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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: Job Description Templates for Director of Learning & Impact

    Borealis Philanthropy is a philanthropic intermediary that is creating a new position “director of learning and impact”. We are seeking to assess both the impact of our grantees on their respective communities as well as the impact we are having on our own funders. This is a new position for us and we would welcome similar job descriptions from other GEO members.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2017
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Using Evaluation Advisory Committees

    We are interested in hearing from GEO members that use advisory committees to help inform their evaluation work, and in particular their structure and experiences – both positive and negative – with them to date.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2017
  • Perspective

    We Are In This Together: A Letter to Philanthropy

    Hear directly from 9 nonprofit leaders what you can be doing to support your grantees in the most meaningful ways.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2017
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Keynote Speaker on Evaluation for Learning

    Has anyone attended a conference or training that had an amazing speaker on Evaluation?

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • September 2017
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: How Does Your Foundation and Board Learn From Grants?

    I am interested in knowing what other foundations do in terms of learning from individual grants, especially as it relates to the board.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • August 2017

Upcoming Events

  • Conferences

    2018 National Conference

    The 2018 National Conference will provide participants with the information, connections and experiences to continue improving and pursuing smarter grantmaking practices that positively impact nonprofit effectiveness.

    • April 2018
  • GEO in the Field

    How Do Organizations Learn? Findings and Implications for Evaluators

    At some point in your evaluation career, you have likely had an experience where useful and relevant evaluation findings did not lead to meaningful change. How can we increase the likelihood that clients and stakeholders will use evaluation to strengthen their practices? This session will bring perspectives from evaluation users and market research to understand the individual and organizational factors that influence knowledge acquisition and use. We will add insights from the literature about cognitive biases and diffusion of innovation to inform a discussion about the strategies that evaluators can use to make evaluation findings more usable.

    • November 2017

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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.

  • 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.

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.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich


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