Measuring What Counts: Meaningful Evaluation for Family Foundations

Family foundations are in business to make a difference. As one family foundation leader put it, creating a family foundation is a “powerful statement about wanting to achieve impact.” Yet family foundations often get painted unfairly as not having impact, perhaps because they aren’t always very good at understanding or describing the impact they have, even to themselves.

This Passages Issue Brief focuses on techniques for family foundations interested in cost-effective assessments of their giving. It begins with a basic introduction to evaluation and trends in the field. Then, drawing on a set of short case studies, it describes practices being used by family foundations to assess their grantmaking. The highlighted practices include both activities that look a lot like formal evaluation, as well as others that are more informal in nature. All show an underlying commitment by a family foundation to being intentional and consistent about considering the impact of its giving.