Should Foundations Measure ROI on Philanthropic Investment?

Over the years, m/Oppenheim has managed a variety of executive searches for foundations and other organizations where assessment and evaluation has been key, and we’re conducting such a search for the Helios Education Foundation at the moment. Throughout this process we have heard a broad range of positive and negative views on program evaluation from program leaders, grantees, think-tanks, board leaders and nonprofit professionals.

So the question is: is measurement and evaluation good or bad?

Measurement is good because it tells you what is effective. Measurement is bad because it absorbs resources that could be used to deliver programs. The real question is not whether measurement is good or bad – the real question is whether measurement can give you actionable data at low cost.

If you are debating whether to measure, or whether to require a grantee to provide data on effectiveness, you might want to consider three questions:

  • What are the three things you will do differently based on availability of new measurement data? If measurements won’t change your actions, then why measure?
  • Do you know what to do or change without investing in data collection and analysis? Or can you reach that decision is a quick, inexpensive way?
  • Do you care enough about the answer to separately fund the measurement effort yourself?

In the end, it’s all about whether measurement is the best use of limited resources to advance your mission. It’s not about measurement, it’s about what new data might cause you to do.

What do you think?

To learn more about the nonprofit organizations mentioned, please follow the links below to:

Art, Media and Culture, Education, Environment & Conservation, Finance & Operations, Institutes and Associations, Justice, Health & Human Services, Management, Programs & Policy