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 impact has been — and its scope and scale — and that is by conducting a thorough assessment and evaluation. Simply receiving anecdotal information or grant reports will not provide sufficient information to help you evaluate impact. A deeper evaluation and understanding is necessary, which leads us to the next four reasons.
2. Evaluate to discover unanticipated results.
Evaluations will often uncover consequences you might never have anticipated. For example, you might have a grant program designed to improve leadership among arts organizations in your community. In the course of conducting an evaluation to learn how leadership has improved, you might discover that, as a result of your efforts, the organizations improved their relationships with each other and a few are considering merging. So you set out to improve leadership capacity, but your program had the unintended consequence of building collaboration among your grantees.
3. Evaluate to understand why.
Without an evaluation, you can't understand exactly why your grant or initiative made an impact. Suppose you are funding youth development programs, and young people are now reporting less risky behavior than they had previously. Is that because you worked to improve the quality of these youth development programs, or because a specific curriculum was introduced, or because the programs became more accessible to certain underrepresented communities? Evaluation will help you to unpack and understand specifically what you did that made the difference.
Want to learn more about evaluating -- and why it's so important? Click here to read the full article.
© 2014 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.