Apply Now

Advancing Evaluation in Philanthropy Fellowship.

Project Spotlight

Private foundations donate generously to address important social problems yet accurately understanding the impact of their giving often remains elusive.

Research and evaluation are key resources for planning, delivering and ultimately documenting impact. Philanthropy and evaluation are natural and necessary partners yet the credentialing and degrees that lead students into these important fields are not always compatible. Talented graduates who end up working in foundations or non-profits may collaborate frequently with evaluators or university-based researchers yet they may not share a common language.

Additionally, both philanthropy and evaluation have changed considerably in the last few years. Grantmakers have adopted more trust-based approaches, aiming to empower grantees to make decisions about programming that are essential to the people being served. Evaluators have embraced a wider range of data feedback loops and improvement approaches, moving away from accountability-focused high stakes impact reports and toward collaborative, long-term relationships that build evidence for the impact of programs over time. These trends in both fields are compatible with one another yet they necessitate unique skill sets and interdisciplinary coordination.

Recognizing a need to bridge these research and practice worlds, in 2021 SMU CORE and the Walton Family Foundation collaborated to co-host the Advancing Evaluation in Philanthropy (AEP) Fellowship. The Fellowship is a two-year, fully funded position housed at CORE in the SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development. The goal of the Fellowship is to expose Fellows to both evaluation and philanthropy settings, issues, and skills and to build a set of competencies that help bridge those two settings.

When philanthropic and evaluative thinking come together, everyone benefits: grantees and their evaluators are able to plan and deliver measurable interventions, and the learnings that emerge are useful not only to grantees but to the broader field.

Implications beyond this Fellowship are meaningful; grant dollars are frequently spent on programs that are of limited effectiveness. Together, researchers and evaluators, and philanthropists and grantmakers have to fund and implement programs that have specific, measurable goals, have to collect meaningful and accurate data, develop findings that are digestible and useful, and make sure that key decision makers then receive and act on that information.

About Fellowship

AEP Fellows receive mentorship and project supervision from CORE colleagues as well as Walton. They split their time working on projects throughout North Texas and Northwest Arkansas and frequently attend national conferences. The Fellowship is anchored by guiding competencies, a commitment to equitable evaluation approaches, and a Capstone project designed to synthesize the overall experience.

At SMU, Fellows have co-led evaluations with CORE. For example, they have investigated how afterschool programs support students’ social and emotional learning and how non-profits providing early literacy support can augment the learning that takes place inside classrooms. At Walton, Fellows gain extensive exposure to grantmaking decisions, supporting the development of grant metrics, engaging in learning frameworks, and sharing data back with grantees.

About the Fellows

The inaugural AEP Fellow, Endaisia Love, came to the Fellowship following a masters in educational research, data science and experience in K-12 settings. During her Fellowship, Love has also been accepted as a LEEAD Scholar; the Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity initiative is part of the Expanding the Bench initiative. It is an evaluation raining program designed to develop a pathway for diverse leaders in culturally responsible and equitable evaluation and as such is a natural fit to augment the core competencies of the AEP Fellowship. Love says that the Fellowship “has given me access to a field that I knew little of prior to this experience. It's been a privilege to be a part of this opportunity with CORE and WFF. I've gotten exposure and experience in philanthropy and evaluation that aren't readily available.”

Love further explains that the Fellowship “has really re-sparked a passion for community-based work in me. Dallas has a very unique and collaborative funder, grantee, and evaluation community. Here I've gotten to see what it looks like to have many moving pieces come together in service of the community.” Ms. Love’s future goals including working in close proximity to the community and helping stakeholders build evaluation capacity and data literacy.”

Check out the recent interview with AEP Fellow Endaisia Love, published by the Walton Family Foundation.

The second AEP Fellow, Celeste Fernandez joined the Fellowship in August 2023 after earning her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Given her strong academic background, Fernandez’s experience in the Fellowship is teaching her real-world strategies for translating scientific evidence into actionable recommendations for grantmakers, grantees and evaluation partners alike. Fernandez says “This fellowship has provided me with a unique opportunity to transition into the field of evaluation and philanthropy. I am looking forward to building my knowledge of evaluation methods and connecting with grantmakers and grantees. I hope to use the skills I gain from this fellowship to continue working in the social sector and assist philanthropic efforts in the field of education.”

Annie Wright, Ph.D., and CORE Executive Director, credits the Walton Family Foundation in thinking creatively to anticipate current and future needs for the field. This highly collaborative initiative has CORE and Walton staff working hand in hand with Fellows to help build new skill sets and connections that can bridge these research and practice worlds. She finds it encouraging that Fellows leaving this experience can go on professionally to” bridge the knowledge of researchers and grant makers so that our fields can co-develop truly impactful and equitable programming that ensures the best educational possibilities for youth and their families.”

Endaisia Love

AEP Fellow

Click button to read more about Endaisia Love's efforts in the field of philanthropic evaluation.