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NPF Week: Helen Davis Picher on Program Plans

My name is Helen Davis Picher, and I am the Director of Evaluation and Planning at the William Penn Foundation. The William Penn Foundation is a regional foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that foster rich cultural expression, strengthen children’s futures, and deepen connections to nature and community.

We consider ourselves a “strategic” grantmaker meaning we have identified several areas in which we seek to achieve targeted changes using specific strategies or tactics (e.g., advocacy, demonstration projects).

Research shows though that while many foundations perceive themselves as strategic, they struggle to articulate, operationalize, and track strategy (Center for Effective Philanthropy, 2007).  In order to walk-the-walk and not just talk-the-talk, we developed a suite of tools that help us talk about our strategy and track progress toward our strategic goals.

Hot Tip: Program plans align specific funding strategies or tactics to achieve our program objectives and to target the grantees who are doing the work, the resources dedicated to the work, and the short-term and long-term outcomes.  Below is a short definition for each component.

  1. Strategy: Tactics or activities we use to achieve targeted change – the “how.”
  2. Grants: By lining up our grantees’ activities to the program objectives and strategies they support, we can clearly see the body of work around a particular strategy and more easily gauge whether a prospective grant is really working toward our outcome goals.
  3. Resources: This allows us to keep track of how much resources are devoted in a given year to the tasks at hand.  This simplistic form of tracking elevates a mismatch between resource level and target goal, ensuring that staff continually monitor whether work is adequately resourced for success.
  4. Short-term Outcomes: One-year changes or benchmarks toward longer-term outcomes are set and tracked.
  5. Long-term Outcomes: Longer-term outcomes mark the target accomplishments of several grants working in tandem and allow a realistic look at what we aim to achieve with our funding over the next several years.
  6. Report Card: Foundation staff report on their one-year outcomes at the end of each year.  This helps to ensure that progress is made toward reaching longer-term goals. It also ensures that new targets can be set if mid-course corrections are needed because external circumstances change, invalidating the original goals.

Hot Tip: The value of the program plan lies in both the product and the process.  Evaluation staff work with program officers to reach common understanding. Throughout the process, there is a push to clarify objectives and define success through short and long-term outcomes that are specific and measurable.

Rad Resource: Microsoft Visio makes the creation and update of a program plan easy.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating evaluation in Not For Profits & Foundations (NPF) week with our colleagues in the NPF Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 will come from our NPF members and you may wish to consider subscribing to our weekly headlines and resources list where we’ll be highlighting NPF resources.

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