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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.

  • Event Materials

    Learning Conference 2017 Opening Session Resources

    This interactive session kicked off the conference by helping participants better understand their unique learning challenges and explore ways to make the most of their conference experience.

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

    GEOList Summary: Measuring Communications / Journalism Impact

    We are about to set off on a journey to learn more about best practices for measuring the impact of journalism and communications related grants as we identify the types of tactics/actions that will yield the greatest influence on our work.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • April 2017
  • Member Story

    Smarter Grantmaking in Action: GHR Foundation

    How co-designing with grantees and partners from Day 1 can lead to stronger collaborations, flexible solutions and more meaningful impact.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • April 2017
  • Perspective

    Recognize privilege and confront it to do philanthropy well

    We all have blind spots. Our blind spots may cause us to change lanes when it isn’t safe to do so or ignore a pattern of negative behavior from a loved one that is obvious to others. Regardless, blind spots impair our judgment in meaningful ways.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • March 2017
  • Playbook

    What Does It Take to Learn Together Well?

    When we learn with others, we are not simply conducting final program evaluations; we are regularly assessing ways to improve our work and finding ways to be smarter and more effective in achieving our goals. Learning together means collaborating with partners throughout the learning cycle, as identified by Innovation Network, which includes planning, collecting and analyzing data, and acting and improving our work in response to findings. When grantmakers join their partners in the learning journey, we acquire better information, which leads to better results.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2016

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
  • Remote Learning and Webinars

    Alternative Models to Support Nonprofit Learning Capacity

    Join GEO, as we highlight one session from our Learning Conference 2017, to hear about how we as grantmakers can better support nonprofit learning capacity.

    • August 2017

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Perspectives on Philanthropy

Interesting thoughts and ideas circulating in the GEO community.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich


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