Building Principle-Based Strategic Learning: Insights From Practice

FavoriteStrategic learning is a powerful tool for foundations to achieve greater impact, yet foundations have struggled to create practices and behaviors that effectively support them in learning about strategy. Given that many foundations are engaged in strategic philanthropy, where they have specific conditions in the world they are trying to change, it is critical that they have the capacity to effectively learn about and improve their strategies. This article offers three principles for strategic learning, informed by the field of strategic learning and insights from practice across three foundations. Each principle is explored in terms of what it means and Read more

Evaluators as Conduits and Supports for Foundation Learning

FavoriteEvaluators play a critical role in supporting philanthropic learning, programming, and strategy, but evaluation and learning in philanthropy is often limited in ways that impede deeper resonance and impact. Most philanthropic evaluation is focused on the needs of individual foundations, knowledge sharing with the broader field is limited, and foundations struggle to integrate evaluation and learning as a management tool. This article makes the case that evaluators and funders can do more to build the collective capacity of evaluators working in philanthropy in order to enhance their contributions to community change. This article also examines the ways that evaluation in Read more

Shifting Mindsets: How Meaningful Accountability Systems Can Strengthen Foundation Learning and Improve Impact

FavoriteThis article explores what it looks like when a foundation attempts to integrate accountability and learning practices, and presents a framework for the unique and complementary contributions that accountability and learning can make to the work of foundations. The article also looks at the tensions that can arise when a foundation’s internal evaluation staff attempt to design, implement, and make use of accountability systems. Specifically, it identifies three problematic perspectives that can hold foundations back from full engagement in internally driven accountability initiatives, and offers practical guidance on how to shift these mindsets to more productive practices. It concludes by Read more

Challenges and Opportunities in Philanthropic Organizational Learning: Reflections From Fellow Grantmakers

FavoriteAs the field of philanthropy has matured, increasing attention has been paid to evaluating the impact of philanthropic investments. In recent years, the scope of evaluation has expanded to include an intentional focus on organizational learning with the goal of learning from ongoing work, informing decision-making, and ultimately improving impact. With this momentum to carry out organizational learning strategies and share successes, the sector has not yet stopped to reflect on challenges and lessons learned in the process of building the capacity for organizational learning — the messy yet meaningful middle between a desire for learning and the implementation of Read more

Knowledge Translation to Enhance Evaluation Use: A Case Example

FavoriteKnowledge in the form of information suitable for decision making or advocacy by foundations is not always readily available — a situation unacceptable for those who need such information for accountability, learning, and influencing policy and practice. This article addresses how essential information about monitoring, evaluation, and lessons learned can be made available to foundations. The Fred Hollows Foundation identified a gap in this area through an evaluation capacity-building readiness assessment, and introduced the concept of participatory, real-time monitoring, evaluation, and learning bulletins grounded in the principles of knowledge translation. This article describes how those bulletins were developed and used Read more

Reflective Practice for Learning From Experience: Navigating the Back Roads at Work

FavoriteWhat are the roadblocks that limit reflective practice in the field of philanthropy? Between the desire to move the needle on social change and the pressure to be productive, philanthropy as a field is understandably driven to focus on doing and resistant to taking time to reflect on practice. This article is designed to help foundations encourage leadership and staff to put their expertise into play as a learning strategy. This article defines reflective practice and traces roots and research that can inform its use. It also reports on interviews with philanthropy practitioners about how they use various reflective practice Read more

Building a Culture of Learning: Teaching a Complex Organization How to Fish

FavoriteMany social sector organizations are looking to balance their strategic plans with an ability to respond more quickly to change as it unfolds in their communities. For many years — but gaining particular urgency in 2015 — Kaiser Permanente Community Health saw a need to better understand the progress and impact of its portfolio and use its data to adapt strategy in response to its changing context. To increase its capacity for strategic learning, Community Health worked with FSG to develop and implement a system called Measurement and Evaluation for Learning and Outcomes. While this process was tailored to Community Read more

Strategic Learning in Practice: A Case Study of the Kauffman Foundation

FavoriteIncreasingly, foundations and nonprofits are seeking to engage their staff in learning and reflection activities that assess successes and challenges, and then generate insights that can improve programs and funding strategies. Yet, despite the intuitive benefits, there are common challenges that often stand in the way of promoting strategic learning for continuous improvement. For the past year, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has been focused on creating more systematic and intentional strategic learning across our organization. As part of this work we cultivated a select cohort of staff to be “learning champions,” created simple tools and processes that can more Read more

Ramping Up for High-Impact Philanthropy Toolkit

FavoriteThis toolkit is for seasoned donors, donor advised fund holders, foundation trustees, and staff who are taking steps to significantly ramp up the impact of their giving. No longer content with just “making good grants” or “doing good things for the community,” you have taken a fresh look at your goals, strategies, and outcomes and decided that you could do things differently to achieve even more. We all know that setting bolder, bigger goals for impact is only step one. Implementing strategies and achieving these goals typically involves a winding path full of experiments, iterations, and obstacles. This toolkit is Read more

Guide to Investing in Grantee Talent

FavoriteGrantmakers are only as good as the nonprofits they fund. And nonprofits are only as good as their people. Nonprofit professionals thrive when they are well supported and developed by their organizations. So, it is patently reasonable to suggest that investing in the human capacity of grantee organizations ought to be part of the job of every grantmaker. Unfortunately, funder practices tend to make invisible the needs and potential of the people who work in grantee nonprofits, and instead emphasize strategy, programs, and organizational activities. Not only does this approach mean funders are misreading the real needs of many grantees; Read more