Learn for Improvement

Evaluation enhances grantmaker and grantee performance when information is used to inform real-time improvements to strategy and practice. By adopting a learning for continuous improvement mindset, grantmakers can use evaluation to go beyond proving an intervention has worked to instead focus on understanding why and how performance can be improved.

What does it take to learn well together?

Many grantmakers embrace the value of learning and evaluation as a path to achieving better results. However, some see evaluation as something that takes place independently and primarily for internal improvement, and they struggle to extend this learning to those outside their organizations in a meaningful way. 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. When grantmakers join their partners in the learning journey, we acquire better information, which leads to better results. Find the full answer here >

How can we embrace a learning for improvement mindset?

A priority for grantmakers and our grantees is to create a space to reflect and learn so that our organizations can become more relevant, and more effective in achieving our goals. Learning, and evaluation, that is specifically focused on improvement provides grantmakers and grantees with the information and the perspective we need to better understand both how we’re doing in our work and how to get better results. In order to embrace a learning for improvement mindset, funders need to have key conversations with our boards and staff, as well as with grantees and other grantmakers. This piece offers guidance on what those conversations should cover in order to deliver on the promise of learning for improvement and ultimately better results. Find the full answer here >

Where should we start in using evaluation as a tool for learning?

Many grantmakers agree that an increased focus on evaluation and learning can help us tease out insights on our true impact and how we can continue to do better. However, despite significant investments in evaluation in recent years, philanthropy continues to struggle to measure its work. This piece offers funders a starting point for developing and strengthening our ability to evaluate by focusing on key elements of planning and organizing the work. Find the full answer here >

What does effective due diligence look like?

Due diligence is a process that helps grantmakers get to know grantseekers. Typically, it’s seen strictly as a means to ensure an organization’s financial and legal compliance. However, when done well, due diligence has the potential to provide insight into such critical attributes as the role of the organization’s board, the position the nonprofit holds in its field and community, and the level of alignment between our own mission and the goals of the grantseeker. The difficult part of due diligence is in asking the right questions and in a way that makes the most of the nonprofit’s time and resources. Efficient due diligence efforts avoid overburdening nonprofit staff with excessive and difficult to navigate applications and forms that provide little value. This piece provides an overview of what it takes to carry out an effective due diligence process. Find the full answer here >

What is a learning organization?

Learning in philanthropy can happen in any number of ways — from traditional training programs and orientations for new staff to regular discussions among staff members, board members, grantees and grantmakers about how things are going and how to get better results. Using evaluation as a tool for learning and continuous improvement requires an organizational culture that is committed to supporting the capacity of people to reflect on our work in ways that lead to better performance. But what does it really take to become a learning organization? This piece explores the characteristics of a learning organization and steps that funders can take to integrate learning into organizational culture. Find the full answer here >

How do we select the right evaluation approach for the job?

The most difficult part of evaluation can be to know where to begin. There is so much information we could gather, but the key is determining what is most useful for what we need to know now to make better decisions and improve performance. This piece offers a matrix to guide thinking about what we want to learn from our evaluation, what tools and methods can support that learning and what key questions can help shape evaluation plans. Find the full answer here >

How can we help our grantees strengthen their capacity for evaluation?

There is widespread and growing recognition in the nonprofit sector about the importance of evaluation — not only for measuring impact, but also for improving programs and better serving communities. While grantmakers generally see evaluation as necessary, most are not yet investing enough resources in this area. Indeed, in 2014, nearly three quarters of nonprofits reported that their funders “rarely or never” fund impact measurement costs. This means many nonprofits face an unfunded mandate to provide data that they don’t have the time or resources to produce. Find the full answer here >

What makes a successful learning community?

Learning communities are powerful vehicles for both individuals and communities to amass a shared collection of experience around learning and results from collective action. Grantmakers are well positioned to provide the types of support that catalyze, develop and sustain learning communities. This piece offers key learning for grantmakers about the design, execution and outcomes of learning communities. Find the full answer here >

Where can we go to dig deeper on learning and evaluation?

This document contains resources and websites that can assist grantmakers as we continue to assess and improve our learning and evaluation practices. It also provides a glossary of terms and basic background information to help ground us in common evaluation terminology and concepts. Find the full answer here >

Who is having success with learning?

A searchable collection of member stories about learning for improvement is available here.

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