Although community foundation leaders agree on the importance of strategy, few actually are strategic in their work, a new report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy finds.
The report, Rhetoric Versus Reality: A Strategic Disconnect at Community Foundations (32 pages, PDF), offers a definition of "strategy" that includes two critical pieces: a focus on the context in which a specific community foundation operates, and a theory of change or clear logical connection between the use of foundation resources and the achievement of the organization's goals. Based on interviews with a select group of chief executive officers, the report's authors found a gap between those who value the concept of strategy and those who use it in their programmatic and donor-related work.
The report also found that executives who are strategic in their grantmaking tend to focus explicitly on how their foundation's contributions benefit the community while non-strategic leaders focus on how to maintain a flow of contributions to the foundation, and that nonprofit executives who are strategic in their programmatic work draw on research data and input from stakeholders to develop and execute their foundation's work.
"There is no single reason why community foundations so frequently fail to follow through on the strategic rhetoric," said CEP vice president for research Ellie Buteau. "But a set of questions did emerge that community foundations might consider asking themselves about how they frame their work with donors and how they can bring the needs of the community into that conversation. They might also question what informs the foundation's programmatic work, and whether there are opportunities for research and data to better shape an understanding of the community's needs."