Learning to model the good evaluation habits they wish to see from grantees


How the Colorado Springs Health Foundation got everyone on the same page and learned to lead by example


“We really like to see our grantees demonstrate a culture of learning. How can we expect that from them if we aren’t doing it ourselves?” reflects Cari. Learn how this foundation came to embrace evaluation and are making a deeper impact as a result.



Introducing Colorado Springs Health Foundation

The Colorado Springs Health Foundation is a young, small, and mighty foundation operating with two staff members and nine board members. They provide grants that target immediate health care needs and encourage healthy living in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. Distributing approximately $2.5 Million in their first year of grantmaking – 2016, they focus their efforts in four areas: 1) expanding access to healthcare for those in greatest need, 2) addressing the healthcare workforce shortage, 3) preventing suicide, and 4) cultivating healthy environments in high-need or underserved communities.


What they did


Moved from thinking about evaluation to learning about it, acting on it, and deciding to make it an ongoing habit

Executive Director, Cari Davis, has been with the organization from the beginning, and came into the role with a desire to integrate good evaluation habits into their work from the start. However, not all board members understood how evaluation could add value.

Over a couple of years, we worked together and made huge strides in how the staff and board think about and use evaluation in their work.

This process inspired a commitment to continuous quality improvement. The staff and board now recognize that we cannot achieve what we wish t0 – to support greater community health – unless we are asking critical questions of ourselves and our process.
— Cari Davis // Executive Director, Colorado Springs Health Foundation


How we did it together


Training for the board and staff to get everyone on the same page

Cari realized the first thing they needed to do was build capacity for evaluation by getting all the board and staff on the same page for what evaluation means, and more specifically, how evaluation could enhance grantmaking.

The training phase allowed us to:

  • Level-set on what evaluation is.

    A mini survey before the training showed that there was much variability across the minds of the board members. This training debunked myths and got everyone in sync with terms, concepts and expectations.

  • Reset expectations and goals for evaluation.

    We talked through the compounding variables that make it unrealistic to link their work to changes in broad public health concerns. This allowed the board members to explore, embrace and get excited about what IS possible.

  • Identify why and how grantmaking orgs can approach evaluation.

    Grantmaking organizations have to think about and do evaluation differently than those they fund, who are providing direct service. We got everyone in sync for why, and started to explore ideas for how.

Evaluation is a big word that can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. We needed to do some level-setting – specifically how to address evaluation as a grantmaking organization.
— Cari Davis // Executive Director, Colorado Springs Health Foundation

Build an evaluation plan

Building from a shift in mindset after the training, we collaborated with Cari and her team to map out an evaluation plan and execute it.

The external evaluation phase focused on:

  • Identifying the key evaluation questions.

    We facilitated a working session where everyone voiced their learning questions, and together, we honed in on what is most important to the foundation.

  • Building a sound evaluation framework and approach.

    Introducing a variety of both qualitative and quantitative methods opened the team’s eyes on how to collect quality insights as a grantmaking organization, instead of a direct service provider.

  • Being an extension of their team.

    Once it became clear the evaluation plan required more hands-on support and expertise than their small staff had to give, we jumped in ourselves to carry out the evaluation plan.

Without an evaluation expert, I think we would have had the best intentions, but our execution would have been very poor. Vantage’s expertise was invaluable in defining the questions that would lead to the most helpful insights, and then translating that into a solid evaluation approach with findings that we feel confident about.
— Cari Davis // Executive Director, Colorado Springs Health Foundation


The Results


Setting our team, our grantees and the community up for success

Kicking off with a teamwide evaluation training has led to a wonderful domino effect, which will ultimately lead to improvement in the health of the residents in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado.

  • Strong board support to invest in carrying out the evaluation plan. The training opened minds and got everyone on board with the importance of evaluation and what it might look like for the foundation. This led to complete support to allocate budget dollars to it, something Cari believes would not have happened without the training.

  • Confidence in grantmaking focus areas. Findings gave the foundation a clear picture of what the community identifies as their key needs, rather than relying on the gut instinct of the staff and board.

  • Building good habits of continuous improvement. Annually reassessing their strategic direction is now ingrained in the culture of the foundation. The team found themselves feeling excited to reassess and rethink the second year of evaluation based on what was learned during the first.

  • Become a good role model for their grantees. The foundation is proud to be demonstrating the culture of learning they want to see in their grantees, which is inspiring good evaluation habits to spread.

We are confident we are making an impact because we are listening and adjusting each year instead of blindly marching forward.
— Cari Davis // Executive Director, Colorado Springs Health Foundation


Deeper level of impact on health equity

Embracing the concept of learning in different ways at different times opened their eyes to a seemingly small, yet critically significant detail: there is confusion around what “health equity” means.

  • Specific steps to overcome this hurdle and have greater impact. Demystifying the term “health equity” is the first step to making an impact on it. They are taking intentional steps to learn more about it at the board level, and have plans in place to bring training support to the community.

  • Identify a big hurdle standing in the way. Findings highlighted the fact that there were varying levels of understanding of health equity principles amongst their grantees. Impact in this area cannot happen without shared understanding.  

Vantage understands the complicated world of health and social justice. They do an amazing job of applying evaluation principles that navigate these complexities in a way that is both practical and sustainable for the organization. It’s truly remarkable
— Cari Davis // Executive Director, Colorado Springs Health Foundation


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