How to rethink the relationship between associations and funders: evaluation at the service of the community

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Kresge Head of Strategic Learning and Evaluation Arturo Garcia recently spoke on the webinar, “Changing perspectives: reinventing impact measurement with non-profit organizations”, organized by Results laboratory and Granting agencies for effective organizations (GEO). Co-speaker Makisha boothe, founder of the SistahBiz Global Network, with Garcia and the moderator Cindy eby of ResultsLab, invited participants to reinvent the relationship between nonprofits and funders in the field of evaluation. Including the perspectives of a nonprofit and a funder, the webinar explored how meeting the needs of nonprofits lends itself to greater community impact.

In this blog post, Arturo shares highlights from the webinar on promoting equitable evaluation in a national foundation, as well as additional information about his lived experience and decades of fieldwork in the community and with organizations. non-profit.

To watch the full webinar, check out this video recording of the panel.

The purpose of data collection

For nonprofits, the most important goal of collecting and using data is to benefit communities and individual residents on the ground. Having previously worked as an evaluation consultant in the field with nonprofit organizations, I have observed that community organizers and social justice organizations often have to make an effort to get funders to meet the foundation’s requirements. that made little or no sense to community partners. All organizations collect data – formally or informally – whether it’s observations, journals, interviews, journals, reflections, mistakes we made or things we did well. done. Nonprofits already know that collecting data is important. The real problem is, we can’t collect anything and everything. We have to be strategic.

To be strategic, donors must take a step back and think about the purpose of collecting this data and its benefits for our beneficiaries. We need to ask ourselves: how are we going to use the data and for whose benefit. And we need to make sure that our values ​​and principles are infused into the way we collect and use data.

It is our responsibility as funders to make sure that we really listen to what our beneficiaries and communities need and want – and that we collect data in a way that is completely respectful, honest and responsive. Culture. Sometimes, as funders, we get stuck in our processes and policies, and we don’t take a second to think about how harmful these practices and processes are to the communities we serve. Basic and unintentional data compliance doesn’t help anyone learn about success, possible impact, why strategies worked and didn’t work, and where to improve.

Kresge’s approach to supporting beneficiary data and learning needs

Kresge has incorporated a fair evaluation approach using the Fair Evaluation Framework – which believes that evaluation, learning and data should always be of service and benefit to community and nonprofit organizations to advance equity. This fair assessment approach is in tune with how our Kresge program teams are increasingly leaning towards a trust-based approach to philanthropy. Thus, we all work hard to listen to grantees, understand their needs, and integrate their input into our granting strategies and evaluation design.

Kresge also has a few program teams that are considering more participatory grant models and evaluation approaches. Relationships and building trust are at the heart of them. We always have to start with knowing what the beneficiaries are doing and what they are trying to accomplish in the short and long term. I also think it’s important to understand what our recipient partners value as an organization, even on a personal level.

My colleagues and I from Kresge’s strategic learning, research and evaluation practice work with each program team to help them think through different learning and evaluation approaches that would support grantee learning and beneficiaries. organizational needs. This includes program teams taking into account other supports that grantees need to be successful in their work – general operating funds, training, connecting them with others outside of their network, strengthening relationships. existing systems, technical assistance and more.

An example of this in action is how I work with a Kresge program team and a third-party evaluator to assess a community of practice cohort. While we have worked with the evaluators to design the evaluation approach and questions, we have also endeavored to provide the framework for grantees to seek their input on the approach, evaluation questions and timeline. . Beneficiaries also helped the assessment team decide whether service providers and families should participate in the assessment, as many service providers and families are still struggling with COVID-19 and its consequences.

From all this work, I remember that we need to respect the time of fellows and residents by offering them incentives to participate in assessments – such as offering gift cards, meals or snacks or child care. . This approach aligns with Kresge’s notion of fair assessment and community centering.

Commitment to a fair evaluation linked to the lived experience

My personal commitment to fair assessment stems from my professional and personal experiences. I have a 15 year career in research and evaluation, which luckily started with community-based participatory evaluation and field research with nonprofits, social justice organizations and residents of southern California. I saw firsthand what nonprofits needed to do their job, the importance of their work, and how donor demands were often misaligned with what nonprofits had. really need in terms of data and evaluation.

I also had a momentous moment in my job when I realized that I needed to step back and figure out what clients and communities really needed, in order to be able to best support their work. I found that part of what was needed was a clearer and more streamlined explanation of what evaluation is, what it can and cannot do, and how to use the results of the evaluation. to make adjustments to the programs. Most importantly, I discovered that I needed to help nonprofit partners and communities understand what they really wanted to know from an evaluation and how they wanted to use the data and results. It was important to help partners move beyond traditional methods of knowledge and data collection, and not just stick to quantitative data and surveys.

I also looked at my lived experiences, my philosophical approach and my values. I grew up poor, living in low-resource, disinvested communities in Southern California. I have faced racism and discrimination as a dark-skinned Mexican American. So when I was fieldworking as an evaluator in communities across Southern California, I could see myself, my parents, family, and friends. The work of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian educator, activist and philosopher, along with ideas and practices from liberation theology, participatory action research and community organizing have impacted my commitment to ensuring equity in evaluation.

It is important to remember that evaluation is more than the conventional notion of passing judgment on a client’s programs, strategies, ways of thinking or approaching work. Assessment is really about centering the communities and people served. Planning, implementing and adjusting strategies and carrying out assessments must all be with and at the service of communities. At the end of the day, all people want is to be heard and valued. So how do we make that part of what we do, who we hire to do the important work needed in our communities, and who we hire for our assessments?

Recipient responses to Kresge’s equitable appraisal approach

Recipients of Kresge grants have been calling for more inclusive, fair and responsive assessment processes for some time. They asked us to be more honest with them and to streamline the assessment process. In my experience at Kresge, grantees appreciated the steps Kresge took and the things we are talking about to be better partners and supporters of grantees’ work.

The beneficiaries want us to continue to strive to meet them and the communities where they are located. It’s up to us to keep our feet on the fire, to listen to beneficiaries and the community when we don’t always do things well. We have to accept being uncomfortable because these are often uncomfortable conversations.

Kresge is on this path and growing up. As more program teams use fair and inclusive processes in awarding and reviewing grants, we will hear more from grantees about what we do well and where we need to improve further.

Advice to funders on a fair assessment path

For those funders who are starting to follow this path, I urge you not to be afraid to consider diversity, equity and inclusion in your foundation’s processes, practices and policies. Examine grant funding strategies, evaluation and data collection practices. Focus beneficiaries and communities as you make improvements.

I also encourage foundation leaders to spend time talking to staff, listening to what works and what does not work in terms of processes, policies, protocols and work environment. Most importantly, let’s spend time building and strengthening relationships with our beneficiaries, partners and other stakeholders, seeking to understand their needs and values. Let the journey begin from there.

Finally, the foundations must be open to comments and agree to sit down with the discomfort that may result. Don’t react defensively out of fear. Tension is necessary for change. And we need to connect with other funders on this journey, whether they are at the same stage of the journey or further away. We can all help each other, working together to reinvent the relationship between nonprofits and funders, all for the good of the community.


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