New Report Details Shifts in Foundation Operations

By Henry Berman, Exponent Philanthropy

2017-fomr-cover_page_01More small-staffed foundations are engaging in activities beyond traditional grantmaking, according to Exponent Philanthropy’s 2017 Foundation Operations and Management Report released yesterday.

The only study that captures benchmarks for foundations that operate with few or no staff, which comprise the vast majority of the philanthropy sector, the report details trends in foundation grantmaking, operations, investments, and governance, based on responses from 495 association members.

Join Exponent Philanthropy for access or order your copy >>

The report highlights upward trends in strategies for increasing impact, including:

  • Reviewing grantmaking strategies regularly
  • Sending board members to conferences or education
  • Bringing in speakers or resources from the field
  • Gathering feedback from grantees about the foundation


Small-staffed foundations also increasingly formalized their governance by putting their practices into writing, including strategic or long-range plans.


The report also includes the following findings:

  • Succession and the need for greater focus/impact are top concerns.
  • Women outnumber men in all the staff roles surveyed, with just 44% of foundations reporting male CEOs.
  • Female CEOs earn, on average, 85 cents for every $1 paid to men, regardless of employee experience or foundation asset size.

Exponent Philanthropy’s nearly 2,000 foundation members collectively award approximately $4 billion annually to more than 200K grantees. On average, our member foundations give nearly $1.98 million per year across 45 grants but spend just 14 cents per dollar in operating costs. Members use a wide variety of consultants to accomplish their work with minimal overhead.

Download the full report (Exponent Philanthropy members) or order your copy for access to additional data, including:

  • Staff compensation benchmarking data with breakouts by foundation asset size, geographic region, relationship to donor family, years of experience, and more
  • Board compensation benchmarking data by asset size, foundation type, and various payment structures
  • Consultant and advisor data on how much small-staffed foundations pay and what types of projects they hire for
  • Expense ratio tables by foundation asset size showing total and charitable operating expenses, administrative expenses, and qualifying distributions
  • Data over years to show change and trends—in some cases, as far back as a decade or more

Our sincere thanks to the 495 Exponent Philanthropy member foundations that generously responded to our surveys in 2016.

Related posts
Foundation Benchmarking Demystified
3 Indicators of More Effective Foundation Management
Women’s Salaries and the Gender Pay Gap in Philanthropy

Henry BermanHenry Berman is CEO of Exponent Philanthropy. Since 2011, he has led the association using his wealth of experience managing people, projects, and budgets in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. In addition to serving as CEO, he is also a member in his role of a co-trustee of a private foundation.

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