NPF TIG Week: How foundations can prioritize learning-centered reporting by Harry Daley and Carrie Tanasichuk

Hi there! We are Harry Daley, Director of Community Investment & Learning and Carrie Tanasichuk, Director of Impact Measurement & Evaluation at the Greater Saint John Community Foundation. While we both have worked predominately in the non-profit sector, Harry brings experience as a skilled facilitator and community developer and Carrie brings experience as an evaluator. One recent task was to create a reporting structure for the Foundation centred on learning.

Among non-profits, the word evaluation often comes hand-in-hand with the concept of accountability. Are projects meeting their pre-determined outcomes, and if so to what extent? Is the funder’s money being spent on projects that have the impact advertised in their initial application? As a result of this line of questioning, it is not uncommon for a sense of dread to overcome staff in organizations when funders reach out for their mid-term and final reports. Trust, on both sides of this relationship, can feel non-existent.

As we work to create the Impact Measurement & Evaluation branch at our local Community Foundation, we have focused on creating a culture of curiosity and reflection within our relationships with the organizations we fund. We have re-oriented our reporting process to focus on stories and reflective questions that bring the funded projects and our Foundation to a place of deeper understanding of the successes, challenges, and emergent needs of the community. In the process, it is bridging the divide between our Foundation and the organizations working to create change, amplifying the impact within our community.

Lessons Learned:

  • Although many of the projects we fund dread the thought of outcome accountability centred reporting, shifting to a process focused on learning has often been met with both enthusiasm and apprehension. It seems we’ve been wired to feel the need for something ‘more tangible’; unlearning is an important part of the process!
  • Engaging all levels of staff involved in funded projects has been pivotal in experiencing rich learning. Creating a safe space and facilitating the learning process with intention is a must.
  • Staff at non-profits spend a LOT of time reporting to their various funders. Before asking organizations to report information, funders should ask themselves how they will use the information being asked for.

Rad Resources:

  • Check out the Centre for Public Impact’s blog series called Measurement for Learning. Author John Burgoyne and his colleague Toby Lowe are pioneering this approach
  • Comic Relief has implemented a number of programs and organizational processes focused on learning including their reporting structure found here:
papers and pictures and sticky notes scattered across a table as in a workshop setting

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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