Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy

Evaluating philanthropy

Philanthropy by definition is a noble endeavor.  But to achieve better philanthropy, we need better evaluation to answer the question, “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.

Evaluating Philanthropy Leads to More 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 doesn’t make for better philanthropy.  Evaluating philanthropy, we recognize that progress in society’s bigger issues demands that foundation practice not be so fragmented.  Worse, it keeps those who want to see progress completely frustrated.

Evaluating Philanthropy Leads to Improved Nonprofit Management

Currently, nonprofits have to spend too much time scrabbling for funds, even in small amounts.  Nonprofits want to use their time doing the work that their mission calls for, not fundraising.  But evaluating philanthropy, we find the grantmaking process creates massive inefficiencies.  A cynic might say that grantmakers and those on their board don’t really want to see progress in society’s big issues.  In times like these, we need donors to innovate in the challenge of moving the needle, that is, in pushing and pulling to improve the performance of public and private systems.

Evaluating Philanthropy Requires Improved Evaluation Practice

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” the ways systems can be rejiggered to create meaningful change.  This article is full of implications.

Evaluating Philanthropy Can Improve Community Development

Evaluating philanthropy, we want to see a larger view of system change that includes communities with greater influence in the repair of systems to better control their destinies, with greater support from an improved philanthropy.


Download “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for a Better Philanthropy

Originally published Fall 2010 by National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

This cover Article published January 16, 2021

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