A Learning Journey

This year, the team at the McCune Charitable Foundation set off on a journey with a cohort of grantee partners and an external evaluator to explore what meaningful, equitable, and actionable learning and evaluation could look like.  This journey was inspired by both internal self-reflection on the Foundation’s grant-making practices and conversations with grantee partners and others who are curious and innovating in the evaluation and learning space. Certain observations have come to light for the team regarding how evaluation has been traditionally framed in the non-profit sector.

In the business-as-usual framework:

  • The funder defines what success looks like.
  • Grantees and their strategies get evaluated, but not the funder.
  • The funder and/or non-profit organization is the primary user of reports, learning, and evaluation.

 We wonder:

  • What would it look like for philanthropy to partner with the communities it serves to define success?
  • What would it look like for there to be co-accountability between funders and the organization’s they fund?
  • How can evaluation and learning be both shared and reciprocal, to the benefit of the communities served?
  • How would intentionally focusing on the above questions and adjusting our practices contribute to a more equitable sector?

 To start a conversation about this with grantee partners, the McCune team sent out an invitation to current grant recipients to form an Evaluation Advisory Stakeholder Committee in March of 2021.  The committee was fully formed by May of 2021, consisting of a diverse group of 25 individuals representing 25 different organizations, 60% of which identify as BIPOC-led and 32% of which are in rural or tribal communities.  Through both anonymous surveys and virtual discussion groups over the summer, this committee generously gave their time and wisdom. Here are some of the insights they shared that McCune team members are incorporating into their work as they move into the next phase of their journey.

  •  Reporting is an opportunity to share stories, with the Foundation and with other recipients of Foundation grants, and with broader communities.  Storytelling provides the opportunity for shared learning and enhanced connections across organizations.
  •  Data Sovereignty must be considered throughout the entire process, including reflecting on who owns data, for what purposes they are collected, and why and with whom they are shared. Organizations and communities should make these decisions together.
  • Increasing transparency is an opportunity for the Foundation to share learning.  Accountability emphasizes transparent and consistent communication and follow-through with recipients of grants.
  • The Foundation has the opportunity to support connections and strategic partnerships between recipients of its grants. Doing so could help build capacity directly, leverage resources, and broaden impact.

To best define and assess impact, the opportunity (and complexity) lies within the idea that there doesn’t need to be a single definition of impact across the Foundation’s broad mission and diverse priority areas.  Recipients of its grants should use their experiences and learning across organizations to share their understanding of impact.

The McCune team is grateful to the 2021 Evaluation Stakeholder Advisory Committee participants for sharing their expertise and co-creating the first steps of our journey of discovery together. In 2022 and beyond, we look forward to trying out new reporting options and opportunities for shared learning that apply the above insights as we continue on this path of co-creation with our partners.