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Measuring Foundation Performance: Examples from the Field

Kristen Putnam

A small but growing number of philanthropic foundations are exploring ways to evaluate their overall organizational performance. This report discusses which measures are used, how data are collected, and what issues a foundation should consider before engaging in such an undertaking.

Foundations are increasingly engaged in the work of performance evaluation. Many now have one or more full-time professional staff members dedicated to evaluation issues. However, their efforts are largely focused on grants, clusters of grants, initiatives, strategies, and program areas, rather than the performance of the foundation as a whole.

A small but growing number of philanthropies are exploring ways to evaluate their overall organization. To better understand how to approach this type of evaluation, the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) engaged Putnam Community Investment Consulting to conduct a scan of the field to determine which measures are used, how data are collected, and what issues a foundation should consider before engaging in such an undertaking.

This report presents the findings from that scan. The author's work is based upon:

  • Twenty-four individual phone interviews. These included the management and evaluation staff of 15 foundations that were either of interest to CHCF, were known to be conducting foundation-wide evaluation, or were believed to be conducting foundation-wide evaluation; as well as eight experts in foundation evaluation.
  • A literature review of 80 articles, reports, and books on foundation evaluation.
  • An organizational review of the Web sites of 29 organizations and foundations.
  • An Internet search using 15 separate keyword terms related to foundation-wide evaluation.

The scan focused on large, private, regional, and national foundations. Less emphasis was placed on corporate or venture philanthropy funders. Participants included The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and The California Wellness Foundation.

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