Through an agreement with UK-based Alliance magazine, PND is pleased to be able to offer a series of articles about global philanthropy.

Understanding and Assessing Impact in Peace Funding

Understanding and Assessing Impact in Peace Funding

Peace-building is one of three grantmaking themes of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). The goal of our Peacebuilding program is to advance just and durable peace. Launched in 2011, the program builds on the fund's previous work on peace and security with the growing recognition that, for enduring peace to take root, we needed to look beyond a traditional security focus and support a range of activities designed to create stable, inclusive societies.

To that end, we refined our approach to impact assessment in 2012 with the aim of creating a process rigorous enough to discern impact but nimble enough to appreciate the nature of social change, which is about changing attitudes, narratives, and behavior. We also sought an approach that was adaptable enough to work across the different programmatic and geographic areas in which we fund.

RBF defines impact as contributing to social change through shifts in understanding, behavior, capacity, public engagement, and public policy. Each program has a goal based on our long-term aspiration and strategies comprised of specific actions that we fund in support of that goal. We also develop indicators of progress that identify anticipated progress in the field to which grantee work could meaningfully contribute. In other words, what would success look like?

Our approach to assessment has three main phases: ongoing monitoring, program reviews (every three to five years) and impact assessments (every five to ten years). Staff are in regular contact with grantees to understand how the work is progressing and the challenges they are facing. Reporting requirements are as light as possible — we ask how grant funds were spent, and four questions about how the work is going and what they are learning. If a grantee has produced narrative reports for another funder that answer these questions, we generally will accept it.

Funders need to understand the context in which they are funding, and grantee relationships are key to that. Responses to a question in our latest Center for Effective Philanthropy grantee surveys — "How comfortable are you approaching your program officer if a problem arises?" — are especially important, particularly in peace-building work, where context and circumstances can change in a heartbeat. We need our grantees to be comfortable coming to us if things are not going as planned. The only way to ensure that they do is to develop relationships with grantees that are driven less by transactions and more by trust.

Our board and staff have also worked to acknowledge that it is impossible to attribute success or failure directly to our funding or to the work of our grantees. The challenges addressed by our grantmaking programs are widespread and longstanding, shaped by ecosystems of people and circumstance. So while the program reviews and impact assessments are the major components of our approach to evaluation, we also review indicators of progress across the field annually. This approach has added significantly to both board and staff understanding of our work and grantees in context, and to our collective understanding that change takes time and is the product of a complex combination of actions and actors.

The fund undertook a review of the Peace-building program in 2018. The review underscored the importance of working at multiple levels and connecting that work through network-building and grantees meeting with decision-makers, donors, and the media. It also highlighted that some of the most significant impact of our work has been created by non-grantmaking activities, including convenings that have contributed to field-building and fresh approaches to conflict resolution, reminding us that the support grantmakers can provide extends beyond funding itself.

Building durable peace is a long-term process involving many actors. Approaches to grantmaking and to evaluation of peace philanthropy must therefore be grounded in a long view. At the same time, funders must remain humble about their role within complex ecosystems to avoid becoming prematurely discouraged or missing the signs of progress.

Hope Lyons ( is director of program management at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.