Gazing inward as we align with our values

Benchmarking foundation learning and evaluation practices in 2023 and beyond

By Dr. Albertina Lopez

The Center for Evaluation Innovation (CEI) is shifting how we approach our benchmarking research on learning and evaluation in philanthropy so that it can better support the sector’s efforts to advance racial equity and justice. 

Since 2009*, benchmarking research of learning and evaluation practices in philanthropy has been tracking trends in how foundations structure, staff, resource, and prioritize the work of their learning and evaluation functions.  

This year, we’ve made three key changes in our approach toward one aim: uncovering findings that will help our field better understand how learning and evaluation practices can be used to advance racial equity and social justice. 

  1. Our 2023 benchmarking survey, which we will again send to foundation learning and evaluation leaders across the U.S. and Canada, will include new, more targeted questions to help us understand what the norms are—and have been—in our work, as well as what we might do to nurture better practice. Our working research questions are: 
    • What is the current landscape of foundation learning and evaluation practice? How has that changed or stayed the same over time? 
    • What are signals that foundation’s learning and evaluation practices are moving in service to racial equity and social justice? 
    • How can foundations move closer to fostering learning and evaluation work that serves racial equity and social justice?
  2. We are bookending this year’s survey findings with insights from qualitative research to paint a clearer picture of the current landscape of foundation learning and evaluation practices, and to understand how our work can better be in service to racial equity and social justice.  
    • We have already conducted listening sessions with three groups of philanthropy staff and consultants to help us refresh our research design. We will be releasing insights from these listening sessions in the coming weeks—stay tuned! 
    • This fall and winter, we will conduct deep-dive interviews with individuals and groups of philanthropy leadership and staff to contextualize and make meaning of the survey data and identify actionable recommendations. 
  3. Lastly, once our research is complete, we will make the findings accessible and actionable to all staff influenced by a foundation’s approach to learning and evaluation, empowering folks to examine whether and how their foundation’s approach is advancing racial equity and social justice.  
    • We will share and discuss tailored findings with foundation staff up and down the organizational hierarchy and across its functions.  
    • We also intend to experiment with an interactive report housed on our website to fill the needs people have to break out data like evaluation budgets and staff size by the size or issue area of their foundation. 

These shifts have come about in response to our own internal reflections about how to make racial equity and social justice a cornerstone of our work. In 2019, we at CEI reflected internally, contemplating our values and purpose alongside the needs of the philanthropic sector. As a result, we refreshed our mission—to partner with philanthropy in providing changemakers the space and resources needed to advance racial justice and create an equitable future—because we believe philanthropy has a higher purpose in the call for a transition to a just, multiracial democracy.  

We know that benchmarking is critical for foundations internally and for philanthropy as a whole. It allows us to learn from the work of others, inspires important conversations, and brings forth change. We hope our upcoming engagements and reports will do just that. 

Keep a look out for the survey in your inbox this month!

Read part two of this series: What should we benchmark about learning and evaluation work in philanthropy?

*See our past research here: 2009*, 2012*, 2015, and 2019. Benchmarking research in 2009 was conducted by Patrizi and Associates. In 2012, it was a collaboration between Patrizi and Associates and CEI. 

Explore the 2023 Benchmarking Report