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Learning and Evaluation

By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

3 out of 4

Grantmakers (76%) say they evaluate their work.

Evaluation gives us an opportunity to take stock of what’s working. But when we adopt a learning mindset focused on continuously improving, we can use evaluation for more than just an accountability measure. Instead, we can focus on what we can learn from the data, push ourselves to experiment and deliberately look at failures as opportunities to grow.

Learning can happen in any number of ways, but what’s important to remember is that our evaluation work is only successful if nonprofits are able to learn from it as well. We should therefore only ask for evaluation data we’re going to use and strive to have evaluations be as useful to nonprofits for their own decision-making as it is for us. This requires us to share the power of evaluation, and look to nonprofits and communities to help define success, determine what data to measure and say what data means. That’s why it’s important that we work to build nonprofit evaluative capacity. By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

“We want to create a place where people at all levels of the organization have opportunities to reflect with others about their work and to apply what they’re learning so they can do a better job.”

Amanuel Melles, former director of programs and capacity building, United Way Toronto

Helpful Tools and Resources

Stay informed of the emerging trends and promising practices from the field of philanthropy through GEO’s publications and research.

  • Perspective

    Learning What Works: Practitioners Leading with Equity

    Charles E. Carter of Project Evident shared reflections from his experience at the Equitable Evaluation Teaching Case workshop and insights from Project Evident's new DEI Evidence Matrix, a tool that can support the alignment of key stakeholders and the intentional building of diversity, equity and inclusion into evidence and evaluation practices.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • January 2020
  • Perspective

    Cross-post: Evaluation in the Hot Seat: Taking on Current Criticisms

    At the GEO Learning Conference this year a group of 5 evaluators and funders held a session of five pecha kucha talks to explore the current criticisms of evaluation and propose some solutions. In this blog series, the speakers explore their topics and offer additional insights.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • December 2019
  • Perspective

    Cross-post: How Grantmakers Can Better See What's Coming

    In this post, which originally appeared in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Bess Rothenberg of the Ford Foundation reflects on the challenges of confirmation bias as obstacles to progress and change.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • December 2019
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Executive Directors serving as Board Members?

    Hello GEO Community, We are seeking some sense for how common it is for executive directors to also be board members – in particular at Family Foundations? If anyone would be up for sharing their experience with this and any feedback, that would be super. Thank you!

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • November 2019
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Supplier Diversity Policy - - examples?

    Would anyone be able to share with me their Supplier/Vendor Diversity Policy? I am looking for both foundation and nonprofit examples.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2019

Upcoming Events

  • Remote Learning and Webinars

    Introduction to Expanding the Bench for Culturally-Responsive and Equitable Evaluation

    Expanding the Bench (ETB) is based on the belief that learning and evaluation have the power to shape policy, programs, and practice and that evaluators from diverse communities increase the likelihood that methods, analyses, and interpretation benefit the communities they serve.

    • February 2020
  • GEO in the Field

    Cultivating a Culture of Learning

    In this session the PEAK Grantmaking Conference, we will explore what a culture of learning looks like and identify steps organizations can take to cultivate it.

    • March 2020
  • Conferences

    2020 National Conference

    Hosted in partnership with Philanthropy Massachusetts, the 2020 National Conference provides participants with information, connections and experiences to continue improving and pursuing smarter grantmaking practices that positively impact nonprofit effectiveness.

    • April 2020

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Perspectives on Philanthropy

Interesting thoughts and ideas circulating in the GEO community.

  • Article Photo

    Bruner Foundation

    Effectiveness Initiatives

    To quote author Gail Berkowitz, this web portal "is a helpful one stop site for resources for funders and their partners on evaluation capacity building and evaluative thinking."

  • A strategic approach to evaluation requires a clear vision for evaluation; a culture that fosters individual, group, and organizational learning; a compelling and cogent strategy; coordinated evaluation and learning activities; and a supportive environment.

  • Article Photo

    Innovation Network

    State of Evaluation 2016

    State of Evaluation 2016 contains exciting updates, three special topics (evaluation storage systems and software, big data, and pay for performance), and illuminating findings for everyone who works with nonprofit organizations.

Related Topics


No matter the outcome we are working toward, our institutions and systems were built to advantage some but not all — and data shows that inequities persist to this day. These inequities become more apparent when we take race into account.

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Capacity Building

Grantmakers who put the work in to provide effective capacity-building support help ensure that nonprofits have what they need to deliver on their missions over the long term.

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Learning and Evaluation

By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich


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