Key Points

This article presents a framework for evaluating a foundation’s role in complex policy-change efforts, based on a 10-year retrospective evaluation of The California Wellness Foundation’s grantmaking in public policy.

After examining more than 25 policy outcomes associated with the foundation’s grantmaking priorities, three dimensions of contribution emerged: the role of its grantees relative to other organizations, the prominence of its role and funding relative to other funders or donors, and the degree of alignment between the policy change and the foundation’s policy goals.

The experience of The California Wellness Foundation illustrates that there is no single approach to supporting work toward major policy change, and that a foundation’s grantmaking approach should be aligned with its philosophy of how change happens and how it relates to its grantees and with the external policy environment.