each other on some crucial issues.
According to the report, CEOs from foundations and nonprofits do not agree that funders adequately support the performance evaluation requirements of their grantees, or that they provide adequate transparency. Why the difference in perspective? I asked one of the report’s co-authors, Ellie Buteau, Vice President of Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy…>read more.

 September 2, 2014

What Community Foundation Donors Value: The AdNet Conference 2014

By: Phil Buchanan

On the 100th anniversary of the community foundation – as we contemplate how these crucial institutions can be even more relevant in the next century of their existence than they have been in their first – it’s crucial to look hard at what donors value.

Turns out, donors value what community foundations are uniquely positioned to deliver.

Research conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, the organization I lead, has shown that donor satisfaction is tied both to intent to give in the future and referrals.

So donor satisfaction matters.

But what does it take to increase donor satisfaction? Our research, based on analysis of more than 6,000 completed donor surveys of about 47 community foundations, shows that it’s not primarily about administrative fees and endowment performance…>read more.

September 2, 2014

Foundation CEOs Need Candid Feedback to Succeed in Driving Change

By: Phil Buchanan

Leading a foundation is hard. That’s among the messages in a thoughtful, just-released letter from Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, reflecting on his first year in office.

Mr. Walker writes that he was “unready” to take on a “job for which one might assume I had been preparing for years.”

“Easy as foundation work may look from some vantage points, the truth is that it is hard,” Mr. Walker writes. In his letter, he remarks with candor on both the joys and unexpected challenges of his role. “My single greatest fear is that I am not hearing enough constructive criticism.”

His fear is a well-founded one…>read more.

May 18, 2014

More Grant-Maker CEOs and Presidents Should Serve on Foundation Boards

By: Phil Buchanan and Jennifer Glickman

Experience in philanthropy is becoming a more valued asset for foundation leaders.

In the past year alone, the Ford and Kellogg foundations looked within their staffs to find Darren Walker and La June Montgomery, respectively, to lead their organizations. California Wellness named Judy Belk, formerly of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, as its new CEO. And the Barr Foundation named Jim Canales, former CEO of the Irvine Foundation, as its first president…>read more.

March 3, 2014

Beyond formulas and easy answers

By: Phil Buchanan

Context is everything.

That’s what I take away from this deeply thoughtful set of articles exploring the role of grantmaking, why (and even whether) it matters, and how to do it best. Barry Knight and Jenny Hodgson make the argument particularly powerfully, cautioning against the simplistic matrices and frameworks promoted by the likes of FSG Social Impact Advisors. ‘We should run a mile from management books or consultancy advice that promote a single, simple answer – otherwise we will fall prey to unevaluated fashion,’ they write…> read more

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Alliance magazine. The original article can be found atwww.alliancemagazine.org/en/content/march-2014. For more information about subscribing to Alliance, please visitwww.alliancemagazine.org/subscribe.

 February 24, 2014

Unlike For-Profits, Nonprofits Succeed by Sharing the Work and the Glory

By: Phil Buchanan

In recent years, foundation and charity leaders have paid increasing attention to questions of performance. The focus on impact, outcomes, and assessment, while not new, has certainly intensified among both foundation and charity leaders.

This is a positive development, but too often performance is defined in a way that can undermine the effectiveness of the nonprofit sector as a whole.

The analog seems always to be business, where the focus is on competition among institutions—a zero-sum perspective in which organizations strive to best each other…> read more

 February 12, 2014

Five Myths that Perpetuate Poor Philanthropic Strategy

By: Phil Buchanan

“Stop, Daddy!” That is the refrain, screamed from the back seat of the car, that I’ve heard from the day my older daughter could string together a few words—and really ever since—every time I sing along to the radio. The problem isn’t that she and her younger sister, who has joined the lament, don’t like music. They love music, love to sing, and love to play their instruments. They just don’t like my singing—and for good reason. I have a terrible singing voice.

The way my daughters feel about music—including bad music (like my singing)—is more or less the way I feel about strategy in philanthropy. I am a big proponent of more strategic philanthropy, better assessment of effectiveness to fuel learning and improvement, and iteration of strategy. But I have a real problem with poor strategy. It makes me want to scream “Stop!” from the back seat.

I think those in the philanthropic sector at times create poor strategies because of five prevalent myths…> read more

February 3, 2014

Getting the Data We Need to Combat Bullying

By: Phil Buchanan and Marny Sumrall

The three year anniversary of the suicide of Phoebe Prince, the South Hadley high school student who took her life after enduring relentless bullying at the hands of her peers, passed last month with little notice. The publicity surrounding her death briefly brought bullying in schools to the fore, both in Massachusetts — where the Legislature passed a law in response — and nationally. But there is little evidence of a decline in bullying…> read more

January 24, 2014

Embrace Transparency and Remain Open to Change

By: Kevin Bolduc

Here are a few thoughts for your next phase of planning, based in part on my experience working with the Foundation on its Grantee Perception Report and Applicant Perception Report. None will be earth-shattering. But I hope they’re a good reminder of the importance of organizational effectiveness and leadership within the context of the particular program goals you will choose. So here goes…> read more

From 2013

October 20, 2013

Foundations Should Use ‘Giving Tuesday’ to Show How to Choose Charities

By: Phil Buchanan

Giving Tuesday, a new effort to promote end-of-year giving by Americans, offers an opportunity for foundations to make a statement about how to support effective nonprofits and help the public learn more about what foundations do. It’s an opportunity I hope they seize…> read more

October 17, 2013

Foundations Should Work to Fix a Broken Washington

By: Phil Buchanan

The stunning display of our government’s dysfunction hardly ended when lawmakers last night approved a deal to open the government and allow the nation to pay its debts. And that leaves the question: What can be done to persuade lawmakers that it’s their duty to govern responsibly? Robert Gallucci, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, suggests in an eloquent op-ed for this newspaper that foundations must step up to help make the case….> read more

September 23, 2013

Getting the Facts Straight About the Nonprofit Sector

By: Phil Buchanan

Dan Pallotta’s TEDTalk has received a lot of attention. Too bad, then, that it is built on so much ignorance about both the history and present-day realities of the nonprofit sector.

There are at least four crucial fallacies in Pallotta’s argument…> read more

August 5, 2013

Peter Buffett Is Right to Call for Philanthropic Change

By: Phil Buchanan

When Peter Buffett took to the pages of The New York Times to lament what he calls a “crisis of imagination” in philanthropy—a failure to envisage a way for our society to function that puts an end to what he calls a “perpetual poverty machine,” he ignited a quite a debate. Mr. Buffett, chairman of the NoVo Foundation and son of Warren Buffett, critiqued our capitalist system, while being careful to emphasize that he is not calling for an end to it…> read more

July 30, 2013

Active Listening

By: Mark McLean

On the heels of the second Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) Perception Survey, CEP’s Mark McLean, shares the value of and challenges in collecting candid feedback from grantees and applicants…>read more

June 16, 2013

‘Strategy’ Is Not a Bad Word: It Is Essential Even to Grass-Roots Movements

By: Phil Buchanan and Aaron Dorfman

In philanthropy, the word “strategy” gets tossed around a lot.

To some, it’s become a bad word, conjuring up images of consultants dressed in business casual who don’t understand nonprofits or the issues they face, brewing up strategies depicted in PowerPoint that get approved by a foundation board and then forced down the throats of grantees…> read more

April 7, 2013

The Hard Work of Achieving Results

By: Phil Buchanan

The hype related to “social entrepreneurship” and “social entrepreneurs” is as overheated as it is ubiquitous.

Entire journal articles have been devoted simply to trying to define the terms, and skeptics—sometimes including me—have wondered what all the fuss was about.

My doubts have been several.

I have wondered whether we’re just putting a snappy new label on something that’s been around for centuries—individuals building organizations that act as catalysts for significant social change.

I have wondered whether…> read more

March 10, 2013

As Nonprofit ‘Research’ Proliferates, It Must Be Viewed With Healthy Skepticism

By: Phil Buchanan

In the last decade or so, the number of organizations and academic institutions doing what is billed as “research” on philanthropy has proliferated.

That is, by and large, a good thing, and I have been heartened at the Center for Effective Philanthropy by how hungry foundation leaders are for pragmatic information about what it takes to do a better job. But the rise of so many research groups increases the importance of understanding what—in the slew of reports and articles being e-mailed, tweeted, and otherwise distributed—is based on…> read more

February 21, 2013

Listening to Those Who Matter Most, the Beneficiaries

To become more effective, nonprofits and foundations are turning to various sources for advice. Some look to experts who can share knowledge, research, and experience about what works—and what does not. Others turn to crowdsourcing to generate ideas and even guide decisions about future directions or funding.

Experts and crowds can produce valuable insights. But too often nonprofits and funders ignore the constituents who matter most, the intended beneficiaries of our work: students in low-performing schools, trainees in workforce development programs, or small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. In bypassing the beneficiary as a source of information and experience, we deprive ourselves of insights into how we might do better…> read more

January 23, 2013

What Capitalism Can’t Fix

By: Phil Buchanan

Increasingly, I see people looking starry-eyed to business and markets to solve social problems. In so doing, they run the risk of dismissing the impact of nonprofits — and diminishing the value of organizations that seek to make a difference without creating the potential conflicts that come with the profit motive. My view is that pretending companies and markets hold all the answers actually puts at risk our ability to deal with our most pressing societal problems — and to help our most vulnerable citizens…> read more

From 2012

December 19, 2012

Mistakes to Learn From in the Charitable-Deduction Debate

By: Phil Buchanan

A few years back, I sat in the audience of a session at an Independent Sector conference listening to a marketing consultant say that the best way to inform the American public about the value of the nonprofit world was by telling one charity’s story at a time. A number of us asked how we might do a better job of clarifying the important role and contribution of all nonprofits—and showing the collective force of organizations that share key attributes and are separate and distinct from business and government…> read more

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