This study for the Evaluation Roundtable focuses on what foundations know about and learn from their work, and explores what foundations actually do to assess their work.
Over the last decade, “strategic philanthropy” has dominated the thinking of many big and ambitious foundations. Theoretically, foundations of this kind not only provide grant support to nonprofits, but importantly, they assess social problems, develop strategies to solve them, and track the results of their efforts over time.
Yet how much do foundations really know about the results of their work?
While the volume on the rhetoric about the importance of evaluating “measurable results” undoubtedly has increased, this study prompts questions about just how much foundations really know about the impact of what they fund.
In a survey of evaluation leaders from most of the largest foundations in the country and other foundations known for their commitment to evaluation, this study looked directly at the issue of whether foundations “walk the talk” by tracking the results of their work. The study examined the practices related to use of evaluative information in 31 foundations that have demonstrated a strong commitment to evaluation over the years.
This study centers on what foundations know about and learn from their work, and explores what foundations actually do to assess it—not just at the end of a series of strategic investments, but also during, when information about strategy progress (or lack thereof) is critical if a foundation is going to be able to take corrective action if needed.