It’s been over a decade since the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) first published research on the importance of strong funder-grantee relationships for funders’ ability to have the greatest impact possible. At the time, folks often pushed back on this idea. Fast forward and now, funders I advise rarely ask me why strong relationships with grantees are important or how strengthening grantee organizations is relevant to a funder’s goals. Instead, they ask me, “Alice, what do strong relationships look like at other organizations? How are other funders staffing their organizations, and what’s the optimal caseload for effectiveness? What lessons can I apply at my own organization?”

Thanks to recent advisory projects we’ve conducted, we have a few new findings to add to the conversation.

To recap, CEP has looked into these age-old questions before using data gathered for hundreds of funders through the Grantee Perception Report. First, we examined caseload across funders and noticed high variation, including at funders of the same size. Surprisingly (to us and to folks we work with), we did not see a clear connection between caseload and strength of relationships, including responsiveness. We did, however, see that funder staff who had fewer active relationships with grantees to manage were able to provide more of the most useful patterns of assistance beyond the grant, while those with many relationships to manage were less able to do so.

In a more recent project, another funder asked CEP to explore the staffing models and structures of 15 high-performing U.S.-based grantmakers, as measured by CEP’s Grantee Perception Report, who give $25M to $40M annually. These parameters were intentionally narrow to reflect anticipated growth into this giving range. As part of this project, CEP analyzed feedback gathered via the GPR, operational data gathered from funders at the time of their respective GPR, and, for the funders selected for interviews, information they shared with us about numbers and types of roles at their organizations. CEP also conducted a series of interviews to collect specific examples and deeper insight into funders’ perspectives and experiences.

While this is not representative sample of funders, we did distill a few broad findings from this recent set of interviews that are relevant to perennial discussions about staffing:

  1. There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to staffing and structure.
  2. Next, when exploring influential factors in determining staff structure, respondents tended to reference their organizational philosophy or strategy, not numbers.
  3. Lastly, staffing remains a work-in-progress at most interviewed funders.

Read the full article about staffing for strong funder-grantee relationships by Alice Mei at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.