Survey: Nonprofits Struggle with Governance, Funding, Evaluation

December 30, 2017 — More than half of all nonprofit stakeholders say their organizations struggle to perform well with regard to board governance, funding, and impact evaluation, according to a recently completed national survey.

The Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector, which collected input from 3,000 nonprofit stakeholders—nonprofit executives and staff, board members, and donors—found that 56% of all nonprofits struggle with board governance, 52% struggle with fundraising, and 50% struggle with impact evaluation.

According to the survey, nonprofit board members fall short when it comes to succession planning, finding that 53% of nonprofit executives and staff disagreed to varying degrees with the statement 'My organization conducts thorough and proactive succession planning for the executive director and top executives.'"

Noting that many organizations have difficulty meeting fundraising goals, the report said that while 71% of philanthropic giving in 2015 came from individuals, the nonprofit sector largely fails to appreciate the importance of individual giving, emphasizing instead fundraising strategies that place greater priority on foundations.

Lack of financial support from boards compounds the problem. According to the survey, only 49% of nonprofit executives and staff indicated that financial giving by board members to their organization is very strong, and only 42% believe that that their board plays a very strong role in fundraising activities.

On the evaluation front, while 80% of respondents said their organization measures/evaluates its impact and performance, only 52%indicated that their organization uses external evaluations, e.g., third-party evaluators, for measurement and evaluation, and only 40% said their organization conducts external evaluations regularly.

Only 42% of nonprofit executives and staff said that more than half of their donors demand impact evaluation, and only 11% said that more than half of their donors are willing to pay for such efforts.

On a personal level, 32% of nonprofit executives and staff indicated that they do not receive regular and specific feedback that helps them improve, and 22% indicated that they do not receive enough positive feedback and recognition for their contributions to keep them feeling highly motivated.

This latter finding may be related to the face that 24% of survey participants said their organization does not set clear expectations for performance, while 27% indicated that they do not believe their organization’s culture encourages and rewards high performance.

“These survey results reveal many challenges in the nonprofit sector, but the situation is, ultimately, not so bleak,” said Kim Starkey Jonker, a co-director of the survey. “Any nonprofit can improve its performance significantly by honing the essentials of strategic leadership.”