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Learning and Evaluation

By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

3 out of 4

Grantmakers (76%) say they evaluate their work.

Evaluation gives us an opportunity to take stock of what’s working. But when we adopt a learning mindset focused on continuously improving, we can use evaluation for more than just an accountability measure. Instead, we can focus on what we can learn from the data, push ourselves to experiment and deliberately look at failures as opportunities to grow.

Learning can happen in any number of ways, but what’s important to remember is that our evaluation work is only successful if nonprofits are able to learn from it as well. We should therefore only ask for evaluation data we’re going to use and strive to have evaluations be as useful to nonprofits for their own decision-making as it is for us. This requires us to share the power of evaluation, and look to nonprofits and communities to help define success, determine what data to measure and say what data means. That’s why it’s important that we work to build nonprofit evaluative capacity. By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

“We want to create a place where people at all levels of the organization have opportunities to reflect with others about their work and to apply what they’re learning so they can do a better job.”

Amanuel Melles, former director of programs and capacity building, United Way Toronto

Helpful Tools and Resources

Stay informed of the emerging trends and promising practices from the field of philanthropy through GEO’s publications and research.

  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Idea and Start-Up Funding and Community Land Trusts

    Greetings from Central Texas. I am collecting data on best practices for start-up or even idea-stage organizational funding: Do any of you operate in this space or can you share best practices? Even pointing me in the right direction is greatly appreciated. Lastly, is anyone working/supporting community land trusts as it relates to affordable housing? Again, I am seeking best practices, tips - what to look out for, and be aware of. Thanks in advance. Rebecca Rodriguez

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • December 2023
  • Perspective

    Crosspost: Lessons learned: Using demographic data to move from intention to action

    At a recent webinar hosted by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Jennifer Chheang of The California Endowment (TCE) and Allie VanHeast of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KCF) shared how they are using Demographics via Candid in practice to better understand alignment with institutional goals and measure their progress.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • November 2023
  • GEOList Members Only

    GEOList Summary: Use of sentinel indicators

    Hi all, We’re looking to create a set of sentinel indicators at the portfolio level for some of our thematic areas. We’re understanding sentinel indicators to be indicators that are closely related to the TOC critical assumptions and track whether expected changes are happening. They are intended to identify areas that could benefit from further investigation. Is anyone else using sentinel indicators or something similar and would be willing to share more about their experience and the indicators they are using? Would really appreciate it! Best, Chhavi

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • November 2023
  • Perspective

    A Funder’s Demographic Data Journey

    GEO and Candid are partnering to bring you this conversation with two grantmakers working with Candid to get baseline demographic data and using it to measure progress.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • October 2023
  • Perspective

    Crosspost: Centering lived experience: Unlocking the preconditions for equity-rooted evaluation

    Kresge Strategic Learning and Evaluation Officer Arturo Garcia moderated a session at the 2023 Learning Conference of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), exploring the preconditions for centering equity in evaluation.

    • Grantmakers for Effective Organizations
    • September 2023

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    Save the Date for GEO's 2024 National Conference held in partnership with Philanthropy California from May 20 - 22, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

    • May 2024
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    2025 Learning Conference

    Save the Date for GEO's 2025 Learning Conference, hosted in partnership with North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, from May 5 - 6, 2025 in Charlotte, NC.

    • May 2025

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Perspectives on Philanthropy

Interesting thoughts and ideas circulating in the GEO community.

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    Bruner Foundation

    Effectiveness Initiatives

    To quote author Gail Berkowitz, this web portal "is a helpful one stop site for resources for funders and their partners on evaluation capacity building and evaluative thinking."

  • A strategic approach to evaluation requires a clear vision for evaluation; a culture that fosters individual, group, and organizational learning; a compelling and cogent strategy; coordinated evaluation and learning activities; and a supportive environment.

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    Innovation Network

    State of Evaluation 2016

    State of Evaluation 2016 contains exciting updates, three special topics (evaluation storage systems and software, big data, and pay for performance), and illuminating findings for everyone who works with nonprofit organizations.

Related Topics


No matter the outcome we are working toward, our institutions and systems were built to advantage some but not all — and data shows that inequities persist to this day. These inequities become more apparent when we take race into account.

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Capacity Building

Grantmakers who put the work in to provide effective capacity-building support help ensure that nonprofits have what they need to deliver on their missions over the long term.

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Learning and Evaluation

By shifting our understanding of evaluation so that it’s focused squarely on improvement and engaging grantees and other partners, we can learn in ways that yield rewards for everyone involved.

Learn More
Nichole Hoeflich


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