Supporting and working with grantees and partners over the past three years has been enormously gratifying, and we all have learned a great deal about how to maximize impact. The learning is far from over, but some highlights include:
Changing the way we think about evaluation as not the end goal, but as a process to hone goals and inform program decisions. Every foundation faces the question of how to measure the impact of its work, both with regard to the impact of individual grants and the cumulative impact of its grants, programs and initiatives. But the reality is that the world’s most complex, systemic challenges are not easily evaluated. Instead, we should consider building a picture of progress, adding layers over time. Those of us at the Illumination Fund are starting with what grantees are already tracking, and integrating that information into our rubric: access, awareness, collaboration and partnerships, leaders, and knowledge and practice—the fundamentals needed to drive collective change. Programs that are designed with measurement in mind are primed for success.
The importance of strategic communications to organizational success. Investing in internal communications pays dividends in amplifying organizational and program reach. As we all know, funders, policymakers, reporters and other stakeholders are inundated with information and often have limited time to absorb it. Staff are critical spokespeople for every organization because they are engaged, passionate and in many cases the organization’s first or only touch point with stakeholders. At our 2015 Grantee Convening, we practiced giving the “elevator speech” and found it was harder than expected to articulate an organization’s mission and activities, the spokesperson’s role and the “ask” in 30 seconds or fewer. But practice helps!
Foundations can expand their impact by serving as a connective thread for their larger network.
- Convening: Foundations can enable the sharing of best practices by convening grantees. We held an inaugural forum when we launched Healthy Food & Community Change in 2013 and have since convened grantees annually to discuss their work, share successes and challenges and learn new skills from each other.
- Connecting: We facilitate network-building by connecting grantees with each other for research, counsel and collaboration.
- Communications: Through press coverage, digital and social amplification and events, we elevate the visibility of programs and organizations.
- Community building: By participating in philanthropic and food policy networks, we monitor trends, identify opportunities to build collective impact and serve as a resource to other funders and organizations.
- Cross-sector collaboration: Because we often are at the nexus of a variety of organizations, institutions and policymakers, we learn about the valuable work done by many diverse nonprofits and have insight into the priorities of the policy sphere. Where we see synergies, we can draw connections, enable collaboration and help to bring innovative ideas to scale.