Employee Empowerment: The Key to Foundation Staff Satisfaction

Although few in numbers, foundation staff are responsible for managing hundreds of billions of dollars in charitable assets. These staff make crucial decisions about how best to allocate those resources to address some of our most pressing domestic and global challenges -- from child welfare to climate change. Given the important goals that foundation staff members are working to achieve, their performance should be a concern not just to those who supervise them, but to all of us. If we accept the argument that staff experiences are connected to performance, then foundation staff perceptions matter greatly.

To better understand the experience of foundation staff, the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) surveyed 1,168 staff members at 31 foundations. The surveys were conducted from 2007 to 2011 as part of CEP's Staff Perception Report (SPR) process. Through these surveys, we collect quantitative and qualitative data from respondents. Though our dataset is limited to the 31 foundations that chose to commission an SPR from CEP, it is the largest dataset that exists about foundation staff members' job satisfaction. We have sought, therefore, to analyze it to understand the answers to some basic questions: How satisfied are foundation staff in their jobs? What contributes to their satisfaction? What the data strongly indicate is that leaders set the tone. Their choices -- about a wide range of issues, including communication, delegation of authority, role definition, availability of resources, provision of feedback, recognition of contributions, and opportunities for learning and growth -- shape staff experiences. These dimensions matter far more than the issues that often are the focus of conversations about staff retention and satisfaction, such as pay levels or workload.

Also included in this report are case studies of two foundations whose SPR results were particularly strong: The Commonwealth Fund and The Skillman Foundation. These two foundations' staff members rated highly on satisfaction and a host of other dimensions.


Ellie Buteau, Ramya Gopal


Center for Effective Philanthropy

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