Discerning and communicating the impact of grantmaking and other programmatic contributions are essential to fulfilling the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's (RBF) mission as well as our commitment to stewardship, transparency, and accountability. The Fund's board and staff have found that engaging policymakers on the results and insights gained from our grantmaking, informing the public about our grantees' work, and attracting additional donors to promising institutions and approaches are key activities that help build a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world.
In order to bring additional rigor to the Fund's approach to program impact assessment, a committee of RBF trustees and staff was established in March 2012. Based on our experience, the state of evaluation in philanthropy, and a review of literature and activity in the field, the Impact Assessment Committee developed a set of principles to guide our impact assessment approach, defined terms for the purposes of RBF discussions, established several points for evaluation activities in the life cycle of a grantmaking program, and identified opportunities to embed impact assessment in the Fund's regular institutional processes. The Fund establishes its programs in fields and places that reflect its mission and the evolution of its longstanding interests, along with an analysis of the changing global context. The key elements of the RBF's approach to assessing program impact are as follows:
* The board approves program guidelines that lay the foundation for the Fund's grantmaking within a program. Guidelines include a preamble that presents the vision and rationale for each program, ambitious long-term goals, and strategies that articulate specific actions the Fund will support to achieve progress toward these goals. They provide guidance to staff and grantseekers about what the RBF is prepared to fund.
* A program framework summary, derived from the guidelines, is developed for internal use and includes indicators of progress. These indicators identify anticipated changes in understanding, behavior, capacity, public engagement, or public policy that would demonstrate that program strategies are contributing to realizing program goals.
* Within each program, evaluation activities occur on an ongoing basis. Monitoring of the field and of individual grants draws on regular staff engagement and grantee reporting; program reviews, conducted every three to five years by program staff, provide an opportunity to engage the board in a strategic review of progress—often resulting in updated program strategies; impact assessments are conducted by external consultants after five or more years as strategies mature.
* The annual institutional calendar provides a variety of opportunities for the board and staff to discuss and review programmatic impact at different points each year and across several years.
This approach to impact assessment reflects emerging practices in the field and is consistent with the Fund's values and grantmaking approaches. The committee believes that the approach effectively supports program learning, guides program development, and enhances the impact of the Fund's grantmaking.