GEO Webinar Series: Using Data to Grow Impact

More and more grantmakers are pursuing a variety of innovative approaches to increase the reach and impact of their funding strategies, some that involve organizational growth and others that do not. GEO’s newest publication, Pathways to Grow Impact — based on a collaborative project between GEO, Ashoka, Social Impact Exchange, Taproot Foundation and TCC Group — confirmed that a certain set of smarter grantmakingpractices are crucial to supporting nonprofits in their efforts to create more value for their communities. This makes sense because nonprofit effectiveness is also critical for strengthening organizational capacity and enhancing performance, especially in a climate where everyone is trying to do more with less.

Last month, GEO’s Scaling What Works initiative kicked off the first webinar in a three-part series to take a deeper dive into the role grantmakers can play in supporting high-performing nonprofits to increase their impact, based on some of the key grantmaker practices identified in Pathways to Grow Impact. While the full publication focuses on the variety of different strategies nonprofits are using to further their missions and how funders are supporting them in these efforts, the first webinar in the series explored a theme that cuts across all pathways: supporting grantees to collect and use data to continuously learn, grow, and concentrate resources where they will have the greatest effect. Panelists Pete York of TCC Group and Rebecca Donhamof the MetroWest Health Foundation highlighted the importance of using data to learn and improve, and how funders can help grantees do this well.

Pete kicked off the conversation by sharing findings from TCC Group’s Core Capacity Assessment Tool around the capacities that are statistically significant predictors of whether a nonprofit is able to grow their organizational budget in challenging economic times. Two of these capacities are closely related to the smart collection and interpretation of information:

  • Research and design: Collecting data from clients and communities served and using this data to tweak program design to better deliver services (translation: persistently learning precisely how it works).
  • Program reliability: Codifying the model and then monitoring and managing performance.

As Pete shared, “Just talking about what you know about your program, what you know about what works, what proof do you have and how you are managing to that performance – even those conversations can go a long way.”

Rebecca talked about her foundation’s evolution in providing evaluative capacity support to their grantees – shifting from one-off opportunities to developing a four-month long Evaluation Institute, which enables participants to design their own organization-specific evaluations.

Rebecca shared how MetroWest Health Foundation is becoming more attuned to the individual evaluative needs of grantees, essentially building the capacities that Pete explored in his research. The foundation worked with one grantee to develop simple data collection tools and identify metrics that were linked to desired outcomes, thus empowering staff to learn which activities were successful and redesign the program to offer more of what worked. This fine-tuning led to new partners for the organization because of their expertise in using client data to improve program delivery.

Rebecca also noted the importance of modeling learning strategies, sharing that: “We as a foundation are very committed to learning, improvement, using data. We use our strategic plan and we’re constantly doing check-ins and figuring out what works on our end. I think it’s good to be a model in that area — constantly improving our work.”

Resources and Future Webinars:

To access a recording and slides from the webinar, as well as a list of additional resources from our partners, please visit our websiteThe next webinar in our series is scheduled for April 23, and will feature a conversation with David Colby from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Becky Kanis, representing the 100,000 Homes Campaign, to look at how grantmakers and nonprofits are helping to spread ideas as a means to grow impact. On May 21, we’ll close out the series with a discussion of philanthropy’s role in movement building. To learn more or to register for these free webinars, visit the Scaling What Works website.


Meghan Duffy is the Manager of Special Initiatives at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.