We all went to spend our money on strategies and interventions that actually work. Technology has made it easier than ever to gather and evaluate evidence, so how can you incorporate that into your grantmaking?
The first step is to identify your evidence base. This starts by comprehensively knowing your target population and the problem you’re trying to solve. As you look through the literature on evidence based practices, narrow your scope to practices that work in communities/circumstances that are similar to yours.
In some cases, building an evidence base will mean pulling together information from different sources. For instance, if you fund affordable housing projects, you’ll want to look at census data indicating the demographic profile of your community, household types and available housing stock. Also, look at forecasts for the future.
Regardless of your sector, there are a lot of great resources. Remember to check government studies, university libraries, and data that has already been assembled by large foundations that are working towards similar goals.
Note that it is more appropriate for us, the grantmakers to do identify an evidence base rather than asking our not-for-profit grantees to do it. It’s simply much more efficient for grantmakers to invest their time in finding the best practices and then share that information with the entire community (grantees, previous applicants, other community organisations, etc.).
It sounds obvious, but the practices that work are the activities you want to fund. These practices should be reflected in:
Everyone talks about the importance of evaluation. However, not-for-profits often view evaluation as a coded way of asking, “Was our money justified?” By definition, this kind of evaluation reinforces the status quo. If we want to up our impact we need to take more risks and design (and communicate) our evaluation framework as not an attempt to justify, but an attempt to learn.
An excellent learning opportunity is presented evidence based practices don’t produce the outcomes we expect. This is a time to dig deeper and see what we can learn. Ask questions like:
Once you’ve answered those questions, there are two important, final steps. First you need to incorporate those learnings into your next grant round. Second, you need to share that information. Sharing means our learnings become part of the evidence base, allowing all of us to build on each other’s lessons. If you would like assistance integrating evidence based practices, please contact me at email@example.com or 0447 227 598.
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Kate Caldecott worked with me on Australia Post’s Our Neighbourhood Community Grants program. She assisted with the grant process design and SmartyGrants grant management implementation.
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