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Giving to Get Results

by Tracy Turner
Chief Philanthropy Officer
Community Foundation of Western Nevada

Tracy Turner
Tracy Turner

Donors often tell us they wish they could give more. Many think that what they consider a modest gift just doesn't go far enough or do enough good. But the fact that they are giving is what makes me smile. Gifts of any size make a difference to the charities you love. Often it's the modest gifts – the "peanut butter" gifts – that make all their programming possible.

Modest gifts, when combined with other modest gifts, turn into sustaining budgets that nonprofits need to make their wheels go 'round.

The Community Foundation's "Partnership" grants are made possible by generous donors who make contributions specifically to our Partnership Grantmaking program; those donations are combined to turn into a much larger giving pool. From this pool, grants are awarded to several nonprofits that are working to improve their services.

This year's Partnership Grantmaking program is supporting nonprofits in all four sectors – arts and culture, natural resource and the environment, human services, and education - to evaluate their programs. Evaluation will help them grow their services, be efficient, be effective, and use their donor dollars most effectively.

Remember when we got sunburned as a kid? Mom put on a greasy lotion to "soothe" our scorched skin. Today we know that lotions trapped the burning heat in our skin. Doctors now recommend cool water baths to relieve the pain. How did they figure this out? Medical experts documented and tracked results using different therapies. This resulted in a new treatment protocol that we can pass down to our children. Testing and documenting results is called evaluation.

Evaluation is a powerful tool that can open new possibilities for charities. Evaluating their work leads to evidence of what's working well, what's not working, and where they can improve. Our donors like to support charities' programming. They like it even better when the charities can say "this is what works and why … and this is how we know it works."

Our Partnership grants will go to organizations that are fairly "young" in evaluation yet committed to taking the next step in their evaluation methods; they see evaluation as critical to the evolution of their programs to meet the needs of our rapidly changing community.

We know our generous donors primarily give to help the charities they love. Giving to the Partnership Grantmaking program will benefit those nonprofits. When a charity knows what works and what doesn't to produce the outcomes they want, they can focus their energies and dollars on the services that are proven to have the greatest impact. Investing in evaluation leads to more people helped, in better ways, and more efficiently run charities.

Nonprofit executives appreciate and support program evaluation. They just don't always have the funds to carry it out.

"Evaluation is everything. Without measuring the impact our program is having, we cannot tell others that we are truly making a difference. By funding evaluation, the Community Foundation of Western Nevada is making it possible for nonprofits to complete this valuable work."

If you have ever wondered whether your gift to a charity is making a difference, you've asked an evaluation question. If you've ever asked, "How do they know they are making a difference?" you've asked a question that evaluation could answer. If you've ever asked for proof, you've asked for evaluation outcomes.

When we make purchases, whether for personal use or in the business world, we seek the most bang for our buck. Why would we not want the same when we support charities with our donor dollars? Charities should be held accountable by donors for the results of their services. Seeking information about charities' work and impact is no different than making a prudent, informed investment in the other aspects of our lives.

We'd love to have you join us in our work to help charities evaluate their work. Your gift of any size to the Partnership Grantmaking program will make a difference. Together with your neighbors' and friends' contributions to the Partnership Grantmaking program, your dollars will go further and help more organizations be able to tell their donors exactly what change they are making in the community through their work. It is a community investment.

Please call me if you'd like more information about the Partnership Grantmaking program or if you'd like to make a contribution t to support this year's grants. Tracy Turner, Chief Philanthropy Officer, 775-333-5499; tturner@nevadafund.org.