The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s new report Understanding & Sharing What Works explores, from the vantage point of the foundation CEO, how foundations go about assessing their efforts, how they use this knowledge to make decisions, and how they share what they’ve learned in formal and informal ways with a variety of stakeholders. As I considered this report, I found three findings to be of particular interest, and a few key lessons for the field.

Three Observations
  1. Some widespread learning practices aren’t generating useful insight, and some practices that show promise aren’t yet widespread.
  2. Foundation sharing often falls short of intentions.
  3. Funders pay close attention to the lessons of their peers, but they might not be getting (or sharing) the most important information.
Key Takeaways
  1. To generate useful learning, funders should focus on grantee and stakeholder engagement. Evaluation efforts are more useful if we are intentional on the front end about what could be learned, who might care, and what decisions the knowledge could inform.
  2. Less is more: Given the real capacity constraints for learning and evaluation, at Barr we are asking ourselves not just what more we can do, but rather, what we can stop doing to free up our resources and time to learn in ways that are more effective.
  3. Foundations can and should advance public understanding of how to tackle difficult social problems, but this requires getting comfortable talking about our own shortcomings. In the current climate of eroding public trust in institutions, foundations can (and probably should) recalibrate their internal conversations to start from a presumption that knowledge should be shared.

Read the full article about learning better by Yvonne Belanger at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.