Guest Blog

A Funder-Grantee Partnership for Program Evaluation: How a Small Experiment Yielded a Mighty Partnership

By Anna Kernus, Roey Kruvi, and Rachel Halevi on August 15th, 2017

In 2015, Moishe House (MH) began implementing a new pilot program designed to explore a model for engagement. Premised on peer-led retreats, Jewish young adults attend a weekend training called Retreatology: The Art of Jewish Retreat Making. Following their training, they then facilitate their own Jewish learning retreat—grounded in Jewish learning, Jewish values, and personal interests—for a group of their peers. MH provides facilitators with a mentor and a grant for up to $5,000 to create an immersive learning experience to assist in the planning and execution.

MH and the Jim Joseph Foundation, one of MH’s major funders, recognized the program merited a more substantive evaluation than just the standard feedback survey, but MH lacked the capacity to hire an external evaluator. Fortunately, the Foundation also wanted to learn from this program and has a member of its team with previous research experience. Thus, the two organizations embarked on a new experiment: a small-scale program evaluation conducted by a representative of the Foundation on behalf of the grantee.

Building and Maintaining Trust Between Funder and Grantee Partner
The two organizations maintained close and open communication throughout each step of the process, from determining the methodology to drafting the final report. Undoubtedly, MH staff had questions and fears as it related to handing the reins of its evaluation over to an important funding partner. Would it be awkward for interviewees to speak directly with a representative from the Foundation? How would it feel for MH to have its funder collecting feedback, both positive and negative, directly from its participants? Would the funder lens stifle the ability to generate actionable recommendations? What are the funder’s expectations of the findings? Due to the strong preexisting relationship between MH and the Foundation, both parties felt comfortable discussing these questions and hesitations openly and honestly, enabling the partnership to move forward.

The Evaluation Process
The Foundation conducted a review of existing formative assessments including: evaluation surveys (internally conducted via SurveyMonkey) and grant reports. Following the collection of this information, the Foundation drafted an interview protocol, which was reviewed by MH and the Maimonides Fund, the program’s visionary and primary funder. MH provided names and contact information of Peer-Led Retreat facilitators with varying levels of MH engagement. Over the course of two months, the Foundation contacted these facilitators and conducted five phone interviews, along with two additional interviews with retreat participants. Following the interviews, the Foundation analyzed the data and prepared a preliminary report of highlights and insights.

Substantive Learnings
The collaborative process not only provided MH and the Foundation with programmatic feedback, but many of the looming questions and hesitations regarding the process’s impact on the funder-grantee relationship had been easily identified and resolved due to the open communication and mutual respect the organizations shared.  It should be noted that this relationship had developed over eight years of relational grantmaking and this history plays a crucial part in the success of this experiment.  Without a solid foundation of trust, the organizations’ ability and willingness to be bold, yet humble, in facing the harder topics would have been a much greater challenge. Key learnings included:

  • Interviewees were happy to participate and felt comfortable providing honest feedback. Interviewees appreciated the opportunity to speak directly with funders of an organization and program to which they are committed.
  • Hearing directly from the participants helped increase the Foundation’s understanding of and appreciation for this program and the opportunity it presents for MH.
  • The Foundation appreciated the opportunity to speak directly with its grantee’s program participants instead of through the veneer of a grant report.
  • The process strengthened the funder-grantee relationship at different levels of each of the organizations. The strength of this relationship is significant and can have important ramifications for both parties when working together, especially when involving multi-year grants.

Partnering on this evaluation brought about several recommendations for program improvement, as well as questions for MH to consider when adapting and scaling the Peer-Led Retreat program. As a result, MH has spent more time investing in the following projects: financial streamlining, international access to Retreatology trainings, creating a cohort of Peer-Led Retreat mentors, exploring value propositions, and telling the Peer-Led Retreat facilitators’ stories. For those who are interested, we are pleased to share the report here.

Conducting this small-scale program evaluation brought MH and the Foundation into uncharted waters, but ultimately proved to be a beneficial experience for both organizations. When funders and grantees are able to develop open and honest communication, both the relationship and their programs are strengthened by new and shared insights. Following this experiment, both organizations realize the significance of this partnership and are looking forward to exploring other ways to collaborate and combine their respective expertise.

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The Jim Joseph Foundation invests in promising Jewish education grant initiatives. We partner with effective organizations that seek to inspire young people to discover the joy of living vibrant Jewish lives.