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Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP)

May, 2010

Successful foundation-grantee relationships hinge on the prowess of individual program officers, whose abilities may vary widely within a single foundation. A new report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) identifies four keys to productive foundation-grantee relationships – and highlights five top performing program officers who put them to use in their daily work.


Working with Grantees: The Keys to Success and Five Program Officers Who Exemplify Them finds that program officers must demonstrate that they understand grantees’ goals and strategies. According to Ellie Buteau, vice president – research, “Like any relationship, the one between foundations and grantees is rooted in mutual understanding – but that fact is not always acknowledged.”


Buteau, with coauthors CEP President Phil Buchanan and Research Analyst Timothy Chu, analyzed data from nearly 30,000 foundation grantees. Other predictors of strong relationships are program officers’ expertise of grantees’ fields and communities, the rate at which they initiate contact with grantees, and how they experience the foundation’s selection process.


Interviews with five program officers – among the highest performing 20 percent in CEP’s dataset according to grantee ratings – illustrate the four predictors in action.


“The high-performers we profiled excel in these areas,” says CEP President Phil Buchanan. “They believe that they must develop an understanding of the organizations they fund if they are to be successful in their work; they put a concerted effort into making the selection process helpful for both grantees and the foundation; they proactively build their knowledge about the fields and communities in which they work; and though they often manage dozens of relationships, they initiate contact with their grantees with appropriate frequency.”


The five program officers featured in the report are

·         Nicole Gray, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

·         Chris Kabel, Northwest Health Foundation

·         Justin Laing, The Heinz Endowments

·         Wendy Liscow, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

·         Tara Seeley, Central Indiana Community Foundation


 “In this report we reveal who our data show to be five of the best program officers, and we let them tell us how they approach their work,” says Buchanan. “We hope this well-deserved recognition inspires foundation leaders and program officers to focus with renewed energy and determination on what our analysis shows to be the keys to strong funder-grantee relationships.”


To download or order Working with Grantees: The Keys to Success and Five Program Officers Who Exemplify Them, go to Video interviews with three of the high-performers can be viewed on the CEP website.



The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide data and create insight so philanthropic funders can better define, assess, and improve their effectiveness and impact. CEP received initial funding in 2001 and has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. For more information on CEP's work, including its research, publications, and assessment tools, see


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