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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.

  • 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
  • Publication

    Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning: A Toolkit

    The fields of strategic learning and evaluation have also grown and shifted over the last decade, and new ways of thinking about and evaluating grantmaking and its impacts have emerged. This paper responds to these changes and provides a fresh outlook and set of resources for grantmaker CEOs, evaluation staff, and senior leaders to use to engage their boards and trustees in strategic learning. Our hope is that staff and leaders use any or all of the ten tools we have developed to help board members and trustees understand what strategic learning is (and isn’t), why it is important, and how to better incorporate strategic learning practices into their work.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • January 2019
  • Executive Summary

    Executive Summary: Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning

    The Executive Summary introduces the "Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning: Toolkit."

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • January 2019
  • Perspective

    Perspective Matters

    After three years of working to expand the bench of evaluators, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has learned a few things. In sharing those lessons, we invite others in philanthropy to join us as we apply them to our work. Connect with Foundation staff through an upcoming GEO Member Call or directly to discuss other ways to engage in expanding the bench.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • November 2018

Upcoming Events

  • Remote Learning and Webinars

    2/20/19 Change Leaders in Philanthropy Informational Webinar

    Join us to learn more about the Change Leaders in Philanthropy Fellowship, a 10-month peer cohort program for senior leaders who are responsible for developing and shepherding key change efforts in their organizations. We will provide an overview of the program’s structure and goals, as well as an opportunity for you to hear and learn directly from program facilitators and current cohort participants.

    • February 2019
  • Remote Learning and Webinars

    GEO & FSG Webinar: Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning

    Join FSG and GEO as we discuss the release of our new toolkit Engaging Boards and Trustees in Strategic Learning. The toolkit provides resources for grantmaker CEOs, evaluation staff and senior leaders to use to engage their boards and trustees in conversations about the importance of strategic learning in their decision-making and deliberation processes. During this webinar, we will explore some of these resources and hear from Hallie Preskill (FSG), Kevin Walker (Northwest Area Foundation), and Hanh Cao Yu (The California Endowment) who have worked to deepen learning with their boards and trustees.

    • March 2019
  • Remote Learning and Webinars

    3/14/19 Change Leaders in Philanthropy Informational Webinar

    Join us to learn more about the Change Leaders in Philanthropy Fellowship, a 10-month peer cohort program for senior leaders who are responsible for developing and shepherding key change efforts in their organizations. We will provide an overview of the program’s structure and goals, as well as an opportunity for you to hear and learn directly from program facilitators and current cohort participants.

    • March 2019

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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

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.

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Nichole Hoeflich

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