2002 Roundtables Explore the Role of Evaluation in Foundation Grant-Making

Reviewing the role of evaluation in philanthropy

In 2002, the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning, Philadelphia, convened representatives of foundations to review the role of evaluation in philanthropy.

As foundation grantmaking has evolved from charity to strategic philanthropy, the role of evaluation within foundations has grown substantially. However, foundation evaluation directors perceive that evaluation is not yet yielding as much as it might. It continued previous discussions among foundation evaluation directors (ID# 037391).

Researchers interviewed 54 officers and executives from 19 foundations for a "Briefing Note" and used it for discussion at an Evaluation Roundtable, April 25–26, 2002 that included 14 representatives from six of the funding foundations.

Project staff members also developed four case studies of evaluation practices in four foundation initiatives. Two of the case studies provided the basis for teaching and discussion at the second Evaluation Roundtable, which took place on July 18, 2002, with 48 people attending, including representatives of 24 foundations.

Key Findings

  • The "Briefing Note" included numerous findings and recommendations, including:

    • Within foundations, the directive for evaluation is tenuous, fleeting and shape-shifting.
    • Foundations take on accountability in many ways, but staff members are ambivalent and perhaps confused by the concept.
    • Performance information is emerging but limited, collected inconsistently and not strategically focused.
    • Unstated organizational dynamics play a significant role in the relationship between evaluation and program staff, with each competing for resources and operating with different incentives.

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