Assessing impact is an area that is problematic for many community foundations, though there are signs of a change as more are planning to begin to do this systematically, and there are some examples of interesting practice.
How community foundations communicate impact
Foundations typically found the issue of communicating impact 'difficult' or 'very difficult', and many said that this was a 'weakness'. They typically lacked the staff or the systems to do evaluations, though some had hired outside evaluators for some projects.
Most community foundations adopt the standard means of assessing their grants by requiring reports and financial audits from their grantees. Foundations typically produced annual reports and all, save for very new ones, had websites where they communicated with the general public.
There were signs of a change, with many foundations saying that they were beginning to develop evaluation plans.
Developing good practice
Counter to the main trend, some foundations had begun to develop evaluation systems.
In the course of its work, the Beautiful Foundation has developed the 'Standard Evaluation Achievement System' in 2008 and implemented it in 2009. This tool evaluates outcomes from the projects.
The West-Flanders Community Foundation uses the 'The Balance Wheel', an evaluation tool developed by the Transatlantic Community Foundation Network. The evaluation is conducted internally every year and externally every two years. These evaluations are taken in consideration when planning. Results are communicated to all partners, grantees and other stakeholders in an annual report.
Community Foundation for Greater Manchester has devised an outcomes framework that it can adapt for use with different donors and grant programs. It includes cases studies, financial information and graphs that enable the foundation to produce meaningful impact reports. The same foundation also runs a quality standards scheme for its funded groups.
In 2009, some Russian community foundations began a program for research and assessment of community needs, as well as evaluation of their own activities. Up to that point, the foundations recognized that they were failing to describe what impact they were having on their communities and what local capacity they managed to build. There was a suggestion that grants were often given to the same organizations with little search to address the roots of the problems. They were also seen as focusing too much on providing services to companies and not taking enough effort to raise giving spirit in their communities. Seven foundations had the opportunity not only to evaluate their programs and activities, but also to form an evaluation framework.