Much has been written about how foundations can better understand their impact. But little of the published work deals with the particular characteristics of family foundations. Philanthropic families tend to take a more personal approach to grantmaking. This approach reflects both their passions for causes and organizations, as well as the donor’s intent. Family trustees often have close relationships with—and knowledge of—the work of their grantees. For that reason, many family foundations take a more informal approach in their evaluation efforts.

The use of formal evaluations to measure impact varies widely among family foundations, but a growing number employ some form of assessment strategy. Some family funders find that the evaluation process can be useful for articulating how they want to make a difference and what differences they believe their grantmaking will produce—in other words, what, in their view, is worth measuring.

Unfortunately, formal evaluation can be very expensive. Many family foundations believe they lack the resources to evaluate the work they support. A question for all funders is: how do we assess impact in cost effective ways? If formal evaluation is not the answer, or not the whole answer, what are our alternatives?

This Passages issue paper focuses on techniques for family foundations interested in cost effective assessments of their giving. It begins with a basic introduction to evaluation and trends in the field. Then, drawing on a set of short case studies, it describes practices being used by family foundations to assess their grantmaking.

Read the full article about measuring impact by Anne Mackinnon at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.