For grantmakers looking to ground themselves in their community, starting the relationship with too much emphasis on evaluation and measurement can result in a missed opportunity to really learn what matters to potential grantees and the people they serve.

For nonprofits, losing sight of their own learning goals can lead to less effective programs and unkept promises.

None of this is to say that evaluation and evaluative questions are unimportant in a philanthropic relationship — indeed, they are critical. However, the key is to make sure you’re asking about evaluation at the right point in the process.

Putting learning first can shift the power.
A blog post published by the Center for Effective Philanthropy in 2015 and written by the Colorado Trust’s Nancy Baughman Csuti speaks to the traditional ways in which many grantmakers approach evaluation and highlights some of the missed opportunities to better understand grantees:

“Not once, however, do I remember asking grantees what kinds of information they collect to understand their performance. We didn’t ask what data were important to them for their own decision-making. Never did we ask them about their capacity to collect data meaningful to them. Rather, we usually approached grantees with our questions and provided resources to collect data for our answers.”

To be sure, many grantmakers are thoughtful about how they interact with their community and the questions they ask. Many have done the work to reflect on what they want to learn in a way that informs their decision-making.1 In addition, many grantmakers use helpful practices to make their thinking visible — for example, by making it easier for applicants to see how their work might align, or simply making time to chat with a prospective applicant.

Read the full article about grantmaker relationships by Ben Liadsky and Andrew Taylor at Johnson Center.