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Research Explores Perceptions of Foundation Role and Impact — Suggests Ways to Improve Understanding


How well are the role and impact of foundations understood in America today? If policymakers and opinion leaders better understood the work of foundations would that enhance the sector’s overall effectiveness? To help answer those questions and identify potential communications strategies to support those goals, the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative has produced a series of thought-provoking research reports.

Philanthropy’s Awareness Deficit. Engaged Americans show limited knowledge of foundations and struggle to identify their impact on communities or issues they care about, according to a recent survey by Harris Interactive. But there is a silver lining: they still express positive feelings towards foundations and their social value. Read about these and other survey findings in this PAI Digest.

Five Questions about Demonstrating Impact. American foundations must do a better job of demonstrating the impact of their work, according to a dozen philanthropy leaders. In this PAI Digest, they weigh in on how foundations can demonstrate impact and why they should. The stakes are high, the state of practice low. Consider it a wake-up call for the field.

Making American Foundations Relevant: Conversations with 21st Century Leaders in Philanthropy looks at how the foundation sector sees itself as well as how it believes it is perceived by external audiences critical to its ability to deliver on the promise of philanthropy. In interviews with 43 individuals (foundation and related professional association executives, and opinion leaders from national policy centers and universities), researchers found almost universal agreement that the role and importance of the sector does not register with critical audiences to the extent that these individuals believe it should. Making American Foundations Relevant presents essential and practical strategies for overcoming many of the barriers that sector leaders and observers believe hamper the ability of foundations to be more effective at addressing society’s needs.

A Research Synthesis on Aspects of Foundations and Philanthropy suggests that foundations spend more time examining their operations and grantmaking effectiveness rather than trying to understand external perceptions and attitudes, and how those might affect their ability to fulfill their missions.

Philanthropy in the News offers an in-depth look at how the news media has covered foundations over 15 years, beginning in 1990. While the study finds that the number of news stories is steadily increasing, the primary focus has been on the amount of money foundations have awarded individually and collectively. Conversely, the report found that “only 1 percent of 38,000 stories analyzed discuss the benefit or impact of philanthropic activity. (>>Click here for a related op-ed from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

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