Evaluating the impact of your grants

Grants evaluation is not just about increasing efficiency. It's also about gaining the knowledge needed to improve the work being done. There are many possible approaches to evaluation. Grantmakers need to find the right approach for them and then use it in the right way.

What do I need to know?

Conducting a meaningful evaluation requires the right attitude as well as the right tools. You must be willing not only to carry out an evaluation but also to learn from its conclusions and take action.

Grantmakers should not be looking to evaluation for proof that their contribution is making a difference, but rather using it as a tool for learning. Evaluation can shed light on the range of factors that might influence a project's success or failure.

Where grantmakers see themselves as stewards of other people's money, having a responsibility to do the best they can with it, evaluation provides an avenue for ensuring that that is happening.

How should I resource it?

The right attitude must also be accompanied by the right resources. 

It is a good idea to build the resources necessary for an evaluation into a grant. Grantmakers should be mindful of the staff time required for evaluations, and the administrative burden they can place on staff.

What about data?

Data collection and record keeping are vital to a quality evaluation. The details needed should be available from information about grant recipients, program aims, timelines and targets.

Where do I start?

Most experienced grantmakers agree that a quality evaluation starts with program design. The original aims of the grant or granting program, the metrics that will be used to measure success and the data required should be well defined from the beginning. For longer-term projects it is also important to consider the milestones reached along the way.

The tools used to interpret and gather information will depend on the particular circumstances.

There are academic institutions, individuals and other grantmakers who can provide advice.

Not achieving outcomes should not necessarily be seen as a failure - it can be as much of a learning opportunity as achieving the outcomes would have provided.

Continuous evaluation is useful for projects where results are not expected to be seen for a lengthy period of time. Evaluations can be carried out in stages, involving periodic meetings with and updates from the grant recipient. Strategies and directions are assessed and modifications can then be made if necessary.

Tips for successful evaluations (from David Carrington).

  • Invest in organisations who value evaluation and can see they will benefit from it.
  • Establish early in the piece what information is needed, and what can be provided.
  • Ensure that information-gathering and reporting requirements are proportionate to the scale of funding and resources provided.
  • When combining your efforts with other funders, be sure to combine your information gathering and outcomes measurement resources as well.
  • Invest in information and training both for your own organisation and for your grant recipients - emphasise the mutual benefit of getting it right.
  • Give priority to helping grant recipients to make sense of their own experience and learning.
  • Look for a few key indicators rather than over-complicating the task.

Sharing the knowledge

Getting the most out of an evaluation means taking the lessons you've learned and sharing them both within your organisation and with grantmakers from other organisations. 

There is a wealth of useful information available online: