Evaluation and Organizational Learning

How to best evaluate the impact of our work is an enduring dilemma for both foundations and their grantees. After experimenting with a number of approaches to evaluation over the years, I have come to the conclusion that its most important contribution is to help establish a culture of reflective practice and organizational learning so that we can continuously seek to improve our effectiveness.

Developing Centers for Community Health (with Sarah Frankfurth)

September 2007

This piece documents the Futures Group process we used at the Community Clinics Initiative to engage leaders of the field in creative thinking about the future of their organizations. It employed a variety of group processes, including scenario planning, the World Café, and a charrette.

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Setting the Stage for Learning in Groups

November 2007

Too often we arrange meetings without giving careful thought about how best to engage the collective intelligence of those we have brought together. This is a very brief overview of some techniques we have used with great success, along with references for further information on each. An edited version of this piece appeared in the GEO electronic newsletter.

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Organizational Learning from the Inside or Outside

May 2007

Summary notes from a presentation to the GEO Organizational Learning conference in New Orleans in May 2007.

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Graceful Transitions

November 2006

There’s been a good deal of discussion about the emerging generational leadership turnover in nonprofit organizations, but much of the thinking so far has focused on preparing the next generation of leaders. This piece poses the question of what we owe distinguished nonprofit leaders at the end of their careers, and how that should be part of any leadership succession planning by funders. An edited version of this piece appeared in the GEO electronic newsletter.

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Becoming a Learning Organization

April 2006

This is an abbreviated version of a longer piece on this topic that was originally published in the on-line Learning newsletter of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

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Evaluation and Foundations: Can We Have an Honest Conversation?

February 2006

Much has been written about the challenge of assessing outcomes, but all too rarely in my view do the different stakeholders have a chance to sit down together and set realistic expectations for evaluation. This piece was invited for a special issue of The Nonprofit Quarterly focusing on evaluation.

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The Challenge of Assessing Advocacy

October 2005

How can a foundation prospectively assess the impact of its grantmaking in the arena of advocacy and public policy? This piece was commissioned by The California Endowment and was written in collaboration with colleagues from Blueprint R&D.

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Measuring the River: Strategies for Evaluating Neighborhoods Work


Most foundation grants are relatively small in size. What kinds of approaches to evaluation make sense to try to understand the outcomes of small grants? This was an invited address the annual meeting of the Neighborhood Small Grants Network.

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An Approach to Evaluation at The California Wellness Foundation

This piece marked a turning point in evaluation practice at The California Wellness Foundation and established a set of Board-approved principles for future evaluations. It is still featured on the Foundation's website.

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