Category Archives: evaluation

How Adaptable Are You?

Everyone relies on standard ways of doing things. From getting kids out the door to school or making the next big grant, we all need processes and systems that help us remember what’s next, what’s to be expected, and how to move forward. But sometimes things change, and we need to be able to change as well to accommodate a new short-term situation or a new long-term reality. Here’s a personal example. A few weeks ago I went to the hair salon for my standard cut and color (not that I’m going gray or anything). My tight schedule meant I couldn’t see my regular stylist. It was the morning of an international flight and my primary goal was speed and … Continue reading How Adaptable Are You?

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The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

We often look to external sources for best practices, hoping that others have figured out the ideal way to accomplish something and we can simply duplicate it. But when is the last time you searched inside your organization for internal best practices? If the answer is rarely or never, read on! With a little time and intention, you can make dramatic improvements in your operations and grantmaking. Let me give you an easy example. Swimming is a regular part of my week day exercise routine. My pool is lucky to have a wonderful lifeguard named John. Whenever the lanes are full, John helps new swimmers identify a lane and asks the lane’s occupant it he or she would mind sharing. John’s friendly manner always solicits … Continue reading The Best Practices You Never Knew You Had

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Guest Blog- Starting with Quality: A Decision Point for Summer

By Justina Acevedo-Cross, Program Officer, & Jeff Sunshine, Program Officer, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation For just a moment, pretend you’re a public health official and you’re faced with stopping a new pandemic. You have a vaccine that mitigates the disease in one dose and completely cures it in two, but only enough to fully treat half the population. Do you treat everyone halfway or completely cure only half? This catch-22 situation also faces funders who want to see a good idea expand quickly. Do you roll out the basics of a successful program or idea as far and fast as you can to maximize access, knowing that you’ll sacrifice quality in the process? Or do you take your time and … Continue reading Guest Blog- Starting with Quality: A Decision Point for Summer

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The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

A week ago, our country was in a totally different place than it is now. Regardless of your politics, there’s no question that we are most certainly entering some very uncertain times. Like everyone else, grantmakers of all stripes are looking around, trying to figure out how we got here and what the new lay of the land will be. Here are seven things that immediately come to mind as we consider the next four years: 1- Don’t beat yourself up.  The election outcome made it clear that many of us in philanthropy have overlooked the sentiments of a silent but seething portion of the country. But while it’s great to be reflective and introspective and think about what your … Continue reading The Next Four Years: Keep Moving Forward

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The Art of Streamlining

Much has been written about efforts to “streamline” foundation application processes – reducing the number of hoops applicants must jump through, right-sizing applications to the grant amounts, and asking questions in such a way that the answers are truly useful for funder decision making. But extraordinary grantmakers move beyond streamlining applications and grant reports to reviewing every aspect of their internal operations to identify opportunities to streamline. They audit their operations to find unnecessary blockages, duplication, wasted efforts, and barriers to impact. Why? Consider what the following examples of inefficiency might do reduce productivity or effectiveness: A foundation assigns six different staff members to review and edit a simple four-page case study. A funder requires staff to issue RFPs every … Continue reading The Art of Streamlining

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3 Ways Foundations Squash Risk-Taking

There was a time not too long ago when you rarely heard the word “foundation” and “risk” in the same sentence…or paragraph…or entire document. Risk simply hasn’t been something formally and broadly associated with philanthropy over the past few decades. However, it’s become pretty obvious to many people that the traditional ways of grantmaking are not enough to make a dent in the entrenched and intertwined social challenges of poverty, inequity, education or healthcare. Yes, one can’t blame philanthropy alone and other sectors very much bear their share of responsibility and obligation. But philanthropy can afford to take some risks that other sectors can’t. The concept of philanthropic risk isn’t new; there have always been some foundations that are willing … Continue reading 3 Ways Foundations Squash Risk-Taking

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The Power of Taking Stock: 5 Reasons to Conduct Evaluations

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, but I am not sure many foundations fully believe that. In the course of working with foundations across the country, I have made a somewhat surprising discovery: Many foundations grossly underestimate the importance of evaluating impact. This is unfortunate, because evaluation is both enlightening and empowering. In fact, measuring impact can give you power to ultimately increase that impact. Here are five reasons why foundations should regularly conduct evaluations. 1.  Evaluate to measure impact. The first reason to conduct evaluations is plain and simple: How will you know if you have had any influence unless you evaluate the effectiveness of your grantmaking program? There is really only one way to learn what the … Continue reading The Power of Taking Stock: 5 Reasons to Conduct Evaluations

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Special Ops: 5 Situations for Deploying a Red Team

We all need friends and colleagues who have our backs. But maybe we need something else, too. Maybe we need someone who can think like the enemy. The CIA calls it the “Red Team.” The military, the Federal Aviation Administration, and major corporations like IBM also use the term to refer to a group designed to penetrate your defenses — with your enthusiastic approval. This idea isn’t often discussed in philanthropy circles, but I believe it holds tremendous value for us. In any organization, a Red Team is charged with finding out what can go wrong, where the holes are, and why what you’re trying to do won’t work. The point is to question your assumptions, plans, operations, concepts, and … Continue reading Special Ops: 5 Situations for Deploying a Red Team

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3 Reasons to Evaluate Your Grantmaking

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, but I am not sure many foundations fully believe that. In the course of working with foundations across the country, I have made a somewhat surprising discovery: Many foundations grossly underestimate the importance of evaluating impact. This is unfortunate, because evaluation is both enlightening and empowering. In fact, measuring impact can give you power to ultimately increase that impact. Here are five reasons why foundations should regularly conduct evaluations. 1.  Evaluate to measure impact. The first reason to conduct evaluations is plain and simple: How will you know if you have had any influence unless you evaluate the effectiveness of your grantmaking program? There is really only one way to learn what the … Continue reading 3 Reasons to Evaluate Your Grantmaking

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Oops, I Forgot to Evaluate! 3 Easy Steps for Retrospectively Evaluating Your Funding Initiative

It’s year five of your five-year funding initiative, and you need to report progress to your board. You’re thinking, “Darn, I wish I had included evaluation planning when we developed this initiative. Now I’d have a better way to show our results.” Sound familiar? Don’t worry; you aren’t alone. Many funders don’t fund or even think about evaluation at the outset. However, there are three things you can do retrospectively to learn from the past and inform your future. I recommend enlisting the help of an external evaluation consultant, who will be more objective, will be able to devote the time needed, and will be more likely to elicit honest feedback from grantees and stakeholders. Conducting a retrospective evaluation is … Continue reading Oops, I Forgot to Evaluate! 3 Easy Steps for Retrospectively Evaluating Your Funding Initiative

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