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Harnessing Evaluation and Learning for Equity and Impact Insights for Foundation Executives

November 1, 2022

Grantmaking foundations are increasingly using E&L functions in diverse ways. A 2019 survey from the Center for Evaluation Innovation found that 42 percent of foundations had a dedicated E&L unit or department that functioned separately from the program department, up from 34 percent in 2015.The survey also shows that E&L staff fill numerous and evolving roles including directing and managing evaluation work within the foundation; supporting broader team and organizational learning efforts, including equity work; supporting strategy development and review; and providing advice or coaching about evaluation to other staff. Beyond the foundation's walls, many E&L teams contribute to the fields of evaluation and philanthropy by sharing actionable knowledge or learning strategies with peer organizations. Field-building increases the influence and impact of a foundation by helping to advance philanthropic thought leadership and E&L practices more broadly.But leveraging the power of evaluation and learning is easier said than done. This guide is a resource for foundation executives interested in harnessing the power of evaluation and learning for impact. It was developed by Engage R+D with support from The James Irvine Foundation, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Center for Evaluation Innovation, and Kresge Foundation. It is based on our study of the E&L function across these three diverse foundations, all of which champion the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and are on their own equity journeys.

Evaluation and Learning at Foundations: A Field Guide

April 18, 2022

This brief grew out of conversations with evaluation and learning leaders working in foundations across the United States about both the value of evaluation and learning in philanthropy, and the challenges of implementing this function well across diverse institutional contexts. Our intent is to provide practical guidance that new and existing leaders can use to navigate their roles in support of more effective and equitable philanthropy. It is based on indepth case studies of the Irvine, Kauffman, and Kresge Foundations along with our own experience partnering with foundations on evaluation, strategy, and learning efforts.

How Funders Seek and Use Knowledge to Influence Philanthropic Practice

June 3, 2021

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's Effective Philanthropy Program seeks to strengthen the capacity of its grantees, and philanthropy in general, to achieve their goals and benefit the common good. One of the program's main strategies—Knowledge for Better Philanthropy—promotes more effective philanthropy by funding organizations that create and disseminate research-based knowledge about philanthropic practice. This includes support for academic centers, investigative journalism, consulting firms, philanthropy-serving organizations, and others who develop and share knowledge products about philanthropic practice. In 2020, the Hewlett Foundation commissioned Engage R+D and Equal Measure to partner on an evaluation examining how funders find and use knowledge to influence philanthropic practice, with a focus on what role organizations funded in the Knowledge for Better Philanthropy strategy play in that process. This resulting report, How Funders Seek and Use Knowledge to Influence Philanthropic Practice, builds on a 2016 study (released in early 2017) also commissioned by the Foundation entitled Peer to Peer: At the Heart of Influencing More Effective Philanthropy. The earlier report examined how staff and board members at U.S.-based foundations find and use practice knowledge, revealing that funders are more likely to seek knowledge from peers and colleagues than from the large volume of knowledge content available from organizations, associations, and publications. This evaluation follows up on the scan in 2016 and adds new findings. As the world changes around us, this study asks how funders are drawing from a range of knowledge sources in the ongoing pursuit of more effective philanthropy. The answers shed light on what information funders are seeking, which sources are most influential in creating change, and whose voices are included in the process. This executive summary highlights key findings from this study. Further detail on these and other findings from our survey of funders andfollow-up interviews can be found in the full report.

Broader Participation, Broader Benefit: Increasing the Value of Foundation Evaluation

April 9, 2021

In recent years, philanthropy has been grappling with calls for increased transparency and more inclusive processes when it comes to making decisions about the best use of its resources. Some foundations have responded by focusing on listening, experimenting with participatory grantmaking, and exploring what it means to center equity in their work. Despite such promising efforts, foundation evaluation and learning practices largely remain unchanged. That is, foundations continue to roll out evaluations in the traditional way: funders craft requests for proposals with limited consultation from others, evaluators develop their approaches in silos, and one design is selected for implementation. The needs of foundations often take precedence over those of others with potential to benefit. This learning brief is about the possibility of what can happen when more voices are included in the process of evaluation design. It tells the story of how Engage R+D partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply a creative, participatory technique—known as a design charrette—to engage a broad variety of stakeholders in collaboratively designing a summative evaluation of Networks for School Improvement, one of the Foundation's signature K-12 investments.

Making It Count: Executive Summary of the Early Childhood Census 2020 Fund Evaluation Report

January 1, 2021

To bolster census education and outreach efforts to families with young children in LA County, a group of 8 funders joined forces and pooled nearly $1 million to create the Early Childhood Census 2020 Fund (ECCF) in the summer of 2019. Although a commitment to census outreach efforts and investment was underway at a broader state and county level, ECCF drew attention to the need to have a separate, more concerted approach to focusing on the hardest-to-count population. 12 organizations received ECCF grants. These organizations ranged in size, population served, geography, and services in healthcare, education, social services, faith-based, and community organizing. ECCF's target population and the implementation of peer learning sessions aimed to foster connections and strengthen relationships across grantees. Two virtual learning sessions created space for grantees to share strategies for reaching families with young children, ask questions, and discuss challenges. The following summary provides key highlights from an evaluation of ECCF conducted by Engage R+D. Learnings from this evaluation are based on interviews with the grantees and managing funders as well the review of grant reports and observations of funder meetings. 

Impact Investing for Health Equity: Lessons from The California Endowment’s ACA and Prevention Program Related Investments

January 1, 2021

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 brought with it countless opportunities, both to expand access to uninsured populations systematically excluded from the healthcare delivery system, as well as to strengthen and innovate beyond the existing system's status quo. The California Endowment became an early champion, providing over $350 million to support ACA implementation with a range of grantmaking strategies focused on outreach and enrollment, health workforce development, and systems change innovations. As part of its effort to understand the impacts of its ACA and prevention-related grantmaking, The Endowment contracted Engage R+D to develop a series of learning products between 2017-2020.In May of 2013, The Endowment's Board approved a $30 million program-related investment (PRI) commitment to expand community health centers in alignment with the foundation's Health Happens in Prevention and ACA campaigns. Program-related investments fall under the broader umbrella of impact investing and include loans, equity investments, or guarantees made by a foundation to advance its charitable mission. These investments seek to strengthen systems infrastructure in ways that benefit populations who are frequently excluded from or have limited access to a variety of critical resources, including quality health care, housing, and healthy food.This learning brief explores the ways in which The Endowment is leveraging this powerful strategy, provide case examples of two federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) receiving PRI financing, and identifies a set of key considerations for other philanthropic organizations interested in tapping into PRIs as a tool to advance health, racial, and economic equity.

Power, Equity, and Health for All: Lessons from The California Endowment’s Affordable Care Act Grants

January 1, 2021

The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 brought with it countless opportunities, both to expand access to uninsured populations systematically excluded from the healthcare delivery system, as well as to strengthen and innovate beyond the existing system's status quo. The California Endowment became an early champion, providing over $350 million to support ACA implementation with a range of grantmaking strategies focused on outreach and enrollment, health workforce development, and systems change innovations. As part of its effort to understand the impacts of its ACA and prevention-related grantmaking, The Endowment contracted Engage R+D to develop a series of learning products between 2017-2020. With a focus on The Endowment's ACA grants, this learning brief explores the intersection between power building, racial equity, and systems transformation. It is based on the synthesis of various evaluation efforts over the last decade and more recent interviews with key stakeholders. We share important lessons from this body of work that can help inform efforts to transform mindsets, policies, practices, and systems in the years to come.Recognizing that deeply entrenched inequities exist and, in some cases, have been exacerbated by the very policies meant to reduce them, population-level health improvements will require a more explicit focus on racial equity along with substantial financial investment, time, political will, and cross-sector collaboration. 

Scaling Programs for Family, Friend, and Neighbor Caregivers: Learnings From The Packard Foundation’s Informal Care Strategy

October 1, 2020

he first five years of children's lives are fundamental to their growth and development. Many children in this age group spend a substantial amount of time being cared for by extended family, friends, or neighbors. Informal care—or Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) care —is both an affordable and a flexible form of care and a way to provide children with a warm, nurturing environment with a trusted caregiver. In 2014, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation's Children, Families, and Communities program launched a 10-year Informal Care Strategy to support FFN caregivers — both nationally and within California — as they provide the kinds of nurturing and enriching experiences children need early in life to reach full potential.Engage R+D has been the evaluation partner of the Packard Foundation for its Informal Care strategy since 2016. Individual-level and cross-cutting evaluations of its FFN grants showed promising results in terms of their ability to have positive impacts on caregivers. However, as of 2019, the Foundation had not yet conducted a comprehensive study of the third phase of its investment strategy, which related to scaling the most promising practices. This report synthesizes a range of lessons and implications for those interested in supporting and scaling FFN programs, including funders, community organizations, and advocacy groups.

Delivering on the Dream: Protecting Immigrant Rights and Fostering a Culture of Inclusion

July 1, 2020

California has been at the forefront of this surge with the public, private, and philanthropic community taking a firm stance against anti-immigrant policies and divisive rhetoric. The James Irvine Foundation is one of several California foundations that has stepped up its support to protect immigrant rights, joining forces with other partners across the state to bolster collective and mutually reinforcing efforts. As part of its grantmaking to a range of nonprofit partners, The Foundation seeks to ensure that everyone of California's low-income workers – many of whom are immigrants – have the power to advance economically.To better understand the effect of rapid response grantmaking and the current landscape for immigrant integration in California, The Irvine Foundation partnered with Engage R+D on this practice brief to explore the various ways California foundations are contributing to a pro-immigrant movement. It is based on a developmental evaluation of The Irvine Foundation's Protecting Immigrant Rights (PIR) efforts and interviews with 12 foundations and immigrant rights organizations. It seeks to provide actionable insights for funders and immigrant-serving organizations as they pivot from crisis-response to more proactive and longer-term strategy for immigrant integration.

Listening for Change: Evaluators of color speak out about experiences with foundations and evaluation firms

May 1, 2020

The quotes and ideas presented in this brief emerged from conversations with California-based evaluators of color during the Summer and Fall of 2019. With the support of the James Irvine Foundation, Engage R+D facilitated three conversations with a total of 16 participants who identify as emerging to mid-level evaluators of color working with philanthropy (Bay Area = 10; Central Valley = 2; Los Angeles = 4). We identified participants through our organizations' networks, through outreach to other foundations, and through the American Evaluation Association's website and other lists. The majority of participants had less than 10 years of evaluation experience and worked for small- to mid-sized evaluation consulting firms. Some participants were independent consultants or affiliated with a university. Eleven of the participants took part in an additional follow-up discussion of the themes that emerged from the original conversations to reflect on implications and recommendations. Though data collection happened prior to COVID-19, the issues raised in this brief are brought into even greater relief by how the crisis is impacting communities of color.

Cultivating Organizational Change: Post-Program Findings from the First Two Cohorts of PropelNext

March 1, 2020

Drawing on research and hands-on experience in organizational effectiveness and performance management, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) developed PropelNext, an intensive program designed to build the capacity of promising nonprofits to deliver high-quality services that improve life outcomes for increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged youth in the U.S. The first PropelNext cohort, which participated from 2012 to 2015, originally comprised 15 organizations across the country. EMCF led a second, California-based cohort of 15 organizations from 2015 to 2018 in partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Sobrato Family Foundation, and the Weingart Foundation. In fall 2018, a third cohort of 12 exclusively Northern California-based organizations began the program supported by the Edna McConnell Clark, William and Flora Hewlett, David and Lucile Packard, Sobrato Family, and Heising-Simons foundations. Engage R+D examined both cohorts that have completed PropelNext on an organization-by-organization basis to answer the following questions: Improving overall organizational capacity and operations: How effective is PropelNext in stimulating improvements in organizational capacity and operations? Tracking areas of progress: In what areas of organizational functioning is PropelNext most effective in building the capacity of its grantees to serve underserved youth?

We Count LA: Road to Readiness

January 9, 2020

The US Census serves as a fundamental building block for our democracy with direct implications for our state's representation at the federal level as well as the allocation of billions of dollars of federal funding for critical public programs. In response to advocacy efforts highlighting the critical importance of an accurate count, the state of California has made an unprecedented investment of $187 million to support census outreach across the state.This learning memo is part of an evaluation of We Count LA outreach efforts from the California Community Foundation. It is designed to document insights and lessons from early planning efforts on the "road to readiness," as well as lift-up key considerations and gaps as partners pivot from planning to Census implementation. The key themes and takeaways in this learning memo reflect both the early achievements and key issues from the Los Angeles Regional Census Table regional leads as they begin to pivot from the census planning to implementation phase.