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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.

  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Excellent Workforce and Early Childhood Examples - Mid-sized Cities

    Hello all, The Iowa West Foundation annually conducts a board retreat. We use this event as an opportunity to engage our board in seeing examples of what is working in other communities who are addressing problems we are facing locally. The trips have generated great lessons-learned that have influenced our giving in some very positive ways. This year we are looking for mid-sized cities that are doing innovative work addressing early childhood education and workforce development. We would appreciate any recommendations you have as we start to put together a plan.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 2020
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Amplifying Discretionary Grants

    Hi GEO Friends, Our board members have made some discretionary grants that have led to interesting lessons and outcomes. For example, one joined forces with a city agency to fund a civic project that gained significant public attention and engaged numerous residents. The grant was so successful that the project was extended and later opened the door to other community engagement projects in that location. What started out as a small grant, had an big impact in a short amount of time and has since led to new partnerships. We have other examples like this. Our board members would like to blog about their experiences. We are aware of the dangers of doing this, of course, and our staff will pull together a list of pros and cons for the board to consider. However, we are wondering if any foundations have done anything to amplify their discretionary giving? If so, how did it go? If you think this is a terrible idea based on experience, I’d love to hear about that as well. I would appreciate your input. Thanks so much.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 2020
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Fundraising Question

    Dear Colleagues - The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is a grant making public charity and not a private Foundation. We have a policy to not compete for grants or conduct other fundraising activities that would put us in competition with the vary organizations who may seek funding from us. Our Board has decided to revisit this policy and explore the possibility of conducting its own fundraising activities. Does anyone else have a policy on fundraising or pursuing grants or has explored this within their organizations? And if so, would you be willing to share?

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 2020
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Alternative methods to final reports

    Dear GEO Fellows! After one year of re-evaluating our approach to grantmaking, we landed on a high touch approach throughout our processes that is built on relationship building, longer term commitments, and a user-friendly process from start to finish. To that end, we want to explore alternative methods to traditional reports. Currently we have built-in a few questions in our portal that enables the grantees to report on outcomes, successes, challenges and allows for some basic narratives. We understand that every foundation captures data differently and a lot of nonprofits end up spending significant time completing reports, so we want to see if there is something better out there. Question: Has anyone tried a different approach aside from asking for a narrative report or something that is quantitative data intensive? Has anyone experimented with video reports submissions or qualitative narrative based blogs or other storytelling methods? I would greatly appreciate if you share your methods if you are doing it differently.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 2020
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Information on Settlement Funds

    Good Morning We are seeking information from any Community Foundations who were the recipient of settlement dollars from a community wide, local or national class action law suit that was settled out of court. How did you set up a fund to distribute the settlement dollars? What criteria did you use to distribute the funds? Did you make part of the settlement dollars permanently restricted for future use? Any other information regarding this type of settlement and/or fund creation to benefit the community would also be helpful. Thank you in advance

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 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.

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Equity

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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