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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: Program Design for Racial Equity Peer Cohorts

    ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation in Alexandria, VA, is developing a capacity building cohort focused on racial equity for nonprofit leaders in our community. We are curious about any of your experiences with similar initiatives.

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

    GEOList Summary: Outcomes Software

    I’d like to know what software or other systems foundations are using to track grantee outcomes and impact.

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

    GEOList Summary: Recommendations for Keynote Speaker

    The Scranton Area Community Foundation will be hosting a Learning Conference in the Fall, and we are looking for a keynote speaker. In particular, we are looking for someone to speak on "Becoming a Learning Organization" or similarly related topic.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • February 2019
  • Related Materials

    Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning Toolkit Brief

    The brief introduces the "Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning: Toolkit" for board members.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • February 2019
  • Perspective

    Cross-post: Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning

    "Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning," a toolkit from FSG and GEO, provides a fresh set of resources for grantmaker CEOs, evaluation staff, and senior leaders to engage their boards and trustees in conversations about strategic learning.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • February 2019

Upcoming Events

  • Conferences

    The Learning Conference 2019

    Hosted in partnership with Philanthropy Northwest, The Learning Conference 2019 is designed to help you make the leap from knowledge to action and to integrate learning into all aspects of your work. This experience will offer you a range of perspectives and new ideas to go beyond the basics and support you in engaging in more intentional learning practices both inside and outside of your organization.

    • May 2019
  • Conferences

    2020 National Conference

    • April 2020

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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

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.

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.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich

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