February 22, 2024

New Research from The Bridgespan Group Highlights Effective Measurement and Learning Practices to Boost the Impact of Philanthropic Collaboratives

Nearly 70 percent of the collaboratives surveyed cite building measurement and learning as critical to building their capacity and mobilizing resources for the issues they are tackling.

Boston, MA—February 22, 2024—A new article by The Bridgespan Group, “How Philanthropic Collaboratives Measure, Evaluate, and Learn,” sheds light on promising practices for how philanthropic collaboratives can effectively measure, evaluate, and learn in pursuit of greater impact. The authors define collaboratives as entities that either pool or channel resources from multiple donors to nonprofits.

According to Mariah Collins, a Bridgespan partner, co-lead of Bridgespan’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning Area of Expertise, and co-author of the research, “Philanthropic collaboratives are burgeoning and currently deploy billions of dollars per year globally for social change. The collaboratives who responded to our survey reported collectively directing $4 billion to $7 billion of funding per year—but have the capacity to absorb and deploy significantly more—upwards of $17 billion annually.” Nearly 70 percent of those respondents said that measurement and learning is an especially important way for them to improve their organizational capacity, ultimately enabling them to grow their size and impact.

The authors describe the potential of measurement and learning to help collaboratives assess progress toward their goals, understand challenges and correct course, better support grantees and communities, more effectively incorporate equity goals, and mobilize philanthropic resources for the issues they are tackling. At the same time, they note that it can also go astray—overburdening grantees, eating up grantee resources, focusing on compliance rather than learning, or privileging the concerns of donors over those of grantees and communities. So, it is critically important to get it right.

“Collaboratives operate in the intersection of donors and grantees: to state the obvious, they have to raise funds both for their own operations and for what they grant to nonprofits and NGOs. As a result, they must demonstrate the value of their intermediary position in ways that are different than what is required of foundations and nonprofits,” said Bridgespan Partner and Co-lead of the firm’s philanthropy practice Alison Powell.

How can collaboratives navigate this complexity? According to co-author Erika Caballero Montoya, “One core principle cuts across all measurement work, whether philanthropic, nonprofit, or for-profit: start with strategy. While grantmaking is often core to a collaborative’s strategy, the impact is ideally greater than the sum of its grants and grantees.” Bridgespan’s article therefore is organized around three levels of impact—the portfolio of grantees, systems or fields, and donors—and shares practical tips for leaders of collaboratives who are seeking to better understand, measure, and communicate the impact of their work. Within each of those levels common themes are emerging around alignment of goals, milestones, tracking (without overburdening), modeling equity-centered practices, evolving strategy and communicating to donors the value of the collaborative and influencing donor behavior.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and The Raikes Foundation all contributed funding to this report. Jennifer Stout, Deputy Director at the Gates Foundation, said, “We believe that funder collaboratives have the potential to absorb significant philanthropic dollars. This research can contribute to an important piece of the puzzle: helping collaboratives—and the donors who fund them—better understand and communicate their tremendous impact on the sector.”

“In looking at some of the promising practices that funder collaboratives use to measure, evaluate, and learn, we are not suggesting that any of these collaboratives have it all figured out. However, by highlighting ongoing efforts to effectively learn and measure—we hope to share new methods that can inspire others and benefit the social sector as a whole,” said Collins.

About The Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group (www.bridgespan.org) is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organizations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.