Evaluation is integral to the Jim Joseph Foundation’s philanthropy. As part of the Foundation’s initial strategic planning process in 2006, the Board determined that evaluation would be fundamental to the Foundation’s philanthropy.
Among the potential benefits Directors believe quality evaluation brings to the Foundation’s grantmaking are the following:
- Responsible stewardship of grants awarded
- Information and data which help the Foundation understand the extent to which grantees are successful in achieving desirable project outcomes
- Foundation learning—as both a management tool and as a means for assessing if the Foundation’s strategic grantmaking priorities enable grantees to realize their mission and goals in ways that advance the Jim Joseph Foundation mission
- Documentation of successful programs (and organizations) that brings other funders “to the table” for capacity building, scaling and related organizational sustainability funding
- Material for communication of lessons learned.
The Jim Joseph Foundation focus on the effectiveness of its grantees is primarily an evaluation—and not a research—question. The Foundation typically seeks to contract with third party evaluators for major, multi-year grant awards. These evaluators use selective research methodologies to document, describe, measure, interpret, and analyze how well a particular “intervention” (or set of initiatives) succeeds.
The process by which any individual evaluation design is developed and its implementation carried out is highly interactive. Personnel from the evaluation team, the grantee, and the Jim Joseph Foundation continuously engage one another. The Jim Joseph Foundation’s clearly stated intention is to use the evaluative process both for purposes of engendering mutual understanding (between the grantee and Foundation) as to what is working best in a particular grant and to ensure that objective information is shared throughout the grant award period to assist the grantee in striving for maximum performance.
Most often for Jim Joseph Foundation funded grants, an early and important step in the evaluation design process is an evaluator-facilitated session(s) with the grantee and key Jim Joseph Foundation professionals to develop a logic model. While we recognize that logic modeling has potential limitations in its use, the Jim Joseph Foundation consistently finds the development of a project logic model is an effective relational and instrumental tool.
In tandem with its evaluation of individual grants, the Foundation works closely with grantees to monitor grant awards. Foundation professionals monitor grantees’ organizational, programmatic and financial progress towards achieving their grant objectives. Foundation professionals focus on the implementation of grant-funded programs and activities, tracking such information as enrollment, the beneficiaries of grant funding, quality of educational experiences, number of educators trained and placed, and organizational capacity benchmarks, including fundraising and budget. Monitoring activities generally concentrate on three important questions:
- Are grant funds expended for the purposes of intended use?
- At what rate are funds expended relative to the timeline targeted for their use?
- What variances in anticipated expenditures are occurring and are they justifiable?
Ultimately, the approach of independent evaluators working hand-in-hand with Foundation grantees and professionals is meant to ensure the utility of the effort (and expense) associated with quality evaluation.
After more than ten years of grantmaking, the Foundation’s scope of activity is such that it now is working towards asking identical evaluation questions across grants that have related goals, objectives, and desired outcomes; and/or conducting evaluations of sets of grants that have shared purposes and significant targeted grant outcomes. The Foundation views this effort to be field building in nature, and it hopes to advance both the collective and use of evaluation information and data that will result in measurable improvement in the Jewish education enterprise.