Disconnect Between Funders & Grantees on Evaluation

Most institutional funders these days expect grantees to document and report their programs’ progress. They expect organizations to regularly monitor their own performance to better understand what’s working and to employ these lessons to improve program outcomes for clients and achieve greater social impact.

A new Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) report describes what foundations do to support grantees’ ability to collect and reflect on program data. While investments in this area have grown significantly over the years, the report reveals that grantees and foundations may not always be on the same page when it comes to what’s needed.

The new report is based on two key strands of research: the authors’ review of numerous reports on efforts by nonprofits to assess their own program performance and a recent survey of nonprofit leaders on the subject. Based on their review of existing research, the authors conclude, “Nonprofits [are] well intentioned, yet [lack] the capacity to collect the right data to measure their effectiveness.” To learn more from nonprofit leaders themselves, CEP collected survey responses from 183 leaders of a wide range of size and type of grantee organizations.

The results may be surprising to some. Nearly all (over 90 percent) of the nonprofits surveyed indicate they collect information to assess their performance. But the typical nonprofit allocates just 2 percent or less of its budget to do so. And few employ dedicated full-time staff for it. Over 70 percent of the nonprofit leaders surveyed also indicate they would like to collect more detailed data, more data or more frequently collected data, but lack the resources to do so.

Illustrating a disconnect between foundations and grantees on program assessment, 64 percent of the nonprofits surveyed report receiving no support (financial or other) from foundations for their performance assessment efforts. On the plus side, almost two-thirds of nonprofits could name at least one foundation that had been helpful to their efforts to assess their performance.

The authors’ conclusion is simple: If foundations want nonprofits to do a better job of collecting and utilizing program performance data to increase their effectiveness and impact, they must do more to support their grantees’ efforts to do so.

In my evaluation consulting to foundations and nonprofits, I work with clients to strengthen technical knowledge, practical skills and strategies that support learning. Sensitive to the challenges of providing culturally competent capacity building assistance to organizations, I share the belief that adopting a “culture of evaluation”–along with a passion for continuous learning—fortifies social sector organizations and makes it more likely they will realize their vision of positive social change. (See my GrantCraft guest post last year about a foundation-sponsored capacity-building project.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts about capacity building in this area!