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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

    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
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Evaluation of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Capacity Building Initiative in the Arts

    In addition to advancing EDI in our own work and that of our grant partners, we want to share learnings from the Diversity in Theater initiative with the broader theater community and other funders working at the intersection of arts and social justice. Have you taken on a similar learning, evaluation, and field-building initiative at your foundation? If so, would you be willing to share your process and approach with us, including potential pitfalls to avoid and opportunities to explore?

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2018
  • Perspective

    Introducing The Sprout Fund Field Guide for Philanthropy & Civic Action

    After 17 successful years of inspiring and nurturing people with innovative, grassroots ideas to positively impact their communities, The Sprout Fund has decided to sunset in 2018. In doing so, the Pittsburgh-based organization has decided to share their lessons learned in "The Sprout Fund Field Guide for Philanthropy & Civic Action." This is part one of a two-part series sharing their lessons learned.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • September 2018
  • Perspective

    Complex Problems Require Collaborative Solutions

    After 17 successful years of inspiring and nurturing people with innovative, grassroots ideas to positively impact their communities, The Sprout Fund has decided to sunset in 2018. In doing so, the Pittsburgh-based organization has decided to share their lessons learned in "The Sprout Fund Field Guide for Philanthropy & Civic Action." This is part two of a two-part series sharing their lessons learned.

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

    GEOList Summary: Recommendations for focus group convenings

    I am interested in any frameworks or tools, best practices or top three tips for doing focus groups well while respecting the community's time.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • August 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

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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