Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy

Philanthropy by definition is a noble endeavor.  Yet people want to know, “what good does philanthropy do?”  The answer is hard to get, partly because philanthropy doesn’t really want to know, and evaluation doesn’t really know how to serve up good answers.

This article, published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in its magazine, Responsive Philanthropy (Fall 2010) illuminates the dilemma and points to important lessons for each of these four audiences.

Effective Philanthropy: The typical practice of grantmaking involves making one grant at a time to one organization at a time for one project at a time for one year at a time.  This may be a good way to keep order, but it’s a poor way to support progress on the bigger issues.  It keeps grantees’ efforts fragmented.

Nonprofit Management: As is, nonprofits have to compete too much for small grants.  We need donors to innovate in the challenge of moving the needle, that is, in pushing together to improve the performance of public and private systems.

Community Development: We won’t win any battles against poverty if success is measured only by just one person’s rise from poverty at a time.  It also has to be measured by progress in system change.  Activism in philanthropic communities is needed to promote a larger system view of change that can be embraced by more donors.

Program Evaluation: Both effective philanthropy and nonprofit management needs the field of evaluation to make more progress in “measuring” system change.  This article is full of implications.


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Originally appeared: In “Responsive Philanthropy,” published by National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy.

Number of pages: 3

Original date: Fall 2010

Author: Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D.

Effective Communities Project
Minneapolis, MN