When grantmakers ask the organizations they fund about their evaluation plans, they are typically motivated by a desire to achieve the greatest impact possible through their investment. They often hope to help the organizations they fund to do the same. However, these conversations sometimes veer off track, especially when nonprofits feel pressure to produce evaluation results that align with funders’ preconceived ideas. Evaluation can turn into a tool for accountability and risk management rather than a tool for learning. One way to prevent this dynamic from developing is to make sure that grantmakers and grant recipients talk with one another about why they are interested in evaluating a particular project before they get into discussions of what should be measured and how data collection tools should be used.
This guide explores strategies that grantmakers can use to lay the groundwork for meaningful evaluation by focusing on learning rather than measurement early in the grant application process. We begin by defining what a learning culture or learning organization means and why it is important. Then, we discuss some of the key elements of learning organizations. Lastly, we outline some principles for grantmakers to help guide the development of a learning relationship with future grant recipients.