Learning for Social Impact: What Foundations Can Do

Publication date: 
May, 2010

A McKinsey & Company white paper discussing how foundations can work together to achieve sector-wide change.

In early 2009, McKinsey & Company launched a project to identify best practices for social impact assessment. Thirteen leading foundations acted as partners, sharing their time and experience. We also enlisted more than 100 thought leaders from nonprofits, academic institutions and beyond to provide their insights. We thank these many contributors, who are identified in the acknowledgments. This paper presents our most relevant findings for foundation leaders and other funders. Additional material, including a workbook for program officers and other practitioners, is available online at http://mckinseyonsociety.com/social-impact-assessment/.

A few notes on scope and intent: • This paper is intended primarily for leaders of grantmaking foundations. We believe it will also be useful for heads of other institutions, including government funders, multistakeholder partnerships and large nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Our goal is to equip these leaders with a framework for thinking about impact assessment and helping their organizations adopt proven best practices. • While assessmentis extremely importantto improving the execution and design of programs, the primary focus of this work is on the role of assessment in strategy, which is the main responsibility of foundation leaders. • We view assessment here atthe program cluster or portfolio level, rather than atthe individual project level. • We address the social sector as a whole and do notfactor in sector-specific or geographic considerations, which may be significant. • Our sources have been largely U.S.-based, with a few contributions from the U.K. and Europe. As a result, we use terms that are common in the U.S. The work described here takes one step towards a better understanding of social impact assessment. We value the perspectives of social sector colleagues on these efforts and are eager to hear about their priorities for further work in this area

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