Learning, Partnering, Sharing

Measuring impact in the social sector is not easy. The challenge is compounded by the fact that we achieve impact through the smart work of our grantees. 

With these realities in mind, we've selected a learn-and-share approach to evaluation, with multiple meetings per year between program officers and grantees. In these quarterly meetings, people share lessons in order to have bigger conversations about how to expand opportunity for the people of our region.

Evaluation: Advancing Our Mission

Collective effort -- in other words, building partnerships large and small toward shared goals -- is at the heart of impact in our community. Ongoing evaluation of this approach provides knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, thus enhancing our programmatic efforts and informing our decisions.

We believe that evaluation:

  1. Improves understanding in philanthropy. Evaluation through ongoing conversations and shared learning allows the community and our partners to benefit from our grantees' experiences and improvements.
  2. Demonstrates accountability and transparency. Evaluations allow others to hold us accountable by providing a direct source of information about the impact of our grantmaking and how in can be improved and better-measured.
  3. Strengthens organizations. Evaluation helps our grantees identify, sustain, and improve promising practices. This makes them stronger and more effective by encouraging self-reflection and organizational improvement.

How We Evaluate

We approach each evaluation based on a variety of factors, including the type of activities, set of grantees, level of funding, and stage-of-life for the initiative being evaluated. In cases where specialized research skills are not needed, our evaluation is led by our program officers. We also contract with external evaluators to assist with site visits, observation, interviews, surveys, review of grantee reports, and dissemination of findings.

We've adopted a six-part framework to assess progress toward advancing our mission and organizational goals:

Program Impact

  1. Context. We track key indicators about the fields in which we work and use that information to inform our strategic and grantmaking decisions.
  2. Outcomes. We join with our partners to look at set indicators developed by our program teams to measure progress toward our program goals.
  3. Learning and Refinement. We examine how these results and other lessons from our program work were used to refine program strategy, and whether we shared our learning broadly.

Institutional Effectiveness

  1. Exercising Leadership. We focus on how well we are framing understanding of and drawing attention to key regional issues.
  2. Constituent Feedback. We regularly check-in with our partners and grantees to assess how grants are being implemented, and how they can be improved.
  3. Finance and Organization. We monitor our investment performance and that of our grantees in the name of prudent financial stewardship, operational effectiveness and organizational health.

Sharing Models, Learning Lessons

As a learn-and-share foundation, we are part of a national network of foundations, universities and nonprofits that share models and lessons. In other words: Once we learn from community, we share outward however we can.

In that spirit, here you'll find some of our latest assessments and reports, as well as those that inspire our actions toward empowering community.

Report: Redefining Expectations for Place-Based Philanthropy

What can be learned from The California Endowment’s new approach to place-based philanthropy? FSG's new Redefining Expectations for Place-based Philanthropy, which was recently published in The Foundation Review, looks into how one large place-based initiative can inspire community change everywhere.

Report: Regional Stormwater Assessment

A report funded by The Russell Foundation and delivered by The Sightline Institute shows that there are dozens of strategies in our region that one could fund in service of reducing polluted runoff. However, the sheer number of options is arguably one of the barriers to making more progress. In a perfect world, these myriad efforts to address polluted runoff should add up to a sum that is greater than its parts.

Report: Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact

In this breakthrough report from the nonprofit consulting group FSG, which was originally published in Stanford Social Innovation Review, we learn the importance of backbone support -- and how collective impact efforts fail without them.