Why We Focus on Learning - Exponent Philanthropy
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Why We Focus on Learning

When I joined Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation in 2008, the board and I realized that we could leverage our grants by promoting learning among ourselves and our grantee partners.

A learning mindset makes it possible for our ears to be attuned to input

Because we strive to approach everything as an opportunity for new insights, different approaches, and helpful tips, we have made many improvements in the way we do our work. From the simplest—asking what we could do better after every event with groups of grantee partners—to developing an evaluation framework grounded in learning, we are routinely getting input that informs our work. When we conducted our first grant partner satisfaction survey, we learned that we needed to do a better job of understanding the communities that our grant partners are working in. That has promoted us to do more site visits and to ask better questions about community conditions.

I believe our grant partners are more open about their learning, in part because we are more open about ours

They call with stories of success, of course, but we also get regular calls when there are problems. For example, a group of four organizations that are working in a similar field with similar types of young people have asked us to convene a discussion for them on lessons learned from challenges. Two of the groups have volunteered to kick off the discussion and model the value of talking about what hasn’t worked.

An atmosphere of openness to learning promotes essential dialogue among our grant partners in so many ways

For example, through regular review of partner work plans, we noticed that three of them were planning to revise their intern­ship programs over the next year. We asked if they’d like to come together to share their experiences, and, after the first session, they planned to do it again because it was so valuable.

I knew knowledge was a powerful tool, but I didn’t realize how much our quest to learn about our impact would influence our organization and the work we do with our grant partners.

Janis Reischmann is executive director of Hau’oli Mau Loa Foundation in Honolulu, Hawaii. She was hired as the foundation’s first executive director in April 2008, bringing to the role more than 20 years of working in the nonprofit sector in Hawai‘i. Her experience with grantmaking foundations includes seeking grants from local as well as national foundations and serving as staff or consultant to Hawai‘i Community Foundation and various family and independent foundations. For 7 years, Janis led a consulting practice, largely in Hawai‘i, that focused primarily on organizational and project development with most of her clients being nonprofit or government agencies.


  1. […] There’s a great deal you won’t know when you create your giving plans, even if well designed. Being intentional about learning is just as critical as defining what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. But […]

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