- Strengthening grantor and grantee decision-making
- Enabling continuous learning and improvement
- Contributing to field-wide learning
Of course, if effective evaluation were easy, everyone would be doing it. Barriers to effective evaluation include limited organizational capacity, the complexity of issues grantmakers and nonprofits seek to address, and lack of collaboration in designing and executing evaluation schemes. Two new reports, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations’ (GEO’s) Four Essentials for Evaluation and The Aspen Institute’s Advancing Evaluation Practices in Philanthropy, shed some light on how to overcome these barriers.
Capacity. There’s no getting around it: effective evaluation takes time and skill. Grantmakers and nonprofits must dedicate time and effort to developing evaluation capacity. GEO recommends that organizational leaders in particular should work to create a culture where evaluation is an everyday priority and where it supports and advances continuous learning.
Complexity. Grantmakers and nonprofits are tackling some of society’s most challenging problems, so it’s not surprising that they might find it difficult to understand if their programs are making an impact. The Aspen Institute suggests that measuring outcomes can be an effective proxy of measuring impact, and is typically more achievable as well. Organizations should also consider focusing on contribution instead of attribution. To do this, ask if you have contributed to making an impact in your area of interest, instead of trying to determine how much of the impact can be attributed to your work.
Collaboration. Both GEO and The Aspen Institute highlight the importance of careful collaboration between grantmakers and grantees when designing, collecting and sharing evaluation metrics. By collaborating throughout the process, organizations can choose measures that are meaningful to everyone, and that can be collected and interpreted easily. Then organizations can learn together from the evaluation and ultimately perform their work more effectively.
Join the discussion: What are your tips to overcoming barriers to effective evaluation?
-Anne Bauers, MCF research manager