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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

    Improving Maternal and Infant Health Through Collaboration and Engagement

    bi3 provided $3.2 million to launch StartStrong, a maternal and infant health initiative. They supported partners throughout, creating and fostering collaboration. They recently published a short paper highlighting their insights from this project.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • February 2018
  • Perspective

    Looking Forward and Looking Back: 20 Years of Community

    This year, the GEO community celebrates 20 years of making meaningful progress together. It’s a moment for recognizing the fundamental power of community — a moment for remembering how much grantmakers have achieved, and can achieve, when we work together.

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

    GEOList Summary: Knowledge Mobilization Strategy

    The Ontario Trillium Foundation is in the process of developing a three year Knowledge mobilization strategy.

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

    GEOList Summary: Grant Cycles and Reporting Requirements

    How many grant cycles do you have in one year? How is your foundation aligning grant cycles with reporting requirements?

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

    GEOList Summary: 360 Evaluations Documents and Information

    We are interested in hearing about any organizations that currently use 360 evaluations. We are asking how other organizations developed policies/procedures around this process and if you have documents to share.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • November 2017

Upcoming Events

  • Conferences

    2020 National Conference

    • April 2020
  • Conferences

    The Learning Conference 2019

    • May 2019
  • Conferences

    2018 National Conference

    Hosted in partnership with Philanthropy California, 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

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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.

Learn More

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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Nichole Hoeflich


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