The foundation focuses on outcomes in order to maximize the effectiveness of its support.
We define and pursue specified outcomes for the problems we identify and choose to tackle. We believe this approach is beneficial and important for the clarity it provides—helping us to focus with greater precision and intention on what we are doing, why we are doing it, and whether our efforts are making a difference. This has sometimes been called “strategic philanthropy,” though debate over that term has confused and clouded its meaning. The essence of our outcome-focused approach is nevertheless straightforward. Having identified a problem, we ask three things: What is our goal? How will our grants and other efforts achieve that goal? How will we know if we are succeeding?
Answering these questions invariably becomes complicated in practice. Goals can be hard to specify, there may uncertainty about causal pathways, resources to execute may be lacking at the foundation or in the field, developing implementation markers and systems to track progress might prove difficult. We seek to measure progress, but are wary not to make a fetish of quantifying or fall into the trap of false precision. Reasonableness under the circumstances is our touchstone.
It is all too easy to fall prey to confirmation bias, to unthinkingly accept outdated conventional wisdom, to follow the herd, or to see and hear only what we want. We combat this by constantly asking ourselves, honestly and fearlessly, how we know what we think we know. This means listening to our grantees, our intended beneficiaries, and especially our critics. It means being rigorous about examining evidence and paying attention to what it teaches—which includes changing positions when experience or new data suggest that prior or existing suppositions are wrong.
- Practicing Outcome-Focused Philanthropy (OFP) as detailed in the OFP guidebook
- Requiring assessments of progress using outcomes, tripwires, and implementation markers for each strategy as part of annual budget process
- Relying on, and disseminating, independent third-party evaluations
- Combating confirmation bias through term limits for program staff
- Requiring regular interactions with board members so they can ask questions and offer input, including through board advisory committees, annual “deep dive” sessions, in-depth retreats and the budget approval process