By Cheryl Taylor, Foellinger Foundation
Are you like me? I cringe when people use the terms strategy or strategic in so many different contexts that the terms lose nearly all meaning.
Strategy without measurement is meaningless, and measurement of a misguided strategy is equally meaningless. Strategy and measurement are inseparable if a small foundation hopes to achieve its mission.
That’s what the Foellinger Foundation discovered when it undertook a study of its own practices.
The results of this internal study have been published as a shared resource for small foundations. In Foundation Effectiveness: A Guide to Strategy and Evaluation, we don’t pretend to have the answers, just some experiences that might be of some value to small foundations wishing to uncover their own ways to enhance their strategies—and their effectiveness.
The Lumberjack Story
Effectiveness is not just doing things right; it’s doing the right things.
A group of lumberjacks are enthusiastically and energetically chopping down trees in a forest. They are working like mad, and the work is getting done in record time. The crew boss was very pleased, until one of the lumberjacks climbs the tallest tree and surveys the landscape. From this vantage point, he sees a horrible reality. He shouts down to the boss, “We’re cutting the wrong forest!” The boss replies, “Never mind that. We’re making good progress!”
Before a foundation can assess its effectiveness, it must answer two strategic questions:
- What change would we like to see?
- What can we contribute to the effort?
In other words, the first task for a foundation interested in assessing its effectiveness is to address the broad question: Effective at what? The recipe for a foundation’s effectiveness must include both strategic planning and evaluation. Strategic planning without the inclusion of an evaluation plan is no more than wishful thinking. Conversely, evaluation conducted outside the context of a strategic plan is merely chopping at trees. It doesn’t matter how effectively you clear the forest or how you evaluate your efforts, if you are in the wrong forest in the first place.
Foellinger Foundation is publishing Foundation Effectiveness: A Guide to Strategy and Evaluation now because there has never been a greater need for clarity in the foundation world on some terms that are thrown around all too often and all too loosely: strategy, planning, evaluation, and effectiveness. These are indeed important terms if we are to achieve…anything!
I look forward to your thoughts.
Cheryl Taylor is president of Foellinger Foundation, a private charitable foundation that awards grants for the benefit of people in Fort Wayne and Allen County, IN. The foundation was created in 1958 by Helene Foellinger, The News-Sentinel publisher from 1936 to 1980, and Esther Foellinger, her mother.