CEOs Say Foundations Can Make a Difference, Report Finds

While two-thirds of foundation CEOs believe that foundations can make a significant difference in society, most do not see foundations taking full advantage of their opportunities to do so, a report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.

Commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the report, The Future of Foundation Philanthropy: The CEO Perspective (36 pages, PDF), found that 67 percent of the foundation CEOs surveyed said it was possible for foundations to make a "significant" difference on issues of importance to society, while 31 percent and 2 percent said they could make a "moderate" and "slight" difference. Only 13 percent, however, said foundations are making a "significant" difference, compared with 57 percent and 29 percent who said they are making a "moderate" or "slight" difference. When asked about barriers to their own foundations' ability to achieve programmatic goals, nearly two-thirds cited internal challenges such as too many goals, undisciplined strategy implementation, lack of long-term commitment, and staffing issues, while more than half cited external factors such as the magnitude and complexity of the issues being addressed as well as the political and economic climate.

The survey also found that while a significant percentage of CEOs said foundations need to change to a "large" (57 percent) or "moderate" (41 percent) extent in order to address society's future needs, only 14 percent saw such change as "very" likely, while 64 percent  saw it as "moderately" likely.

The most pressing issues for the CEOs surveyed were wealth and inequality (65 percent), climate change and the environment (58 percent), and education (40 percent). Wealth and inequality (48 percent) also was cited as the top issue that CEOs expect to influence the future of foundation philanthropy, followed by government (29 percent) and changing demographics (23 percent).

"The problems we seek to solve are more complex than ever," said Hewlett Foundation president Larry Kramer, "and it's heartening that so many leaders from different philanthropies agree on steps we can take toward being more effective — such as collaborating more, taking smart risks, and listening more to our grantees and the people we seek to help."

"Their concerns suggest they're asking fundamental questions of themselves about how they can do better," said Phil Buchanan, president of CEP. "The changed American political climate and uncertainty of the moment makes the discussion of the future of philanthropy that these findings will prompt all the more pressing and important."

"Foundation CEOs Seek to Raise the Bar for Themselves, New Report Shows." Center for Effective Philanthropy Press Release 12/05/2016. "The Future of Foundation Philanthropy: The CEO Perspective." Center for Effective Philanthropy Report 12/05/2016.