OCF Week: Sonia Worcel on An ongoing effort to learn and support learning at a statewide community foundation

I am Sonia Worcel, Vice President of Strategy and Research at The Oregon Community Foundation (OCF). This week AEA365 features a series of posts from OCF’s research team highlighting lessons learned through several of our ongoing evaluations. Today I start by sharing more generally about our evaluation efforts. At OCF we are committed to documenting the outcomes of our investments and continually improving our programming. The Research Department oversees program evaluation of our programs and initiatives, conducting some program evaluations in-house and contracting with universities and research firms for others.

OCF’s approach to program evaluation is utilization-focused, collaborative and geared toward continual program improvement. The purpose of this work is to promote learning among staff, grantees and partners; to inform strategic decision making, the larger philanthropic field and the fields in which we invest (education, arts and culture, etc.); and ultimately, to maximize positive impact for Oregon.

Hot Tip: Balancing foundation and grantee needs results in more meaningful evaluation efforts. In order to ensure our evaluations are useful, evaluations are designed and conducted collaboratively with Foundation program staff and our grantees. Each evaluation’s research questions reflect what both the Foundation and the grantees want to learn; the evaluation methods and tools are appropriate for the research questions and do not place undue burden upon grantees; and research findings are shared and vetted with grantees, program staff and other partners.

Lesson Learned: We focus program evaluation resources on board priorities, which tend to be programs with large, multi-year investments with a defined group of grantees working toward common goals. As a result, we do not conduct evaluations of all grantmaking programs. This has allowed us to prioritize our efforts and to ensure the evaluation is the “right size” for the program.

When we determine that a program evaluation is appropriate, our research and program departments work collaboratively to create an evaluation design, including identifying key evaluation questions, determining the appropriate evaluation design and deciding whether to conduct the evaluation in-house or through a contractor. Foundation program staff are active participants in the implementation of our evaluations and engage with the research team in interpreting and learning from results.

In addition to working closely with program staff within the Foundation, grantees are key partners in our evaluations. We share data with grantees, provide opportunities for them to interpret findings and give them tools to help them make meaning and use of evaluation data for program planning and improvement.

Rad Resource: Grantmakers for Effective Organizations is a key resource for foundations who want to learn from and improve their work. Check out their Learn For Improvement page for more information.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from OCF team 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@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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