Last year, one of my clients, a family foundation, realized that one of the biggest barriers to further improving their grantmaking process was their lack of a formal system for evaluating the effectiveness of the foundation as a whole.

Until recently, the foundation primarily served as a vehicle for one entrepreneur to support causes he cared about. When he left a major gift to the foundation upon his death, his family decided that one of the best ways to honor his legacy was to focus on creating lasting change. But they didn’t know where to begin evaluating the effectiveness of their efforts to do so.

Their initial instinct was to treat the effort as a research project, which would be aligned with the foundation’s work but set apart from day-to-day operations and grantmaking. But that approach would have taken energy and attention away from supporting their grantees and prevented them from having the opportunity to learn by doing.

Instead, we worked together to design some simple mechanisms for the foundation to gather input from their grantees and reflect on their effectiveness in a meaningful way. Here are some of the highlights of the framework we’re building to make small but continuous improvements across every level of the organization.

Step One: Put it on the calendar

If continuous improvement is a priority for your organization, then you need to make time for it. I recommend that foundations set aside time once a month, or at least once per quarter, to reflect on the effectiveness of specific grantees, their grantmaking program as a whole, and their internal processes.

Step Two: Gather and reflect on the information you already have

Foundations have a bad habit of asking grantees for the same information multiple times and in multiple formats. And — to add insult to injury — they often do nothing with that information! It’s a chronic problem across all of philanthropy.

Step Three: Dive in deep and ask the hard questions

Often, the things that hold philanthropists back from being as effective as they can be are things they have a hard time seeing. These barriers may be things that are painful to admit, such as skills gaps or knowledge gaps among staff. Or, there could be issues related to toxic power dynamics between funders and grantees, damaged relationships with community stakeholders, or interpersonal conflict between staff members inside the foundation.

Read the full article about continuous improvement by Danielle M. Allen at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.