Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy

Evaluating philanthropy

Philanthropy by definition is a noble endeavor.  Evaluating philanthropy isn’t easy, yet people want to know, “what good does philanthropy do?”  Evaluating philanthropy is a real challenge. Better evaluation practices are needed if we’re to learn how well philanthropy is delivering the goods. 

Our publication, “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy,” published by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in its magazine, Responsive Philanthropy (Fall 2010) illuminates the challenges.  It also 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.  Meaningful change won’t happen if foundation practice is so fragmented.  Worse, it keeps grantees completely frustrated.

Nonprofit Management: As is, nonprofits have to spend too much time scrabbling for small grants.  Nonprofits want to use their time doing the work that their mission calls for; the grantmaking process creates massive inefficiencies.  Perhaps grantmakers and those on their board want it that way.   In times like these, 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.

Program Evaluation: We won’t win any battles against poverty if success is measured as “numbers of people rising from poverty.”  Nonprofits don’t have much control over the economy, or even the job market.  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.

Community Development:   Activism is needed to promote a larger system view of change that can be embraced by more donors.


Download “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy

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