This essay describes the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's approach to evaluation in its Environment Program. This approach was grantee-centric, shaped by the varied needs of nonprofits in the environment field as well as the Foundation's decision to spend down all assets by 2020 – which limited the number of years available to conduct evaluations and put new lessons to use. The Environment Program funded grantees to evaluate work they deemed critical to their missions or to build organizational capacity to conduct ongoing learning and evaluation. Knowledge gained through grantee activities informed their internal improvement efforts as well as the Foundation's grantmaking decisions.
Seven examples illustrate the range of nonprofit learning and evaluation efforts supported by the Foundation. These experiences surfaced challenges as well as recommendations, presented later in this essay, that might be instructive to other environment funders who value learning and evaluation as means to greater impact.