As philanthropic funding grows in value and complexity, evaluation keeps pace
At the Aotearoa New Zealand Evaluation Association (ANZEA) conference this month, our associates Rachael Trotman and Kat Dawnier ran a workshop on the changing face of evaluation in philanthropy. Rachael and Kat used the CSI grantmaking dial to reflect on the way evaluation changes as philanthropic investment grows in complexity.
The left of the dial deals with short-term and transactional grantmaking, such as a one-off grant to a community organisation to run an event or buy equipment. The focus for these grants is on monitoring - data is collected at the application stage and through post-grant reporting. The grantmaker can see how their grants align with populations, sectors, or communities of need, and whether their grants are going to priority populations, or are lining up with their strategic outcomes.
Strategic investment in targeted outcomes requires a stronger focus on outcomes reporting, with appropriate support to collect the data and to report on outcomes in ways that meet funder requirements.
Venture philanthropy is characterised by multi-year funding commitments on a large scale, to address more complex issues. The funder will generally build high engagement with a grantee, and may look to support their investment with various kinds of capacity support. Evaluation is focused on understanding impact over time, and on what is being learnt at each stage of an initiative. The larger the amount invested, the higher the interest in understanding risk and impact.
Learning is a key focus for innovation funding. The ‘seed, scale, system’ approach adopted by Foundation North for its G.I.F.T fund, for example, sees a wide range of grants made, from a few thousand dollars, to several hundred thousand dollars. Rapid prototyping and innovation processes tend to require developmental evaluation approaches that walk alongside the initiative, capturing learning and helping to shape it as it goes along.
Impact investing, which seeks to provide both social and financial returns, is an emergent area of funding in New Zealand. Evaluative models are emerging in parallel, requiring organisations to have high evaluation capability/capacity in order to meet their investors’ interests.