All too often, foundations have failed to institutionalize a process to establish standards of effectiveness and regularly assess themselves in relation to these standards. We draw this conclusion from a series of interviews with 61 foundation leaders (CEOs and board heads) of 42 staffed, grantmaking foundations. These interviews probed foundation leaders’ understanding of effectiveness, the methods they use to judge it, and how they say their foundations have changed or need to change in order to be more effective. As the following discussion shows, what is clearly needed in so many cases is for foundations to articulate specific understandings of effectiveness in relation to their own institutions, to remain attentive to these, and to ensure that they have a regular process in place by which to assess themselves in relation to the effectiveness approach they have chosen.
The interviews discussed in this report are part of the larger Attitudes and Practices Concerning Effective Philanthropy study, conducted by the Urban Institute and funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in partnership with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. Earlier study publications reported on findings from a mail survey of 1,192 staffed foundations. A sobering conclusion from that survey was that many grantmakers are not engaging in practices that, according to their own standards, are important for effectiveness. The interviews analyzed here further document that important practices are not being undertaken and reveal that all too often foundations have not made an institutional commitment to scrutinizing whether or not their practices match their stated beliefs.
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