Every foundation, ours included, says it cares about using money well. But how do we know?
For our family foundation, the answer begins as all our work does, with guidance from a shared set of values: integrity, respect for all people, belief in individual leadership, capacity to think big and a commitment to effectiveness.
How we have acted on our Commitment to Effectiveness has evolved over the decades to rest today on a focus on learning and adaptation to achieve greater effectiveness—within grantee organizations, the Packard Foundations and our fields.
We don’t claim to have answers about how another organization should best do this work, nor do we think we have landed on the final best way even for the Packard Foundation. But we do know it’s important to us and that we want to continue to learn from our own work and from others.
In that spirit, here are a few things we think we know today from our 50 years of grantmaking:
1. Continuously learn and adapt. A strategy perfectly conceived today may no longer be relevant 5 year from now. So, it’s critical that we’re constantly learning—about what’s working, what’s not working, and our shifting context—and using those insights to inform our decisions and direction. The evaluation of our Preschool for California’s Children grantmaking program illustrates what is it has meant to take such a strategic learning approach.
2. Learn in partnership. Our learning happens through deep listening and close partnership with our grantees, funders, constituents and other stakeholders. This takes place in a variety of venues: grantee and stakeholder convenings, site visits, ongoing dialogue with grantees, thought leaders, and directly soliciting feedback on our performance through our biennial Grantee Perception Report, to name a few.
3. Inform our decisions with multiple inputs. We consider multiple sources of information-site visits, research, trends data in our fields, our grants data, etc-and combine our learning with that of external evaluation results in order to make well-reasoned decisions to help drive our impact.
4. Cultivate curiosity. Prioritizing exploration and experimentation is essential to identifying opportunities to improve our strategies and increase program impact. In order to strengthen our experimentation ‘muscles’, we recently worked with the community centered design firm Context Partners to develop this starter kit for sourcing new ideas.
5. Share learning to amplify impact. We seek out strategic opportunities to share what we are learning, to co-create insights with our partners, and to use these insights to inform and galvanize change in our fields. Sharing learning to amplify impact has been central to our children’s health grantmaking since the work got off the ground in 2000.
We’re pleased to share a new report about what we learned from these experiences intentionally integrating evaluation, strategy and communications in order to contribute to better health outcomes for kids.
While there is no one size fits all template for how we do evaluation, we have a shared spirit and set of 5 principles guiding the work.
We have a lot to be proud of, we have learned a lot, and we have more that we can do to get better. We have evolved and are still evolving.