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

Fostering Change and Fresh Voices: Vancouver Foundation’s Youth Engagement Journey

FavoriteKey Points Since 2011, Vancouver Foundation has invested significant time, energy, ideas, and money in bringing together immigrant and refugee youth and young people with lived experience of the foster care system in British Columbia. Through its Fostering Change and Fresh Voices initiatives, the foundation has listened and worked in partnership with these young people to address the issues that affect their lives, and important progress has been made in the forms of meaningful policy changes and improved political engagement. The foundation is now in the process of returning these initiatives to the communities that inspired them. This article describes Read more

An End to Business as Usual: Nurturing Authentic Partnerships to Create Lasting Community Change

FavoriteKey Points The David and Lucile Packard Foundation created Starting Smart and Strong, a 10-year place-based initiative in three California communities, to develop and test solutions that support parents, caregivers, and educators as they prepare young children to be healthy and ready for school. The initiative brings together public and private partners to create comprehensive early-learning systems and ultimately scale what works. This article offers key insights into the foundation’s experience, three years into implementation, with managing this complex initiative and how program officers were compelled to think differently about the best roles staff can play to support grantee communities Read more

A Partnered Approach to School Change in a Rural Community: Reflections and Recommendations

FavoriteKey Points With so many education policies and practices made at the local level, community-based foundations are in a unique position to support their local school districts in taking a comprehensive, systematic approach to improving the lives of young people. This article describes a research–practice partnership designed to produce school improvement in a rural community in western Virginia and reflects on a three-year collaboration among The Alleghany Foundation, two school districts, and the University of Virginia. The partners identified challenges and strengths within the school districts and the community; gathered and analyzed existing district data and new findings from interviews Read more

Equity for All: Building the Infrastructure for Change Through Community-First Funder Collaboratives

FavoriteKey Points Foundations increasingly recognize that improving conditions in many communities requires addressing inequities in access to rights and resources. Yet there are challenges to effective investment in underresourced regions, especially when foundations have limited familiarity with the region and may assume limited local capacity to leverage philanthropic investments. This article discusses how Sierra Health Foundation partnered with other California and national foundations to establish the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, a collaborative whose grants focus on strengthening the capacity of communities and organizations in the Valley to advance policy and systems changes that promote health and racial equity. This Read more

Thriving Communities: A Model for Community-Engaged Grantmaking

FavoriteKey Points Interact for Health is a health conversion foundation serving the three-state region of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio. Its current community change initiative, Thriving Communities, is a community-learning model that helps embed health promotion and advocacy work in communities while those communities build an equitable infrastructure with stakeholders to more rapidly spread evidence-based practices. This article explores the three tools developed for the Thriving Communities initiative: Success Markers, the Developmental Pathway, and Relationship Mapping. Interact for Health has found that these tools build core competencies and confidence among grantees as well as a process for community engagement that produces results Read more

A New Tool for New Times? Using Geographic Information Systems in Foundations and Other Nonprofit Organizations

FavoriteKey Points The literature on nonprofit organizations exhorts them to understand and develop their communities’ strengths and capacities. Yet, identifying those communities, appreciating the conditions that affect them, and integrating organizational stakeholders can pose difficulties for any nonprofit, including foundations. This article examines how a tool relatively new to nonprofits — geographic information systems — can be used to support community building by bringing together different stakeholders. A geographic information system is designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data, thus allowing an organization to map its community and share that visualization with its stakeholders. Read more

By Us and For Us: A Story of Early Childhood Development Systems Change and Results in a Rural Context

FavoriteKey Points Since 2007, the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund — a donor-advised fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation — has invested in early childhood development in Coös County — New Hampshire’s largest and most rural and economically disadvantaged county. Community providers from a range of disciplines formed strong professional relationships and agreed on common goals and evidence-based strategies to improve services for children and families. This article describes how local community members joined forces with the fund to create an integrated early childhood development system for Coös’ children and families. It provides background on the investment and initiative Read more

Community Navigation as a Field of Practice: Reframing Service Delivery to Meet the Needs of Communities’ Marginalized Populations

FavoriteKey Points Community navigators help individuals and families access local services and assistance through a combination of referrals and interpersonal support. The Denver Foundation launched the Basic Human Needs Navigator Learning Community in February 2014 to help navigators working with local organizations and community members practicing navigation independently improve their practice and identify similarities and differences in their approaches. This article discusses the multiyear, peer-learning project, including the general lessons the foundation learned about both navigation and the use of a learning-community approach to reach its field-building goals. Reports from participating organizations and community members over four years suggest the Read more

Unplanned Donor Legacies: How to Avoid Them, and How One Family Foundation Corrected Course with an Evaluation

FavoriteKey Points As funders turn to community change, intentionally addressing the unique power differential between funder and grantee partners and structuring ways to mitigate this imbalance is essential to honest communication. Funder relationships with their grantees impact the legacy of major community initiatives. This article explores this relationship and its effects through the lens of the recent evaluation of one family foundation — the Robins Foundation in Richmond, Virginia — and its follow-up actions. Through a participatory evaluation process, we derived three principal approaches for this donor, and others, to consider in contemplating funder-grantee partnerships and the way these may Read more

From Charitable Giving to Strategic Impact: The Fremont Area Community Foundation

FavoriteKey Points In 2011, the Fremont Area Community Foundation launched a community investment strategy, focused on education, poverty, and economic development, that shaped corresponding aspirational goals aimed at improving the quality of life for residents of rural Newaygo County, Mich. While there had been significant community involvement and input into foundation planning for a number of years, the announcement of these strategic goals and their implementation created some apprehension among the local nonprofits. The new funding paradigms were a big change, and it took several years for many of the grantees, with assistance in the form of backbone services and Read more

PCI: A Reflective Evaluation Framework for Systems Change

FavoriteThis article explores the interconnected dimensions of the PCI Reflective Evaluation Framework, an approach now in prototype form which is grounded in practical thinking about working within complex social systems. This article focuses on its use in advancing racial equity, describing possible applications to integrate a racial equity lens in unpacking and addressing the complexity of systemic change. The framework is intended to help communities use evaluation to sustain their efforts to achieve racial equity and other systemic change goals that involve fundamental shifts in the underlying assumptions and values on which a social system is built.

Developmental Evaluation of a Collective Impact Initiative: Insights for Foundations

FavoriteKey Points The 2011 publication of John Kania and Mark Kramer’s influential paper, “Collective Impact,” caught the attention of organizations across sectors, including nonprofit organizations and philanthropies. The Colorado Health Foundation was one of the organizations that saw the potential of collective impact to help tackle the state’s complex, systems-level health issues. This article describes a collective impact initiative and the role that developmental evaluation – and a realist framework – played in aiding both the initiative’s steering committee and the Colorado Health Foundation in making decisions about the initiative’s accomplishments and future. The article highlights the developmental evaluation approach, Read more

Less Is More: How Grantmakers Are Using Simple Financial Metrics

FavoriteKey Points This article explores how the Financial Health Analysis Tool can bridge the gap between the capacity of grantmakers to conduct financial analysis and the need to incorporate financial considerations into both grantmaking and ongoing engagement with grantees. The tool presents four years of key financial indicators in graphs and charts that create a kind of dashboard of a nonprofit’s financial health over time. This small set of simple metrics highlights patterns and trends that can help grantmakers and nonprofits see how the financial management of an organization is advancing its mission and strategy. Using a series of interviews Read more

Cricket Island Foundation: A Case Study of a Small Foundation’s Impact Assessment

FavoriteKey Points In 2015, the Cricket Island Foundation conducted a multimethod assessment of its grantmaking portfolio to examine its impact and inform future decision-making and strategy. The foundation, which supports youth-led social change using a cohort-based model, focuses on emerging and medium-sized organizations and provides capacity-building supports to help organizations achieve greater organizational sustainability. The assessment focused on two of the foundation’s three cohorts and found positive trends in five key areas of desired impact: organizational capacity, youth leadership, nonprofit executive leadership, grantee collaboration and learning, and funder policy and practice. The assessment also identified areas for improvement to strengthen Read more

Partner-Centered Evaluation Capacity Building: Findings From a Corporate Social Impact Initiative

FavoriteKey Points Funders can play a proactive role in helping to fill the gap between funders’ expectations and nonprofits’ ability to evaluate grant results. Using a partner-centered design, Johnson & Johnson piloted an evaluation capacity-building initiative that supported eight grantees in strengthening their ability to measure and use findings concerning health-related outcomes, by focusing on key evaluation challenges identified by the grantees. Grantees’ approaches to capacity building naturally grouped around the areas of evaluation- framework development, data-systems strengthening, and staff training. Through individualized projects, grantees increased their ability to both do and use evaluation. This article describes the design, implementation, Read more

Becoming Strategic: Finding Leverage Over the Social and Economic Determinants of Health

FavoriteThis article presents examples of how strategic thinking evolved in a sample of health conversion foundations as they determined how they would address various social determinants of health. The article also considers how a foundation can develop a strategic pathway that fits with its mission, values, philosophy, resources, and sphere of influence. 

Foundation Transparency: Opacity — It’s Complicated

FavoriteThis article examines transparent and opaque practice in private philanthropy, studying the literature as well as findings from interviews with foundation staff, trustees, and grantees that sought answers to two relevant questions: Does opacity exist in private philanthropy? Have foundations and grantees developed strategies for overcoming challenges related to opacity? 

In a Good Way: Advancing Funder Collaborations to Promote Health in Indian Country

Favorite This article examines how three organizations collaborated on work to control commercial tobacco use in Minnesota’s Indian Country, and shares lessons learned on how they came to incorporate tribal culture, respect traditional tobacco practices, and acknowledge historical trauma to inform their grantmaking. 

Funder Collaborations — Flourish or Flounder?

FavoriteThe William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Education First participated in a half-dozen joint funding efforts to support the success of the Common Core State Standards in the nation’s K-12 public education system. Looking critically at these efforts, the authors learned lessons about why some collaborations are more effective.

Considerations for Measuring the Impact of Policy-Relevant Research

FavoriteThis article highlights the findings of an 18-month pilot project conducted by AcademyHealth to help the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation better understand the impact of a subset of the foundation’s research grants, across investment types, on health insurance coverage and health reform, and to help inform how the foundation may more systematically track and measure the impact of the research it funds.

Staying the Course: How a Long-Term Strategic Donor Initiative to Conserve the Amazon Has Yielded Outcomes of Global Significance

FavoriteThis article examines how the design principles of a major philanthropic initiative have influenced its performance, and provides a practical example of strategic philanthropy that can contribute to the current debate over the merits and flaws of this approach.

The Philanthropy As One Big Impact Investment: A Framework For Evaluating A Foundation’s Blended Performance

FavoriteThis article proposes a framework for evaluating a foundation’s blended performance that enables both grantmaking and endowment investing to be evaluated jointly, and thus also allows a complete evaluation of how impact investments could improve — or fail to improve — overall performance.

Marguerite Casey Foundation: Reflecting on 15 Years of Philanthropic Leadership Through a Summative Evaluation

FavoriteThis article presents the findings of a summative evaluation of the Marguerite Casey Foundation that was conducted on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. The evaluation was designed to gauge stakeholders’ perceptions of the foundation’s operations to facilitate organizational learning. In sharing these results, the authors seek to elucidate the role of evaluation as a learning practice within the field of philanthropy.

Foundations as Network Strategists, Weavers, and Managers: Learning From One Foundation’s Journey and Results

FavoriteThis article shares insights from a five-year evaluation of the Oral Health 2020 network, an effort by the DentaQuest Foundation to align and strengthen efforts in service of a national movement to improve oral health. The evaluation helped to place the foundation’s journey in the context of a broader field seeking new approaches to achieve deep and sustainable social change.

Changing in Place: The Skillman Foundation, Detroit, and the Good Neighborhoods Initiative — How did a hometown grantmaker conduct and conclude its largest-ever initiative?

FavoriteTo capture information on the unique challenges facing an embedded funder as it changes program direction, Bob Tobin, senior consultant at Williams Group, interviewed Marie Colombo, Skillman Foundation director for strategic evaluation and learning in this article of The Foundation Review.

End-Game Evaluation: Building a Legacy of Learning In a Limited-Life Foundation

Favorite This article shares the emerging hypotheses of two foundations, The Atlantic Philanthropies and the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation — each four years from sunset — about the opportunities and challenges for evaluation in the limited-life context. The article argues that systematically capturing and sharing knowledge — about programs, as well as social-change methods and grantmaking practices — can increase a foundation’s influence and impact during its final years and beyond.

Exiting From Large-Scale Initiatives: Lessons and Insights From a National Scan of Philanthropy

Favorite This article shares insights and lessons from a research project commissioned by The California Endowment in early 2016 to inform the planning for its transition out of Building Healthy Communities. A guiding framework for exit and sustainability planning is presented as a set of recommendations that relate to issues such as managing relationships between funder and grantee partners during the exit, using the initiative’s theory of change as a tool for decision-making, finding a balance between demonstrable success and equity, and managing the internal processes of the funding organization.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

FavoriteThis article discusses four areas where foundation exits present particular challenges and where there are significant opportunities to improve practice — deciding on and planning to exit, funder leadership, clear communication, and final grants — and includes summaries of advice from funder and grantee perspectives.

Partnership With Government: An Exit Strategy for Philanthropies?

Favorite Atlantic Philanthropies’ exit strategy involved a formal partnership arrangement with the Northern Ireland Assembly. This article draws on qualitative data gathered through interviews with key stakeholders — the funder, government officials, and NGOs — and considers the consequences of this approach for sustaining and mainstreaming policies and practices. It also offers both specific and general lessons on partnering with government as an exit strategy.

The Legacy of a Philanthropic Exit: Lessons From the Evaluation of the Hewlett Foundation’s Nuclear Security Initiative

Favorite This article describes how the findings of the NSI evaluation informed Hewlett’s philanthropic approach, and provides a case example of a philanthropic-initiative exit. Key considerations for monitoring and evaluation practices particular to the context of a planned exit are discussed.

Designing Technical-Assistance Programs: Considerations for Funders and Lessons Learned

FavoriteFunders use technical assistance (TA) to expand organizations’ capacity, identify solutions to problems, and develop strategies for long-term change. In this article, the authors document considerations for funders in developing strong TA programs, based on their evaluations of two state-based TA programs.

Laying the Groundwork for a National Impact Investing Marketplace

FavoriteThis article discusses the practice of impact investing. The Impact Finance Center partnered with foundations and other investors in Colorado to create CO Impact Days and Initiative to demonstrate how to address this need for a more efficient and effective marketplace.  

Influences of Venture Philanthropy on Nonprofits’ Funding: The Current State of Practices, Challenges, and Lessons

FavoriteThis article looks at the current state of venture philanthropy practices in the nonprofit sector, based on data from a survey of 124 nonprofits that engage in venture philanthropy. The survey probes to what degree nonprofit funders are implementing core activities of venture philanthropy – use of market-based funding instruments, providing strategic assistance, board participation, and use of social and financial performance criteria.  

Investing in Community Change: An Evaluation of a Decade of Data-Driven Grantmaking

FavoriteIn 2014, the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation engaged The Reinvestment Fund and Success Measures at NeighborWorks America to jointly evaluate the impact of its grantmaking and related programs from 2003 to 2013, to determine if practices in its approach could be transferred to other regions, and to assess its influence in the field.

Understanding Philanthropy Consulting: A Tool to Identify the Roles and Capabilities Needed From External Support

FavoriteThe article categorizes seven capability areas, from strategy setting to talent development, that are core to all foundations. Then, it identifies trigger points within these capability areas that lead foundations to undertake projects that may require outside support. Third, the article maps the capabilities that foundations consider in determining whether and how to engage philanthropy consultants.  

Activating the Power of Place: A Case Study of Market Creek

FavoriteThis article tells the story of a placed-based initiative to develop well-being and wealth in the historically underserved Diamond Neighborhood in San Diego, and discusses the place-based philosophy of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation and the foundation’s motivation for place-based work.

A Foundation’s Theory of Philanthropy: What It Is, What It Provides, How to Do It

FavoriteThis article argues that philanthropic endeavors should be undergirded by a theory of philanthropy. The theory-of-philanthropy approach is designed to help foundations align their strategies, governance, operating and accountability procedures, and grantmaking profile and policies with their resources and mission.      

Theory of Philanthropy Inquiry Tool

FavoriteSome 30 elements that can feed into a comprehensive theory of philanthropy represent a customizable tool for exploring the issues foundations face. A foundation can use the tool to gather data and perspectives about specific aspects of its heritage and approach; what is learned in addressing the elements can then be synthesized into a succinct and coherent theory of philanthropy.

Paying Attention to White Culture and Privilege: A Missing Link to Advancing Racial Equity

FavoriteGita Gulati-Partee, OpenSource Leadership Strategies Maggie Potapchuk, MP Associates Key Points · Racial disparities are driven and maintained by public- and private-sector policies that not only disadvantage communities of color but also over-advantage whites. Foundation processes aimed at racial equity change often overlook the privileged side of inequity. · Through our experience as racial equity practitioners, we have encountered at least three challenges to engaging foundations in exploring white privilege and white culture in their internal and external racial equity work. · For foundations to work toward racial equity through their philanthropic investments and leadership, they must shine a light Read more

Goal-Free Evaluation: An Orientation for Foundations’ Evaluations

FavoriteGoal-free evaluation (GFE), in program evaluation, is a model in which the official or stated program goals and objectives are withheld or screened from the evaluator. This article presents the case for GFE as a perspective that belongs in a foundation’s toolbox. In particular, this article demonstrates GFE’s actual use, highlights aspects of its methodology, and details its potential benefits.

Benchmarking Evaluation in Foundations: Do We Know What We Are Doing?

FavoriteThis article presents new findings about what foundations are doing on evaluation and discusses their implications. It is based on 2012 research that benchmarks the positioning, resourcing, and function of evaluation in foundations, and follows up on a 2009 study that used a similar design.  

The Logic Model Guidebook: Better Strategies for Great Results (Second Ed.): Book Review

FavoriteThe second edition of The Logic Model Guidebook: Better Strategies for Great Results is a straightforward guide, with excellent and varied examples, that achieves its purpose of giving readers a “basic understanding of how to create and use logic models” (p. xii). As enthusiastic champions of logic models, the authors adhere to the assumption that articulating precise and detailed logic models will lead to better results.

Assessing and Advancing Foundation Transparency: Corporate Foundations as a Case Study

FavoriteThis article explores the mix of forces, such as a six-drivers framework, a tool for assessing foundation transparency internationally, and implications for foundation practitioners follow, which explain variability in good-governance standards and practices by charitable foundations.  

Tactics in Philanthropy: The Case of the Moving Spotlight

FavoriteIn philanthropy, tactics are about choices of style and method in making grants or loans. They can be as significant in foundation program design and management as substantive strategic choices. The author describes the tactical pattern of “the Moving Spotlight.” He concludes that tactical principles can provide internal discipline for private foundations. Self-discipline deserves close and explicit attention from foundation trustees, managers, and staff because it is nearly the only kind available to them.

How Inclusion and Equity Are Transforming a Foundation and a Community

FavoriteThe Denver Foundation launched what is now known as the Inclusiveness Project in 2002 to help nonprofits, including funders, become more inclusive of people of color. The project operates on three levels: individual, organizational and sector. An extensive evaluation has shown that there are impacts at all levels, including increasing the number of people of color interested in careers in nonprofits, organizations incorporating inclusiveness in policies and practices, and greater awareness and attention to disparities on the part of the funding community.

Changemaking: Building Strategic Competence

FavoriteThis article reports initial lessons about the Skillman Foundation’s changemaking practice. The foundation built new strategic competencies that draws upon and leverages knowledge, networks, and civic reputation to supplement grantmaking investments. Ten lessons for foundations that want to assume a changemaking role are offered.

Evaluating the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund’s Social Determinants of Health Portfolio

FavoriteThe authors present an overview of the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund’s social determinants of health initiative and its theory of change. The fund is based at the Northwest Health Foundation. The authors introduce frameworks and methods used to conduct their evaluation. The fund reached multiple sectors and established new partners and relationships, but the lack of depth may limit opportunities to make a profound and measurable difference within any specic domain.

Strategies for Impacting Change in Communities of Color

FavoriteThe authors describe the work of the Cultures of Giving initiative funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation over a ve-year period. The goal of the initiative was to understand, develop, and support philanthropic giving within and among communities of color. Based on learning from evaluations, as the initiative progressed the theory of change was modied and new program components were added. Results suggest that leadership development is an important strategy. A community of practice around giving in communities of color was created, suggesting the potential for long-term impact.

Defining, Building, and Measuring Capacity: Findings From an Advocacy Evaluation

FavoriteThis article reports the results from Mathematica Policy Research’s evaluation of Consumer Voices for Coverage, a program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to support the role of consumer health advocacy coalitions in 12 states. The authors propose that funders address three elements of coalition capacity: knowledge, infrastructure, and resources. Each requires different types of interventions.

Building the Capacity of California’s Safety Net: Lessons From the Strengthening Community Dental Practices Demonstration

FavoriteThe authors describe the results of a demonstration project funded by the California HealthCare Foundation and the California Pipeline Program. They assessed the effectiveness of practice-management consulting in helping California’s safety-net dental practices survive and thrive. The evaluation showed that most clinics made measurable improvements. Their experiences point to several factors that create an environment for success. A second phase of the project is being implemented that builds on lessons learned from the demonstration.

Bridging Silos, Improving Systems

FavoriteSystems that provide services to children tend to operate in silos; foundations can play a role in helping bridge these silos by supporting “systems building” efforts. This article explores the challenges and lessons learned in systems building work. Educating grantees and other community members about systems and systems building is a critical first step in the process. Supporting systems building requires an iterative process and foundations should continuously reinforce the importance of systems building activities.

Corporate Giving Gets Smarter: ConAgra Foods Foundation Fights Childhood Hunger

FavoriteThis article captures the work from the ConAgra Foods Foundation and grantee perspective. It describes emerging dynamics in corporate social responsibility that influence corporate giving and articulate relevant lessons for organizational performance. Ultimately, consumer awareness and community action across the country are key to progress on the issue of childhood hunger in America. Along the way, savvy corporate funders and their colleagues will get farther faster on complex social issues with the use of potent tools and processes.

Building the Capacity of Networks to Achieve Systems Change

FavoriteThis article describes the network-building strategy of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation and the role that network officers play in carrying out this strategy. The author then assesses whether this strategy adds value for networks and discusses a range of complications that the strategy introduces, especially with regard to the grantmaker-grantee relations. Assuming that the foundation can meet these challenges, this approach may turn out to be the most effective way for a foundation to assist networks in achieving their full potential.

Evaluation for Models and Adaptive Initiatives

FavoriteThe authors concentrate on how the nature of the intervention affects evaluation design. They outline a framework for selecting evaluation approaches for two types of grantmaking programs used to achieve far-reaching impact: models and adaptive initatives. Evaluation that is attuned to the transformations in models and adaptive initiatives will continue to help fuel these two powerful engines of social change.

Using Civic Engagement and Collaboration to Create Community Change: Lessons From Charlotte, N.C.

FavoriteThis article examines one community’s effort to use a large-scale civic engagement process to improve the health, safety, and education of children. The findings from this study illustrate important lessons for foundations that are funding and leading cross-sector collaborative efforts – lessons related to the importance of communication and transparency, the need for shared leadership, the limits to voluntary collaboration, and the need for a sustainable structure to maintain the commitment and effort over time.

Practice, Practice, Practice: Preliminary Findings From an Evidence-Based Practice Funding Initiative at The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation

FavoriteThis article documents the Tower Foundation’s experience funding evidence-based practice (EBP) programs and its work to measure the success of these initiatives. After funding EBPs in five consecutive grant years, it was time to take stock and assess the drivers of program success and failure. Learning from these, the foundation may better understand the demands and expectations that they put on grantees. Looking forward, foundations can assist, as Tower did, with direct support of implementations. They can also do things to make communities more EBP ready and EBPs more generally viable and affordable.

Investigating the Roles of Community Foundations in the Establishment and Sustainability of Local College Access Networks in Michigan

FavoriteThis article uses the collective-impact model as a framework to examine the role of community foundations in the creation and establishment of local college access networks across the state of Michigan. The findings illustrate that community foundations have played a variety of roles, from fundraising to convening to cheerleading. The challenge for most communities is how to develop a plan for sustainability while allowing others to provide leadership for these evolving organizations for social change.

The Role of the Congregation in Community Service: A Philanthropic Case Study

FavoriteIn this article, an initial evaluation of the Family Leadership Initiative, part of the larger Gatherings of Hope Initiative, a collaboratively designed program to strengthen families and improve children’s education in Grand Rapids, Mich., shows high levels of satisfaction, with students reporting some academic improvements. For the congregations, FLI provided a rare opportunity to collaborate with each other.  

Philanthropy in the Faith Community: Mobilizing Faith-Based Organizations for Substance Use Prevention

FavoriteThis reflective practice article examines lessons learned from community-based substance abuse prevention efforts in the faith community and describes how those lessons will shape the work of the Assistance for Substance Abuse Prevention Center. The article also introduces the Faith-Based Prevention Toolkit developed to help members of faith community implement and sustain substance abuse prevention activities in their congregations. The authors hope that other foundations will incorporate the lessons into their work in the faith community.

Use of Layering for Effective Partnership Building: Leveraging Positive Impact in Education Philanthropy

FavoriteThis article examines the emerging best practice of layering, a process and strategic alignment of building new, multiple sector partnerships at the local, state, federal and national levels that can expand with federal initiatives. These new opportunities create a challenge of how to maximize mission-related goals while seeking new partnerships.

Developing a Master Data Sharing Agreement: Seeking Student-Level Evidence to Support a Collaborative Community Effort in Education

FavoriteThis article discusses how a private foundation, a public school system, and a state university joined forces to address a difficult, long-standing challenge: closing the academic achievement gap between urban and suburban students. The parties worked through multiple challenges and forged a Master Data Sharing Agreement (MDSA) that will facilitate both daily intelligence for program staff and powerful post-hoc research capacity. This MDSA text has been released online under a Creative Commons license (Community Research Institute, 2011a).

A Hedgehog Moment: The Roles and Pitfalls of Strategic Philanthropy for Family Foundations and Donors

FavoriteThis article reviews books by foundation officials, consultants and academics that broadly emphasize the idea that “strategic philanthropy” in some form promises significant improvements in the quality of giving.

Next-Generation Philanthropy: Examining a Next-Generation Jewish Philanthropic Network

FavoriteAs a result of mobility, philanthropy among a Millennial group of Jewish donors is becoming divorced from the communities in which their parents live. This group’s members generally perceive themselves as thinking and acting more strategically than past generations. They expect philanthropic organizations to operate with increased transparency, and those entities will need to adapt to these expectations in order to thrive.  

What Is a Family Foundation?

FavoriteThis article surveys the different definitions of family foundation that are, and have been, used by key organizations in the field and by researchers. It also reviews examples of the variations and complicating factors that make answering the title question difficult.  

Helping Government Agencies Become More Effective and Efficient: Discovering ‘Catalytic Combinations’ in Public Child Welfare Reform

FavoriteThis article describes the work of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Casey Strategic Consulting Group in child and family services systems to improve system performance and outcomes. Called “catalytic combinations,” five types of levers were influenced in different combinations to promote change in several state systems. The initiative produced measurable improvements in key performance areas. The authors postulate that by influencing “levers of change” in combination, one can drive broad improvement in how overall systems operate. Influencing catalytic combinations creates sufficient startup results for improvement to continue over time.

Achieving Foundation Accountability and Transparency: Lessons From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Scorecard

FavoriteThe Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shares what they learned from developing their Scorecard. Comparative and quantitative measures were found to be the most powerful forces to motivate change.

Assessing Nonprofit Networks Prior to Funding: Tools for Foundations to Determine Life Cycle Phase and Function

FavoriteLife cycle analyses tools help determine a nonprofit network’s stage of development and its functional characteristics. The authors suggest that these tools are useful to funders in determining a network’s readiness for funding.

Creating and Scaling Innovative School Models Through Strategic Partnerships

FavoriteThis article focuses on the pivotal role of philanthropy within the Texas High School Project, a public-private alliance to support education reform across the state and to maximize the resources of aligned organizations. Two examples show how foundations successfully engaged in the project, recruited other foundations, shared and increased expertise, maximized resources within the alliance, and increased impact to address a complex issue and solution. Also discussed are lessons learned about the foundations engaged with the alliance.

Developing Foundation-University-Grantee Collaboratives as a Model for High-Impact Philanthropy

FavoriteThe Weingart Foundation’s Urban School Districts Reform Initiative sought to improve urban education, and ultimately raise student achievement, by supporting sustainable reforms in school districts educating high numbers of low-income students. Based on research by an intermediary, six selected school districts were invited to propose projects that were a fit for their own strategic plans; four were funded. Based on this experience, three key design elements were identified: 1) Confine the initiative to a content area or target population, 2) Pay attention to geography, and 3) Encourage boundary-spanning.

Expanding Organizational Advocacy Capacity: Reflections From the Field

FavoriteThe California Endowment implemented the Clinic Consortia Policy and Advocacy Program to expand grantee advocacy capacity to support the policy and operational needs of California’s community clinics. Funders of advocacy and policy change initiatives are encouraged to consider the resources needed to build and sustain advocacy capacity, including grantee technical expertise, partnerships with stakeholders, and time required to expand advocacy capacity.

Finding the Fix: Embracing Philanthropy’s Role in Transforming an Urban Education Landscape

FavoriteA new approach to urban education reform requires that funders pool resources under a common agenda to successfully build the conditions to change the landscape for children. This article describes and analyzes this shift in thinking and the change in strategy of education reformers in the city of Detroit.

Getting to Results: A Tool and Lessons from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s K-12 Education Portfolio

FavoriteThe Annie E. Casey Foundation developed a exible but rigorous “results framework” tool that helped focus its investments and choose grantees that shared its aims by dening success, specifying results, tracking progress, and aligning its work. The framework includes an understanding of population and program accountability and lays out overarching categories for thinking about results: impact, inuence, and leverage. This paper described how the tool was developed and tested with grantees and shares lessons learned for other philanthropies in the eld of education.

The Trenton Afterschool Partnership: Expanding Learning Time Citywide Through Public/Private Collaboration

FavoriteIn 2009, New Jersey After 3 established the state’s rst nonprot after-school system in Trenton, providing high-quality programs in every public K-12 school. This system expanded access for students and improved the quality of programs while reducing the cost. This article reects on establishing such a system, its results, and lessons learned.

The Quest for Deeper Learning and Engagement in Advanced High School Courses

FavoriteThis article looks at a new version of the AP U.S. Government and Politics course organized around project cycles designed to help students learn the content with deep understanding that will support transfer to future problems. This research effort represents the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s rst work on one of its primary initiatives: to collaborate with teachers, researchers, and educational leaders in the design and implementation of rigorous, project-centered, yearlong courses and the study of their effects.

The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change: Book Review

FavoriteThe Dragonfly Effect identifies a four-step process symbolized by the wings of the dragonfly. The metaphor does a good job of describing how these four major areas must work in tandem to give the lift needed to reach one’s goals via social media.

Voices From the Field III: Lessons and Challenges for Foundations Based on Two Decades of Community-Change Efforts

FavoriteTo date, there is little evidence that CCIs have been able to achieve population-level change in key outcomes; however, they have built community capacity. Building upon a previously published volume on Comprehensive Community Initiatives, this article focuses upon the implications for foundations of what has been learned about CCIs.

Exposing Real World Philanthropy to the Next Generation of Social Work Leaders

FavoriteThis article describes a method for instructing social work students in the art of enhanced collaboration with foundations, shifting the focus from “writing a winning proposal” and “finding alternative funding sources” to “developing collaborative partnerships for sustainable community development and social change.” The program consists of four major steps: charitable foundation review and case presentation, self-guided review of real-world proposals, mock grant proposal development, and side-by-side proposal review.

Promoting Community Leadership Among Community Foundations: The Role of the Social Capital Benchmark Survey

FavoriteThis article examines the Social Capital Benchmark Survey organized by Robert Putnam and Lew Feldstein and funded by 34 community foundations. Six years later, 12 of the community foundations participated in the National Social Capital Learning Circle and reported that the survey results supported their community leadership work.