August 07, 2013
(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she spoke with Sharna Goldseker, managing director at consulting firm 21/64, about the priorities of millennial donors and what makes them different from their parents and grandparents.)
Grantmakers have always been able to manage their inputs. Each year private foundations provide a list of their grants to eligible 501(c)(3) organization via the Form 990-PF. Foundation boards, fundraisers, and anyone with access to the Foundation Center's site or a GuideStar account can quickly access this baseline data.
But just as the charges on your monthly credit card statement are only one indicator of your personal financial health, foundations don't learn a whole lot about their overall effectiveness by only tracking the size of their grants budget. After years of debate about the need for better evaluation -- on both the funder and grantee sides -- measuring outcomes and gauging the results of foundation grantmaking is still a work in progress, especially for small and midsize foundations and their nonprofit partners.
While reporting to funders has always been a requirement for smaller nonprofits, the data collection and evaluation they tend to do for funders is not always integrated into other organizational planning efforts. Indeed, most small to midsize nonprofits cannot afford to hire a full-time evaluation officer, and in a time of constrained budgets, few executive directors are willing to prioritize data collection over service delivery. And even when organizations are willing to devote resources to performance measurement, there often is a disconnect between the questions frontline managers are interested in asking and the kind of data foundation program officers and executives are looking for to prove the effectiveness of a given program to their boards.