Foundation CEOs See Limited Overall Progress Toward Goals, Survey Finds

While few foundation CEOs believe significant progress has been made toward achieving key philanthropic goals, a majority say their own foundations have contributed greatly to any progress that has been made, a report from the finds.

Based on a survey of full-time CEOs of U.S.-based foundations that award at least $5 million a year in grants, the report, (44 pages, PDF), found that just 25 percent of respondents believe a lot of progress has been made by organizations working toward goals to which their foundation devotes the largest share of its resources, while 53 percent said they saw a moderate amount of progress and 21 percent saw a little progress.

In contrast, when asked to gauge their own foundation's contribution to progress in its priority areas, 60 percent of CEOs said their foundation had contributed a lot — based on knowledge of a concrete result (38 percent), measurable data (36 percent), or knowledge of the foundation’s leadership role (19 percent). The report also found that foundation leaders believed external factors were among the greatest obstacles to their foundations making more progress toward their goals, with government policy and the economic climate each cited as a factor by 76 percent of respondents. Other obstacles mentioned include the lack of evidence-based practices and grantees' difficulty in assessing their progress.

CEP President Phil Buchanan, a co-author of the report, said the reason for the disconnect between foundation CEOs' sober view of overall progress toward key philanthropic goals and their more optimistic assessment of their own foundations' contributions is unclear. "It's hard to know whether foundation leaders are systematically overestimating their own successes, which is a common human tendency, or whether the progress is happening and it's just not being widely communicated," said Buchanan. Another possibility, according to Ellie Buteau, a co-author of the report, is that "the challenges these foundations are tackling could be so enormous that even as some successes occur, little progress is being made toward the larger goal." 

"How Far Have We Come? Foundation CEOs on Progress and Impact" Center for Effective Philanthropy Press Release 12/09/2013.