In this article, authors Colby and Pickell share the perspective of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) on measuring nonfinancial returns. Although this issue of Community Development Investment Review is focused on the nonfinancial performance measurement in the field of community development, the authors provide examples from RWJF's work to illustrate the saliency of measuring nonfinancial returns, in any field, to better understand a program’s impact or spread a program model.
Research and evaluation are critical to RWJF's thinking and strategy, informing decision-making and helping assess impact. RWJF aims to answer two questions with its research and evaluation efforts: 1)What is the problem? and 2) What solutions work?
Research enables the Foundation to understand a problem by assessing what the problem is; who is affected; and how it can be addressed. RWJF investments in health insurance coverage and childhood obesity were significantly shaped by the research initiatives funded to define and clarify the issues. While research informs the Foundation on how and where to make an investment, evaluation provides a way to garner objective feedback on the impact of its investments. Evaluations are used by the Foundation to ascertain the effectiveness of its programs. All large programs are evaluated by objective, external researchers and several smaller grants require an evaluative component.
By setting nonfinancial goals and measuring nonfinancial outcomes the Foundation sharpens its social investment strategy. Making the nonfinancial results public improves the Foundation's efforts to take program models to scale by providing evidence to other investors.