Helping to Advance the Learning in Philanthropy

As Stephen Heintz, President of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, has emphasized, foundations such as Rockefeller and Rita Allen have a responsibility to support philanthropic stewardship for philanthropic leader organizations that develop and widely disseminate knowledge about best practices.

The reports issued and information publicized by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a well-known and respected philanthropic leader organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are key examples of how our own foundation has benefitted from the learning shared with the broader field.

As we embrace the ideas of building and sharing knowledge, we have partnered with CEP’s “Foundations and Social Media” project to study the extent to which grant recipients are using social media to learn about – and interact with – their foundation funders. It is a priority for CEP to be able to assist the philanthropic community with best practices in this area and their goal complements the Rita Allen Foundation’s capacity-building initiative, which is helping organizations develop and implement effective social media strategies. Our support of CEP’s endeavor provides important knowledge of an understudied new area for the philanthropic field.

Much has been written about the perceived value of social media, but little is actually known about the extent to which grant recipients know about, or are using, social media, how effective social media strategies actually are, or how much value they are providing to grant recipients. The CEP study is aimed at getting to the heart of what grant recipients think and to the answers of what are the most effective uses.

CEP’s research to understand the impact of social media on grantees represents a large-scale effort to truly understand from the grant recipient’s perspective what is working and what could be improved. This research will be based on questions in CEP’s grantee survey, and analyses will be drawn from more than 6,000 responses from over 30 foundations

In addition to their analyses, CEP plans to develop profiles for two to three foundations whose grant recipients are accessing their social media to try to understand the challenges they face in fundraising efforts and what they have learned, so other foundations can benefit from their experiences.

Analyses are underway, and CEP expects this research effort to culminate in a report to be released that will be available in hard copy and on CEP’s and the Rita Allen Foundation’s websites for free access. CEP will promote findings broadly, sending complimentary copies of the report to foundation leaders, sharing information via CEP’s blog, website, and social media outlets and seeking trade and national press attention.

The project is led by Ellie Buteau, PhD, CEP’s Vice President of Research, working closely with two members of the CEP research team. Dr. Buteau leads the design, execution, and analysis of CEP’s research and data related to foundation performance and effectiveness.

CEP will evaluate the success of the project by measuring its reach and influence through additional outreach to foundation CEOs regarding the extent to which the report influenced their practices.

As Robert Hughes writes in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Anthology: “Foundations derive their influence from their relative freedom and unencumbered resources, which provide the underpinning for their potential to bring new ideas to life. Yet with the freedom and resources comes a critical responsibility—to do this work as effectively as possible, and to get better at it over time.”

To fulfill our goal to get better over time, we at Rita Allen realize it is important that we provide stewardship support to philanthropic leader organizations and continually seek new knowledge to incorporate in our work and to share with others.

As we move through our own foundation’s life cycle, we are developing new capabilities and are committed to helping others to grow and expand their reach and effectiveness.