Equitable Evaluation: Learning with the Frontlines of Racial Justice

How can we in philanthropy do a better job of supporting the kind of collaboration and shared learning that grassroots organizations need to grow their movements?

In 2019, the Surdna Foundation Sustainable Environments team set out to better understand grantees’ progress to advance racial justice and deepen their participatory grantmaking and equitable evaluation practices.

Together with grantees, stakeholders and funders, they developed a learning and milestones process that:

  • engages communities closest to the problem
  • shares power with all stakeholders
  • brings in diverse voices
  • frames questions to bring attention to the structural drivers of inequity
  • promotes equity, collective learning, and power building every step of the way.

Takeaways for Funders

  1. Philanthropy should be a partner in movement building. Funders should not see themselves as a separate entity, but rather a vehicle for change.
  2. Most foundations do not understand or value what is important to their grantees. The field views many foundations as prioritizing transactions over transformation.
  3. Evaluating an individual organization’s progress is a challenge for groups working in coalitions since so many efforts are conducted jointly.
  4. Just as organizations work in close partnership to accomplish their goals, they also learn in close partnership with each other. This collaboration is almost never funded.
  5. Support existing data gathering and sense-making. Doing so allows funders to meet organizations where they are and capture the knowledge groups on the ground are already curating.

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