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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

    Returning Learning to the System

    The more frequently members of a system communicate with each other about what they are seeing, what they are doing, and with what results, the more quickly that system as a whole is able to adapt to changing conditions in order to survive and thrive.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • July 2018
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Staff Professional Development Trainings

    Hello all, We have just completed an amazing year of learning and personal development as a staff (adaptive leadership, racial equity, crucial conversations and facilitation for accountability), and we are ready for more! What trainings have your organizations supported for your staff?? What recommendations would you make for our next year of personal development trainings? All the best, Melanie

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • July 2018
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Grantee Evaluation/Data Infrastructure Funding

    Hello GEO Members, The McGregor Fund is interested in hearing from other funders that offer grants (either in addition to programmatic funding, or as stand-alone grants) for grantee evaluation capacity and/or data infrastructure. These grants might support evaluation consultants, or experts in data management or data system acquisition. They might support training to strengthen grantee data collection, evaluation, or performance measurement. In my scan of GEO archives and the web so far, I have found numerous foundations that fund research, or evaluation of the impact of their funding, and some who fund IT infrastructure, but less that are focused on building grantee capacity to better manage and use their data to inform programmatic and strategic decision-making. If you know of any funders that do this, or do something similar yourself, I would love to hear from you, and am curious about how these grant opportunities are assessed by staff, and any reflections on the value of these grants.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • July 2018
  • Perspective

    Strengthening the Field of Philanthropic Evaluation: A Call to Action

    One year ago, Engage R+D and Equal Measure launched an exploratory dialogue among funders and small/mid-sized evaluation firms to consider ways we could work together differently to deepen the impact of evaluation and learning on philanthropic practice. Based on what they heard, interest is ripe to move from idea exchange to action.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • June 2018
  • Perspective

    To Move Forward, Look Back

    The longstanding saying tells us to stop and smell the roses. But I believe we also need to take the time to stop and glimpse behind us, because very often looking back helps us move forward. In more technical terms, we call this reflective learning, which helps us reflect on our work and take action on what to improve.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • June 2018

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Perspectives on Philanthropy

Interesting thoughts and ideas circulating in the GEO community.

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    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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    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.

Related Topics

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.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich

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