More funders are beginning to assess the effectiveness of their programming and to increase organizational learning by evaluating their grantees and their own funding decisions ever more rigorously. Many foundations have added in-house evaluation staff, while others (both donors and institutional funders) have begun to hire external consultants to assist with evaluation. As a result, funders have begun to develop clearly delineated theories of change and logic models that chart intermediate steps and outcomes, allowing them to assess accomplishments and progress along the way. Where evaluation was historically done only retrospectively, many funders are now conducting formative evaluations, which review programs in progress to help grantees and funders identify problems and make mid-course corrections.
Many new donors coming from the business world have also sought to apply the clear quantitative measures used in the corporate sector to their philanthropic efforts, but have found it extremely difficult to measure the results of social change and charitable activity. Some have attempted to develop entirely new metrics to approximate social benefits (such as the SROI, “social return on investment" tool developed by REDF) or have focused their giving specifically on issues that can be more easily measured; while at the other extreme, some practitioners question whether it worth the costs of evaluating at all (see Ira Cutler’s “Generosity Without Measurement: It Can’t Hurt"). However many in the evaluation field now agree that some balance between quantitative and qualitative assessment is usually appropriate, and that funders should think carefully about whether, and to what extent, they ought to evaluate different types of projects and programs.
More information to help grantmakers think about evaluation and outcome measure can be found at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations website, which merged with the Grantmakers Evaluation Network in 2001.
There are also many excellent books written about evaluation and the measurement of outcomes and impact (such as Carol Weiss’s Evaluation), but a few additional resources on the topic that are available on the Web include:
W.K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook. This comprehensive guide to thinking about evaluation as a programmatic tool includes an overview of evaluation in general, discusses the Kellogg approach, and lays out the steps involved in conducting an effective evaluation, including the development of logic models.
- Reflections on Evaluating our Grants. Ruth Tebbets Brousseau, the director of evaluation and organizational learning at The California Wellness Foundation, discusses the foundation’s experience in evaluating its grantmaking over the last 12 years and shares some of the lessons that she and her colleagues have learned.
- Making a Difference: Evaluating Your Philanthropy. This publication of The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), provides a simple, pragmatic overview to help new philanthropists think about the basics of evaluation.
- Philanthropy and Outcomes: Dilemmas in the Quest for Accountability. Gary Walker and Jean Baldwin Grossman of Public/Private Ventures examine the “outcomes movement" and the complications of measuring outcomes in the philanthropic sector.
- The Inside Perspective: An Assessment of the Current State of the Evaluation Field (Part 1 and Part 2). Patricia Patrizi, a leading evaluation consultant and the former director of evaluation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, discusses the many challenges faced in thinking about evaluation in philanthropy and examines the realities of how foundation staff use and think about evaluation. The article is based in part on the proceedings of a 2002 convening of nearly 50 funders with staff dedicated to evaluation that Patrizi and fellow evaluation consultant Michael Quinn Patton facilitated.
- Evaluation: The Good News for Funders. Andrew Mott, director of the Community Learning Project, for the Neighborhood Funders Group, provides a thorough overview of the range of issues and approaches related to participatory evaluation.
Toward a Common Language: Listening to Foundation CEOs and Other Experts Talk About Performance Measurement in Philanthropy. This report, produced by the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2002, highlights the growing interest in philanthropy about performance metrics and the possibility of developing a common language for thinking about overall performance.
- Social Impact Assessment: A Discussion Among Grantmakers. In addition to documenting a conversation hosted by the Rockefeller and Goldman Sachs foundations about social impact assessment, the report includes case studies of how four organizations, REDF, New Profit, Inc., the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and Coastal Enterprises, Inc. are evaluating the impact of their work.