Corporate philanthropy functions are increasingly emphasizing return on investment (RoI) in their grantmaking. Understandably, corporate foundations want to use their funding, energy, and time as effectively as possible. But for the Pfizer Foundation, evaluation is a tool to help refine our grantmaking, not an end in itself.

At the Pfizer Foundation, we support our grantees’ experimentation and innovation. Partners are encouraged to innovate and test new investment models in order to share promising practices. However, not all organizations have expertise or experience in evaluation metrics, so we also provide assistance from leading universities to improve the implementation, measurement, and evaluation of our partners’ work.

Each grantee organization receives customized capacity-building support, including access to monitoring and evaluation workshops and tailored trainings. Evaluators work with participants to identify indicators of success, offer analytical and data skills, and help package and share outcomes with the global health community. Over time, with additional resources for evaluation and stronger tracking methods, our partners are able to closely monitor progress and substantially increase their programs’ impact.

When we consider Pfizer’s RoI, we take into account several factors:

  • Public Health Impact: Ultimately, our programs should improve health care systems and positively impact the patients we serve. In advance of funding, we spend months researching evidence-based practices in a field of interest to develop appropriate questions to test, for example, “What are the best interventions for improving access to malaria treatment?” By knowing what we are looking for and enlisting experts to help develop the appropriate quantitative and qualitative metrics, we are able to be as specific as possible with our grantees on reporting requirements.

    We also meet with our grantees to discuss what information is practical to collect without being too onerous on their reporting systems. It is important to agree on benchmarks that will help your foundation and your partner measure what success will look like. We know measuring outputs and outcomes is not easy, but by being open with our grantees and involving them in the assessment process from the outset, we have seen stronger results.

  • Sustainability: Our philanthropic initiatives are developed to outlast Pfizer’s funding. To encourage new collaborations, we invest in capacity-building and fundraising workshops. Our support helps grantees package what they’ve learned for other donors and policymakers. Successful grantees are more likely to integrate their programs into existing systems (health care systems, communities) and/or influence policy change, which results in ongoing impact.
  • Business Feedback: We fund projects all over the world with the assistance of our local Pfizer offices. Local offices are able to identify the strongest nonprofit on the ground in their communities, provide partners with strategic and communications support, and facilitate other local connections. This creates a dynamic and enhanced network of assistance for our partners.

Research in the philanthropic sector is a delicate balance between programming and evaluation metrics. There’s a lot to learn, and we want to understand what matters or what works. One of the greatest lessons we’ve learned has been to involve our partners in the design and implementation of all metrics. Ultimately, their experience is critical to deciding what to measure and how to carry out an assessment.

Tell us what works and what matters in your foundation environment. How does your organization determine what really counts and report RoI?

Caroline Roan is president of Pfizer Foundation and vice president of Corporate Responsibility, and Atiya Weiss is senior manager of Corporate Responsibility.

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