Nonprofits Aren’t Afraid to Demonstrate Their Effectiveness: Study

They want more support from funders to assess and improve their impact

A new study gives the lie to the notion that nonprofits are unwilling to assess the effectiveness of their work.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy reported last week that 81% of nonprofits in a nationwide survey believed they should demonstrate their impact by using performance measures.

The study, Room for Improvement: Foundations' Support of Nonprofit Performance Assessment, presented these key findings:

  • Seventy-one percent of nonprofit leaders surveyed reported receiving no foundation support—either monetary or nonmonetary—for their organization’s assessment efforts.
  • Only 32% said their funders had helped them assess their progress in achieving their goals.
  • Upward of 60% wanted more help from their foundation funders in these efforts.

 “Nonprofits are routinely castigated for their unwillingness to make a hard-nosed assessment of their impact,” CEP president Phil Buchanan said in a statement. “Some even suggest that what we need are hybrid businesses that combine a for-profit focus on the bottom line with a mission.

“But when we actually stop and listen to nonprofits, a very different picture emerges. The 177 nonprofit leaders we surveyed overwhelmingly care about measuring their impact. What they need is help—financial and practical help from their funders.” 

Buchanan added that nonprofits were not asking just for additional funds to assess and improve their performance. They also wanted meaningful conversations with their funders about which measures were important and how best to make those measurements.

“There’s a real opportunity here for grantees and their funders to work together to maximize the effectiveness of nonprofits,” Buchanan said. “And society needs that to happen—nonprofits tackle the tough issues that government and business can’t, or won’t.”

CEP surveyed 177 leaders of nonprofits representing a mix of organizations. These varied widely in size and longevity. Program areas included human services, the arts, health, community development, the environment and education.

The typical nonprofit in the sample had an average of 10 full-time employees, annual expenses of $1.1 million and 28 years in operation, and received 20% of its revenue from foundations.  

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