As foundations strive to understand their impact, many are pushing to obtain evidence of success from the organizations they support. Nonprofits are facing increasing expectations from their funders to demonstrate progress and effectiveness.
In early 2011, we released a paper based on surveys from over 20,000 grantees responding about their experience with one of over 100 foundations. Almost all grantees – 93 percent – reported they had participated or would be participating in reporting or evaluation processes associated with their grants. The typical grantee reported spending 20 hours on monitoring, reporting, and evaluation, and participated in three reporting or evaluation activities (such as providing outcome data, submitting written reports or forms, or having phone conversations with foundation staff).
Despite the effort put into these activities, our data indicate that grantees do not find evaluation processes with foundations to be particularly valuable. We asked grantees how helpful they perceived the reporting or evaluation processes to be in strengthening their organization or the program funded by the grant. Grantees, on average, rated this question a 4.6 out of 7.0 – the least positively rated measure in our grantee survey. (This feeling is not limited to grantees, however. As discussed in a previous data point post, foundation CEOs also have difficulty assuring evaluation efforts result in meaningful insight.)
The grantees rating these processes as more helpful tend to be those that have 1) a strong relationship with their funder and 2) an opportunity to have a discussion with their funder about the report or evaluation submitted as part of this process. As the figure below indicates, those with weaker relationships with funders and no opportunity to discuss their report or evaluation tend to provide the lowest helpfulness ratings for these processes.
Yet only 51 percent of grantees who participated in a reporting or evaluation process indicate having had a discussion with their funder about their report or evaluation.
Project Streamline found that funders use most of the information they collect from grantees during reporting or evaluation processes to “monitor compliance.” That research also found that grantees “suspect their reports do not receive much attention. They wonder why they are required to provide such detailed and lengthy reports just to prove that they complied with the grant terms.”
For funders and their grantees, the reporting and evaluation processes represent rare opportunities for meaningful learning on both sides. Candid discussions about what is working, and what is not, can help both parties refine and improve their work — and their odds of achieving their goals.
Earlier this year, as part of its Grantee Voice initiative, CEP conducted a survey of nonprofit organizations asking more specifically how they interact with their foundation funders around nonprofit performance measurement and management efforts. We will be publishing those results in a few months.
Foundations wishing to reflect upon their own reporting and evaluation processes in the context of comparative data about what other foundations are doing, can complete the free Grantmaker Assessment Tool on CEP’s website.
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How helpful are the reporting and evaluation processes to grantees? To read CEP research that explores how funders are working to simplify their evaluation practices to strengthen relationships with their grantees, see the report Grantees Report Back. The report also highlights two high performing program officers.
Ellie Buteau is Vice President – Research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy. You can find her on Twitter @EButeau_CEP.