Key Points

Evaluation and learning is often seen as a high-stakes, formalized process of comparing an effort at its conclusion against some standard or benchmark. More recently, formative and developmental approaches to evaluation have been created to accommodate the need for more adaptability and ambiguity in an effort.

The Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, a multiyear collaboration of 17 funders in Los Angeles County, California, supports nonprofit organizations to collaborate and restructure in a variety of forms. As the initiative evolved, its evaluation and learning system had to have the ability to evolve with it. Real-time learning informed initiative design and refinement, aligned funders on the definition of success, spurred exploration of a grantee peer-learning network, and developed a vetted consultant list and key strategic partners.

This article presents key design aspects of the initiative’s evaluation and learning system, describes how it evolved over time, and shares key evaluation insights and learnings. It also explores the nuances of learning and evaluation in a large collaborative, including what the initiative has done to balance learning and accountability, and quickly move from learning to insight to action.

Open Access