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Effective Matters: Evaluation + Trust

Date: August 24, 2023

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The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) recently released two reports that delve into how nonprofits are faring right now and how their relationships with funders have shifted since 2020. Both reports address questions of trust and how foundations approach evaluation. Often considered in tension, trust and evaluation have become hot-button issues in philanthropy. In this special edition newsletter, we consider trust and evaluation together, including how they show up in recent research on funder-grantee relationships and viewpoints on whether these two concepts must, indeed, exist in tension.

NEW CEP Research: Insights on Trust and Evaluation

In CEP’s report State of Nonprofits 2023: What Funders Need to Know, one of the aims of the research was to understand the current state of relationships between nonprofits and their funders, both grantmakers and individual donors. The first finding of the report revealed that trust is increasing between funders and grantees — more specifically, “many nonprofit leaders report an increase in trust from funders and are experiencing changed practices, such as streamlined applications and reporting, removal of restrictions, and receipt of multiyear funding from foundations.”

Read the Report

In another recent report, Before and After 2020: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Nonprofit Experiences with Funders, data from CEP’s grantee perception report gathered both before and after 2020 reveals that grantees are now spending less time on application and reporting processes than they were before the pandemic. As one funder who participated in the study put it, “the last thing we wanted them to do was answer onerous report questions that wouldn’t help them achieve their mission or help us as a foundation better support them.”

Read the Report

Resources for Funders: Considering Trust and Evaluation Together

Watch: What Does Evaluation Look Like in a Trust-Basted Context?”
In the fifth session of their “Demystifying TBP” series, the Trust-Based Philanthropy project hosted a webinar explicitly addressing the “misperception that trust-based philanthropy is at odds with rigorous impact evaluation.” The session takes on this misperception and lays out how evaluation practices can be both rigorous and trust-based. Watch it here.

Watch: State of Nonprofits 2023: What Funders Need to Know
Watch CEP’s recent webinar for a deep dive into the findings of CEP’s new research — both reports mentioned above — and a discussion about how these changes were felt from the perspective of both a nonprofit and a foundation leader. Watch it here.

Listen: The Giving Done Right Podcast
Trust and evaluation are frequently recurring themes on the Giving Done Right podcast as hosts Phil Buchanan and Grace Nicolette talk with donors and nonprofit and philanthropy leaders about how to give effectively. However, two episodes in particular touch on trust and evaluation more deeply and consider the role that the two play in tandem as well as how to give, as Giving Pledge signatory Rohini Nilekani puts it, with both the heart and the head:

Perspectives on Trust and Evaluation

Toward a Trust-Based Framework for Learning and Evaluation by Chera Reid and Shaady Salehi via Trust-Based Philanthropy Project

“When learning and evaluation takes on a more expansive view, it invites adaptability, complexity, and long-term thinking about what moving to equitable institutions and systems requires.”

Rigorous Evaluation Versus Trust-Based Learning: Is This a Valid Dichotomy? by Brenda Solorzano via the CEP Blog

“Philanthropy has an evaluation problem. What funders have come to look for and focus on through traditional evaluation is not what will help us improve our giving, or help communities thrive. We don’t have to give up rigor to live into our values.”

Traditional evaluation practices are extractive. Philanthropy can shift power to communities through more equitable evaluation. by Yelizaveta Yanovich via Philanthropy News Digest

“Inclusive and engaging MEL practices help foster more trusting relationships between organizations and communities, which can, in turn, improve programming.”

Updates from CEP and YouthTruth!

YouthTruth, an initiative of CEP, seeks additional funders for its Civic Readiness Project, which will survey secondary students to inform funders and school system leaders as they work to educate civically empowered youth as participants in a healthy democracy.


CEP is on Instagram! Find us at @CEPData and follow along for resources and more of the latest from CEP.

CEP’s annual early sign-up discount is underway! Benefit from a discount of up to $1,000 on an assessment tool (e.g., the Grantee Perception Report, the Staff Perception Report, or Donor Perception Report) or a custom advisory project (like a demographic data collection project). Secure your spot for a CEP engagement in 2024 by reaching out to Joe Lee before Sept. 30.

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