The primary constraint on the effectiveness of philanthropy is that, “The problems of
philanthropy are not experienced as problems by the philanthropists”, as Katherine Fulton of the Monitor Institute rather brilliantly pointed out. Those ‘problems of philanthropy’ include what donors support – they sometimes choose programmes which are actively harmful and other times programmes which do less good than others – and also how they support them. The latter category gets much less attention than does the former, which is remarkable. Many charities feel pretty badly treated by grant-making foundations, which the data show waste huge amounts of their time and money. But because those are the hands that feed them, the charities never let on, so foundations never hear the feedback and hence don’t learn. This situation – and some of the foundations involved – are many centuries old.
So the idea of collecting anonymous feedback from charities about grant-making foundations and sharing that with the foundations in order that they can learn is a very good one. This is what the US Center* for Effective Philanthropy has been doing for some years. Its surveys are often the sole way that the learning can be heard and used. CEP has done its ‘Grantee Perception Reports’ for dozens of US foundations, various community foundations and a handful of non-US foundations, including, in the UK, the Pears Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Friends Provident Foundation.
Philanthropy lacks the price signals through which players in many industries can tell what their customers/’beneficiaries’ think of them. The Center for Effective Philanthropy has constructed an important feedback loop within philanthropy which should help to improve it – and insodoing, improve the issue which we all ultimately care about – improving beneficiaries’ lives. I’m delighted to have recently joined its Advisory Board, to support it grow and help more foundations become response and effective.
*It’s just called the Center for Effective Philanthropy. The ‘US’ is there so you don’t think I can’t spell…