CEP and GEO Respond to Eisenberg’s “Two $1 Million Grants” Feature

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The op-ed feature from Pablo Eisenberg, “These Two $1 Million Grants Are a Waste of Money,” which ran on NonprofitQuarterly.org on Friday, November 13th, has drawn a pair of strong responses from the two organizations that received the grants. Readers should feel free to chime in. 


From Phil Buchanan, President of Center for Effective Philanthropy:

Pablo Eisenberg doesn’t think six foundation funders of the organization I lead, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), should have come together to provide an additional commitment of $1.1 million over three years to support the organization, but I am not sure he fully understands what CEP does.

Furthermore, I would suggest that funders providing flexible support to organizations—like CEP and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), which also received support—that they think are high performing is exactly what we need to see more of in philanthropy. I will let the folks at GEO—an organization whose work my CEP colleagues and I value highly and see as complementary to our own—speak for themselves. But I do want to address Mr. Eisenberg’s failure to gets some basic facts right about CEP.

First, Mr. Eisenberg critiques our Grantee Perception Report (GPR) as a “satisfaction” survey that he says is “the softest type of evaluation.” He also describes it inaccurately as an instrument that gathers grantee and foundation staff feedback on “grantmaking process.” In fact, the GPR is solely a grantee survey and it covers a wide range of topics and issues (including grantees’ perceptions of foundations’ understanding of communities as well as their understanding of the social, cultural, and socioeconomic factors affecting their work). It is highly valued by the both the funders that receive it and the nonprofits that have the opportunity to provide unvarnished—and, crucially, comparative—feedback through a third-party. Foundations make meaningful changes in response to the GPR and our research reports—changes that benefit the very grantees Mr. Eisenberg says he is concerned about (see, for example, these third-party assessments).

Second, Mr. Eisenberg seems not to have been interested in learning about the range of work we do, which does indeed cover some of the very issues he claims we do not address. For example, much of what we do addresses issues of “philanthropic control and power,” such as the GPR, our research, and also our YouthTruth initiative—which has brought the voices of hundreds of thousands of low-income students to the fore for school and district leaders and education funders. We plan to use a portion of the new funding we received to further analyze and bring attention to what can be learned when you really hear—in a broad and rigorous way—from those you seek to help.

Third, Mr. Eisenberg asserts that, “No major nonprofit leaders or community activists have had the opportunity to contribute to the thinking and decision-making of either organization.” This is simply false. CEP’s Board of Directors includes today—and historically has included—nonprofit leaders. For example, Tiffany Cooper Gueye, who is currently on our board, is the CEO of BELL, which focuses on increasing opportunity for children in under-resourced communities. Moreover, we have involved nonprofit leaders in the development and iteration of our survey instruments. We have established grantee panels who we survey about various topics and have, in fact, asked the panel members what topics they believe we should be addressing. Our research publications frequently focus on amplifying the voices and experiences of grantee organizations.

I’d invite Mr. Eisenberg to come spend some time with the staff of CEP so he can understand the full range of our work.

From Mae Hong, Chair, Board of Directors, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations:

Pablo Eisenberg raises an important point in his recent op-ed: Nonprofits working to address some our most pressing social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges need more and better support from grantmakers. We couldn’t agree more. Like Pablo, our ultimate goal is stronger nonprofits.

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations is an independent membership organization—a community of more than 530 institutions who are committed to the belief that grantmakers are successful only to the extent that their grantees achieve meaningful results. This longstanding commitment to changing the way philanthropy operates from the inside out is predicated on elevating and supporting the nonprofit voice in all we do. This is why we’ve often had nonprofit leadership on GEO’s Board of Directors, including Don Crocker, of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management, and Clara Miller, formerly of the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

This commitment to highlighting the nonprofit perspective is just as prevalent in GEO’s resources, convenings and trainings. Our Nonprofit Task Force works closely to shape the content and practices we support. Our conferences feature speakers from nonprofits to offer insights about the other side of the funding equation. One of GEO’s newest initiatives, the Change Incubator, is focused on enabling and supporting grantmakers to better engage grantees in their work. And just earlier this year, we explored new ways to share powerful and important stories of grantmaking at its best.

It’s important that grantmakers play a role in evening out the power imbalance that exists in the grants process. Grantmakers can’t improve if they don’t hear directly from the organizations they fund. When grantmakers act in the best interest of their grantees, they deliver the types of funding that allows nonprofits to be strong, flexible and sustainable—and more able to achieve their missions.

And the members of GEO’s community are committed to driving these changes. In our 2014 survey of grantmaker practices, we saw some of the highest adoption rates to the practices that better support nonprofit effectiveness. General operating support levels are on the rise after years of remaining static. Multiyear support has rebounded to pre-recession levels. For the first time, a majority of funders ask grantees for feedback.

Grantmakers are getting better at giving nonprofits the support they need to make real change in the world. The progress we’re making is bolstered in large part by the work of organizations like the Center for Effective Philanthropy and others who are similarly dedicated to these issues.

Change in philanthropy will only come from grantmakers themselves making changes, in both small and large ways. Our members recognize the influence GEO has had on their work—and they are hungry to make even faster progress. We’re right there with them.