Key Points

Increasingly, foundations and nonprofits are seeking to engage their staff in learning and reflection activities that assess successes and challenges, and then generate insights that can improve programs and funding strategies. Yet, despite the intuitive benefits, there are common challenges that often stand in the way of promoting strategic learning for continuous improvement.

For the past year, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has been focused on creating more systematic and intentional strategic learning across our organization. As part of this work we cultivated a select cohort of staff to be “learning champions,” created simple tools and processes that can more easily capture lessons generated internally and externally, and provided training in facilitation techniques to ensure insights are connecting back into our strategies to drive decision-making. Through the cohort, we are also developing new approaches to building a culture of learning and trust that supports transparent reflection.

This article provides guidance to help other foundations and nonprofits create stronger internal learning systems, including specific tools and practices, insights gained from our experiences, examples of programs and strategies utilizing evidence to improve, and critical lessons that we’ve learned along the way.

Open Access