The Telluride Foundation, as well as other foundations nation-wide, is developing a plan to help lead this trend. Funders and donors are demanding accountability and demonstration of the impact of their contributions. Furthermore, donors and grant funders are demanding assurance that their donations and grants are being spent effectively and making a positive difference. The Telluride Foundation has begun to work with similar foundations and local nonprofits to do more with less. The hope is that, in demonstrating that every dollar given results in greater benefits to the community, donors, foundations, and federal grant makers will be encouraged to increase their contributions.
In 2010, the Telluride Foundation celebrated its tenth anniversary by exceeding $18 million in competitive grants awarded to the community since its inception. "With a track record of ten years of grant making to over 100 community organizations, the Foundation board and staff want to review the effectiveness of our grant making and determine if improvements should be made, " said Paul Major, President and CEO of the Telluride Foundation, "We want to prove that our grant making is producing the stated outcome of the Foundation's mission -- to improve the quality of life of the Telluride region."
Since 2001, the Foundation has awarded over $6.6 million in Community Grants (see "Community Grant Awards" graph). Community Grants, directly controlled and awarded by the Foundation Board, often provide general operating support to nonprofits. The Foundation currently grants to regional nonprofits that have proven financials, address a community need, demonstrate strong community support, and have effective and efficient delivery of program services.
In the past, nonprofits often focused their evaluation measures on outputs, including how much money spent, number of people served, and client satisfaction; however, these measures don't necessarily have a direct correlation to impacts on clients. For example, just because an early childhood education organization is increasing the number of children enrolled, doesn't mean that they are becoming more effective at preparing their children for kindergarten. Furthermore, each nonprofit tends to measure their success independently, in an isolated manner from other nonprofits who might have similar overall goals.
This year, the Foundation plans to work with local nonprofits to determine outcomes that describe the impacts and benefits to clients during and after participation in the nonprofits' programs - i.e. what positive change in behavior occurred, as well as the indicators that measure whether the outcomes have been met. For our early childhood education organization, an outcome might be children's readiness for kindergarten with an indicator being their scores on kindergarten readiness tests.
To begin this grant making analysis, the Telluride Foundation is collaborating with the Aspen Community Foundation, and numerous other state and national foundation resources to begin a discussion on and research of best practices among its grant making and nonprofit organization programs. The Foundation plans to engage different sectors of nonprofits (i.e. arts, early childhood education, athletics, health and human services, etc.) to determine common outcomes, indicators for each category of grant making, and data collection procedures in an effort to get similar organizations to work towards common goals. "As nonprofits are increasingly being required to measure and report their outcomes to funders and their constituents, "explained Major, "we believe this exercise will also be very beneficial to our local nonprofits. In addition, by measuring the achievement of common outcomes within a category of nonprofits, we can analyze the collective impact of individual nonprofit's missions and programs, rather than each nonprofit's impact being isolated and independent."
The Foundation and local nonprofits can benefit greatly from a wide variety of best practices research on measuring outcomes being conducted nationwide. For example, in 2009 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched a $2.6 million two-year study to try to figure out just how teachers should be evaluated. The goal of the study, "Measures of Effective Teaching", is to figure out how to measure teacher effectiveness beyond relying on student performance on standardized tests. The Gates Foundation, which has become one of the most influential forces in education reform, has said it will spend half a billion dollars to study and improve teacher quality at schools throughout the country.
The Telluride Foundation exists to create a stronger Telluride community through the promotion and support of philanthropy. It is a non-profit, apolitical community foundation that provides year-round support for local organizations involved in arts, education, athletics, charitable causes, land conservation and other community-based efforts through technical assistance, education and grant making. As a grant maker, The Foundation awards grants to qualified applicants that serve the people living and working in the Telluride area for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life within the region. For more information on the Telluride Foundation, visit www.telluridefoundation.org.