Foundations need to think carefully about how the structure, position, focus, resources, and practices of their evaluation functions can best fit their own needs and aspirations. This Foundation Review article poses questions foundations can ask to assess what they need from an evaluation function, and common areas of misalignment between foundation needs and their approaches.
As the number of foundations has grown, the philosophies and ways of working across the sector have diversified. This variance means that there is no one right model for how a foundation’s evaluation function should be designed. It is imperative for a foundation to think carefully about how the structure, position, focus, resources, and practices of its evaluation function can best fit its own needs and aspirations.
This article draws on 2015 benchmarking research conducted by the Center for Evaluation Innovation and Center for Effective Philanthropy to demonstrate how foundations across the sector are approaching these issues.
It focuses on three questions foundations can ask to assess that fit, and the specific considerations that can inform these decisions: 1) What does the foundation need from evaluation? 2) How should the evaluation function be structured and scoped? 3) What should the evaluation culture be?
This article also identifies common areas of misalignment between what foundations need and how they are spending their evaluation time and resources, including:
- Role expectations that cannot be met with existing resources
- Unfulfilled commitments to foundation values
- “Over-templatizing” for diverse types of strategie
- Lack of attention to grantees, where most of the work takes place
- Leadership engagement that does not match broader practice.
For foundations that are new to evaluation, these are misalignments to avoid. For those experienced with evaluation, they are reminders of what to heed as existing practices are examined.