Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NCRP blog post on Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy

posted on: Friday, March 04, 2011

By Meredith Brodbeck

When it comes to philanthropic giving, people want to see results. They want to know that their contributions are making a difference and helping to “move the needle” on larger issues.

Does the current practice of evaluating philanthropy show that our gifts are delivering? Is quality of life improving? And how can the practice of evaluation evolve to better answer such questions?

Steve Mayer, of the Effective Communities Project, takes on these issues in his Responsive Philanthropy article “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy”.

He points out that giving is often too individual and therefore can easily overlook the greater systemic issues.

“Funding the rescue of one person at a time evokes evaluation practices that score success one person at a time, however temporary. Evaluation, asked to give an accounting of these rescue efforts, gives adequate information on how many people receive soup, or affordable housing, or their day in court. These data may answer the question well enough, but they say nothing about the bigger question, “Are we stemming the flow of hungry, homeless or wronged people?” Both charitable and structural reform efforts are needed to stem these flows, with evaluation practices that honor the difference.”

Mayer suggests nine different ways to make the practice of evaluation - and philanthropy - better. Among them are:

1. Recognize that a better world is not built in one day. “If we accept this, we can escape the limitations of short-term management thinking.”
2. For any problem, adopt a set of metrics that reflect current progress. “It’s important for anchoring a serious effort, for engaging community support and for keeping eyes on a jointly held prize.”
3. “Identify what moves these needles, and what keeps them from moving, to make clear what kinds of efforts to support.”
4. “Look beyond the capabilities and performance of one organization, and look instead to supporting a more organized and intentional effort.”

To see the rest of Mayer’s suggestions and learn additional ways to improve the evaluation of philanthropy, read the full text of “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy”.

Meredith Brodbeck is communications associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

Labels: effective philanthropy, evaluation, evaluation resources, Measuring Impact, Responsive Philanthropy