We recently had the opportunity to work closely with a client who had funded and supported a major community change effort to evaluate what worked well and what did not. With the full cooperation of the funder and the nonprofit recipient, together we drew out lessons on how funders and nonprofits can use their resources and influence to create lasting change, and where they can get in their own way.

These insights are included in “Unplanned Donor Legacies: How to Avoid them, and How One Family Foundation Corrected Course with an Evaluation,” a recently-published article in The Foundation Review by several of us on the Communitas team and Kelly Chopus of the Robins Foundation. In addition to the article release, what is further rewarding is that our client, the Robins Foundation, has recalibrated its relationships with grantees as a result of this work, and is sharing the framework they’ve adopted with others working in the field.

The Foundation Review piece fleshes out three approaches (see the table below and in detail in the article) that funders and nonprofit recipients can adopt to support place-based change that lasts, with examples of how to do so:

Create an equitable working partnership

Engage in continuous mutual learning

Evaluate to match implementation with intent

Veronica Fleming, Executive Director of the Partnership for Families – the organizational partner in the evaluation, said about the process:

As the new executive director of the Partnership for Families in mid-2015, I was directed by the PFF board to make the changes necessary to move the organization to greater accountability for serving Northside families, building more meaningful and effective relationships with partners, and using the facility at 800 West Graham as it was intended. My own assessment, that included partners, Northside families, staff, board members and funders, revealed important lessons-learned and highlighted significant challenges in meeting the organization’s intended goals. I was incredibly excited that the Robins Foundation’s new leadership embraced this knowledge as an opportunity to initiate its own objective assessment that resulted in the Portrait of Vulnerable Families…in Richmond’s Northside and the Northside Indicators Study. Importantly, the Robins foundation responded to our challenging news by partnering with us at every level to initiate a thorough internal organizational assessment, and an assessment of our targeted community. It is a critical lesson for providers to be unafraid to tell their funders the absolute, and often “not so pretty” truth, without fear of losing funding or incurring reputational consequences. PFF, the Robins Foundation and Northside families will benefit tremendously from our collective and family-informed efforts to “right the ship”.

Thanks to the Robins Foundation, this article is open access.



Baker, Saphira Maude; Chopus, Kelly; Cox, Casey; and McGinty, Anita (2018) “Unplanned Donor Legacies: How to Avoid Them, and How One Family Foundation Corrected Course with an Evaluation.” The Foundation Review: Vol. 10: Iss. 3, Article 7. https://doi.org/10.9707/1944-5660.1426

Giving and getting the funding is only the start of a long-term funder-grantee relationship

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