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Irvine seeks to promote the effective use of evaluation techniques by nonprofits and other foundations by increasing access to evaluation tools and other resources.

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Online tools and resources


Program Evaluation Guide, the McCormick Foundation (2011)
The McCormick Foundation in Chicago, IL works in five program areas: Our focus areas include journalism, early childhood education, youth civic engagement, assistance for disadvantaged communities, and serving veterans. Their Program Evaluation Guide is designed to provide nonprofit organizations a framework for thinking about evaluation as a relevant and useful program tool. The guide offers a number of useful methods, examples, and worksheets to help organizations make evaluation a part of their strategic development.

A Guide to Actionable Measurement, the Gates Foundation (2010)
A Guide to Actionable Measurement is the result of a year-long organization-wide effort to develop common principles, approaches, and taxonomies to help staff decide how best to allocate time and resources for data collection and analysis. It offers three principles to guide actionable measurement:

  • Measurement should inform specific decisions and/or actions.
  • We do not measure everything, but we do strive to measure what matters most.
  • The data we gather help us learn and adapt our initiatives and strategies.

The guide includes a results matrix, results hierarchy, definitions of related terms, and measurement guidelines intended to shape internal decisions about the depth, breadth, and rigor of measurement across grants and within strategies. It also highlights the best practices we aspire to follow to be good stewards of our resources and not increase the reporting burden of our grantees or distract them from their work.

A Compass in the Woods: Learning Through Grantmaking to Improve Impact (2009)
This research into the state of philanthropic learning finds that foundations over-invest in stand-alone learning activities and publishing “lessons learned” at the end of a program. They under-invest in creating the links that result in true, continuous learning through their grantmaking. This report identifies some of the specific practices that lead to this state of affairs and offers recommendations for fostering a learning agenda in foundations.

Evaluation Kit for Trustees (2009)
A new survey of foundation trustees highlights the importance of improved evaluation techniques in order to meet their needs and increase the effectiveness of the foundations they lead. FSG Social Impact Advisors, with funding from The James Irvine Foundation, interviewed dozens of foundation trustees, CEOs and evaluation experts, with a particular focus on California foundations, to uncover critical issues and important ideas related to evaluation. The resulting Evaluation Kit for Trustees sheds light on what foundation trustees think about evaluation — and provides foundations with tools for engaging their trustees in exploring and informing evaluation strategies.

Making Data Meaningful guides (2009)
An effective report uses a combination of text, tables and graphics to maximize its ability to convey information. These guides provide advice on how to use text, tables, charts, maps and other tools to bring statistics to life for non-statisticians. They contain suggestions, guidelines and examples — but not strict rules or rigid templates. Making Data Meaningful Part 1: A guide to writing stories about numbers focuses on effective writing techniques. Making Data Meaningful Part 2: A guide to presenting statistics helps writers find the best way to get their message across to non-specialists using a range of communication tools.

From Insight to Action: New Directions in Foundation Evaluation (2007)
There is growing interest in using evaluation as part of a feedback loop to adjust and correct program design in the middle of an ongoing program or initiative. This report by FSG Social Impact Advisors draws on discussions among members of the Evaluation Roundtable to highlight the ways that evaluation work is moving beyond the traditional goals of measuring results and impact. The report also presents several brief case studies of evaluation practices at some innovative foundations.

Evaluation As A Pathway to Learning: Current Topics in Evaluation for Grantmakers (2005)
This report, sponsored by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, identifies ways that evaluation is increasing foundation and grantee effectiveness by providing timely information and actionable insights. The trends are based on nearly 100 interviews with foundation leaders and evaluators. Examples and case studies help to provide clear guidance for grantmakers looking to incorporate evaluation into the work of their foundation.

A Funder's Guide to Evaluation: Leveraging Evaluation to Improve Nonprofit Effectiveness (2005)
Traditionally, funders expect evaluation to show that resources are being used wisely. But evaluation can be a much more powerful tool — for both funders and nonprofits. Written by Peter York of the TCC Group, this funder's guide, co-published by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Fieldstone Alliance, promotes the concept of using evaluation as an organizational capacity-building tool. It includes examples and suggestions of ways grantmakers can partner with grantees for evaluation learning.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook/Logic Model Development Guide CD (2005)
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Toolkit is designed to provide grantees with guidance as they undertake evaluations. It is targeted primarily at those grantees who will be working with an external evaluator, but anyone who is seeking to design an effective, useful evaluation can benefit from this material. This toolkit includes Kellogg’s Evaluation Handbook, which contains a framework for thinking about evaluation as a relevant and useful program tool. It also has a Logic Model Development Guide that provides practical assistance to nonprofits engaging in logic modeling. Both of these products are written primarily for project directors who have direct responsibility for the ongoing evaluation projects and are available through the Kellogg Foundations website.

Marketing Your Knowledge: A Report of Philanthropy's R&D Organizations (2003)
Philanthropic organizations struggle to get their knowledge used because they rely on the traditional "dissemination" model: creating knowledge, identifying potential recipients and sending it to them. This report, written by the Williams Group, proposes a "knowledge marketing" approach and identifies 10 effective practices. Knowledge marketers focus on knowledge demand rather than supply, seek informed action rather than information access, and employ a long-term, ongoing process rather than one-time products.
Download (PDF, 109 KB)

Shall We Dance: Program Evaluation Meets Organizational Development in the Nonprofit Sector (2002)
First published in OD Practitioner, The Journal of the Organizational Development Network, this article provides guidance about how to integrate tenets of organizational development into foundation evaluation work. This approach is viewed as an important process for creating dynamic and self-renewing organizations.
Download (PDF, 113 KB)

When and How to Use External Evaluators (2002)
External evaluators are increasingly being used to help foundation staff set program goals, identify lessons, make midcourse adjustments and measure program effectiveness. Success, however, relies in part upon how well framed the consulting engagement is, and whether the consultant is a good match for the project. These materials should serve as a resource to program officers who may be new to evaluation to inform decisions about their allocation of resources and the use of external consultants for program evaluations. Includes a glossary of evaluation terminology.
Download (PDF, 462 KB)

Professional organizations

Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) is a coalition of 1,200 grantmakers from 300 foundations committed to building strong and effective nonprofit organizations. GEO's mission is to maximize philanthropy's impact by advancing the effectiveness of grantmakers and their grantees. The organization does this by commissioning and contributing to research, developing programs and products, and building a community of practice that expands the resources available on nonprofit effectiveness. The GEO website contains a host of resources and links for grantmakers.

The American Evaluation Association (AEA) is an international professional association of evaluators devoted to the application and exploration of program evaluation, personnel evaluation, technology and many other forms of evaluation. The AEA defines evaluation as a process that involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products and organizations to improve their effectiveness. Their website contains numerous resources and information about the organization, membership, trainings, publications and their annual meeting.

Online tools and resources

The Harvard Family Research Project produces a quarterly evaluation periodical, The Evaluation Exchange. Articles are written by the most prominent evaluators in the field and address current issues facing program evaluators of all levels. The Evaluation Exchange highlights innovative methods and approaches to evaluation, emerging trends in evaluation practice, and practical applications of evaluation theory. It is sent to subscribers free of charge four times per year.

Innovation Network ((InnoNet) provides program planning and evaluation consulting, workshop-based training and online tools to nonprofits and funders. InnoNet's philosophy is that ongoing program evaluation is the most powerful and underused tool for enhancing the ability of nonprofits to create lasting change in their communities.

Online Evaluation Resource Library (OERL) was developed for professionals seeking to design, conduct, document or review project evaluations. OERL provides a large collection of plans, reports and instruments from past and current project evaluations; guidelines for how to improve evaluation design and practice; and a discussion forum for stimulating ongoing dialogue in the evaluation community.

Outcome Measurement Resource Network is a program of the United Way of America. The Resource Network is an online resource library that offers information, downloadable documents and links to resources related to the identification and measurement of program- and community-level outcomes.

Note: This list of evaluation resources is intended for informational purposes only. Inclusion does not constitute endorsement by The James Irvine Foundation.

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