Practice Ideas for Principle 07. Continuous Learning

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Understand: We have unprecedented access to information from local and global sources including science, research and community networks. Our communities offer rich information about the human impact of policies and resource distribution. We are obligated to use various information sources to actively learn and strengthen our practice.

  1. We take time to understand various evaluation and assessment options before beginning any data collection.
  2. We recognize that all members of the community contribute to our holistic understanding of needs, opportunities and hopes for the future.
  3. We understand that success and failure are two sides of innovation and learning. We build a culture that learns from mistakes and is willing to take informed risks.
  4. We understand our philanthropic context by joining professional associations where we can learn with peers and stay abreast of current news, insights and trends.
  5. We create programs and systems that have built-in continuous learning processes.

Begin: We are curious about our work and engage in activities that help us to consider new viewpoints and address individual biases. Through a range of learning activities including research, self-assessment, evaluation, professional development, and community engagement processes we seek and use information that improves our grantmaking and expands our understanding of the community.

We engage in active learning:

  1. We provide training and orientation for incoming board members and staff, if any.
  2. We plan for and encourage continuous learning and training. For board members, learning focuses particularly on basic legal, accounting, audit, tax, and fiduciary issues and responsibilities. For staff, learning focuses on job specific duties as well as organizational priorities such as equity, community engagement, or other organizational focus areas.
  3. We provide leadership and growth opportunities for all employees in our organization.
  4. When feasible, we encourage our board members and staff to participate in regional and/or national grantmaking conferences, programs, associations or support groups for continuing education and development, as appropriate and financially feasible.
  5. Each staff job description includes expectations for learning related to the job tasks and organizational priorities.
  6. Organizational leaders role model learning-focused behaviors.
  7. We build institutional knowledge. For example, staff have opportunities to share with other staff what they’ve learned from grantee partners, conference sessions or other learning endeavors.
  8. When appropriate, our board and/or staff consults subject matter experts or community representatives and/or includes them on committees or advisory groups. We consider whether it is appropriate and reasonable to pay them for their time.
  9. Our organization’s budget includes money for staff to engage in professional development.

We evaluate our work:

  1. We periodically evaluate our organization’s operations, procedures and grantmaking, assessing whether they are attaining the goals and objectives explicit in our mission.
  2. We use evaluation as an ongoing process of organizational learning for staff and board.
  3. We periodically evaluate the performance of the board as a body.

We collect and use data to inform our work and the work of our grantee partners:

  1. We collect data that will inform our work including appropriate demographic data from nonprofit grantee partners.
  2. Grantmaking is informed by learning reports from nonprofit grantee partners and foundation staff.
  3. Grantmaking includes funding for project/program evaluations.

Aspire: With the community, we engage in ongoing learning and jointly define funding priorities. We respect many cultural ways of learning and knowing and work to achieve individual and organizational cultural competency. We promote continuous learning with our teams and our grantee partners. We improve our work by offering and using peer feedback.

We place a high value on learning in and with community:

  1. We actively involve the communities and constituencies we serve in our evaluation and organizational learning.
  2. We recognize that information (learning) is an asset, just like our dollars. We steward and distribute information with the same care that we use for stewarding and distributing money.
  3. We foster community-wide learning. We join or create opportunities to learn alongside our community partners and stakeholders.
  4. We talk with community stakeholders as one step toward determining and defining community needs related to our funding priorities.
  5. We recognize that learning happens through conversations, written reports, presentations, and more. We use various forms of learning in our programs and in our organizational development.

We continually seek to expand our cultural competency:

  1. We increase our awareness and understanding of multiple cultures in our diverse communities.
  2. We use assessments, audits and other tools to understand our learning opportunities.

We seek feedback to improve our work:

  1. We engage in peer learning such as 360 degree reviews and peer assessments.
  2. We engage in organizational learning such as GrantAdvisor and Center for Effective Philanthropy.
  3. We embrace evaluation/feedback as a path toward improvement and change.