Foundations frequently commission evaluations and are the primary audiences for findings. Grantee organizations, however, often don't see the results, or they find in them limited value and relevance to their own work. Funders like the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation are quietly disrupting this status quo by exploring ways to fully engage grantees, co-funders, technical consultants, and evaluators in collective learning and reflection.
The foundation's comprehensive, cohort-based capacity-building program, PropelNext, was designed to enhance the performance of promising nonprofits that serve America's disadvantaged youth. With a combination of financial support, individualized coaching, and peer-learning sessions, grantees engage in a test-and-learn cycle to promote a culture of learning and continuous improvement.
This article explores what collaborative learning looks like in the PropelNext context and how foundations can "practice what they preach" by modeling a reflective practice, sharing what they're learning, and supporting evaluations that surface information that is useful to everyone. It also discusses findings related to collaborative learning for both a regionally based and a nationally based cohort. Finally, it highlights specific strategies and tools to promote collaborative learning and to leverage peer networks in ways that can accelerate change, strengthen funder-grantee interactions, and advance the field.