Creating a Culture of Learning Elevates Us All: Insights from the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation
The Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation (MMFF) was founded in 1955 in Detroit, Michigan with a mission to enrich humanity by strengthening and empowering children and families in need. In recent years, the MMFF engaged Rosov Consulting to work alongside staff and leadership to develop indicators for success in the Jewish impact area portfolio. To share the nature of this work with others and the benefits of this endeavor, we sat down for a Q&A with Cynthia K. Rowell, Director of Learning and Impact, and Lisa Soble Siegmann, Program Partner. We hope you enjoy these insights and learnings.
Please tell us a bit about the background of the Foundation and its focus today.
Mr. and Mrs. Fisher established the family foundation in 1955. Grant decisions were made by them personally. When Mr. Fisher passed away in 2005, a portion of his estate endowed the Foundation. Mrs. Fisher, together with their five children, formed the new leadership of the Foundation, with the first staff member hired in 2007. Today, we work with five generations of Fisher Family members, seven content experts who serve on Foundation committees, the staff team, professional partners in the field, and our neighbors who engage in programs and services funded by the Foundation. The work focuses on four priority Impact Areas: Jewish, Early Childhood, Arts & Culture, and Impact Investing. Lisa and I lead the evaluation work on behalf of the Foundation.
What compelled you to reach out to Rosov Consulting?
The Foundation is a very grant-partner-focused organization. We asked our grant partners to report on the indicators they were tracking and to share their learnings. Through a strategic planning process, the Foundation developed “north stars” for the impact we hope to achieve across all impact areas. While our past grant reports were rich with information, accomplishments, and learnings about the work, we were unable to discern the impact that our work was having across the entire impact area portfolio. To address the challenge, the Foundation partnered with Rosov Consulting and relied on their guidance to co-design key performance indicators (KPIs) working alongside our Board, Committees, staff, and grant partners inside the Jewish portfolio. Rosov is steeped in evaluation expertise. Their relationship with the Jewish community was an added bonus and enabled us to draw upon their existing relationships with our grant partners, accelerating the desired outcomes.
How does the Foundation plan to begin using the KPIs?
To support decision making, KPIs are just one tool available to staff and the committees to enhance understanding of the challenges, opportunities, and successes inside the overall portfolio. By aligning a few key indicators, we will be able to explore opportunities for growth inside the portfolio and to document learnings across grant partners more effectively. Since the work was done in collaboration with our grant partners themselves, we are confident the measures identified will also provide valuable information to those delivering services in a manner that could shape the approach and advance intended outcomes.
Another benefit of developing key performance indicators includes being able to share the story of the Foundation’s work with others: Who is the Foundation? Who are our partners and those they serve? How can others become involved? Mr. and Mrs. Fisher spent their lives contributing to healing the world and advancing Jewish causes. The family’s legacy continues through the efforts of our partners today.
How do you see the KPIs changing your work?
We have three different impact goals inside the Jewish Impact area focused on Jewish identity, tzedakah, and opportunity youth (opportunities for disadvantaged youth in Israel). With KPIs now in place, we can look at how we’re doing across the portfolio and answer important questions: What impact are our grant partners making? Are we accomplishing what we said we were going to do? How are our Jewish values present in the work? And, of course, are we reaching our shared goals? As we reflect on our strategic approach, the KPIs will help us see where we are having success and where we may need to work with partners to adjust the approach and/or our expectations to maximize shared outcomes.
KPIs will also influence our relationship with grant partners. We take great pride in being in partnership with organizations carrying out the work; we want indicators that help us all learn about their programs and approaches. Our work is about learning, improving impact, expanding outreach, and effective communication—and adjusting grants if needed. It’s important for us to build positive relationships with our partners so we are all comfortable with the prospect of changing the direction of programs if needed.
Have the clearer desired outcomes changed your culture?
The KPIs were just adopted and implementation is now underway, but we believe this work will strengthen both our internal culture and our relationship with our funding partners. We are building the infrastructure to work more effectively and efficiently in the future while staying true to our commitment to fostering continued learning.
Does the Foundation understand its impact areas differently now than prior to working with Rosov Consulting?
Our work with Rosov Consulting has given us great insight within our Jewish portfolio. This information will shape our measurement and evaluation approach across all of the Foundation’s impact areas. This clarity has helped frame important discussions with our Board and Committee members as we think about the future; it also enables staff to answer questions about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what we hope to accomplish. There are so many wonderful causes in the world that rely on philanthropic support. Choosing one group over another with limited resources is an important responsibility, one that deserves to be made in partnership directly with prospective grant partners and through a thoughtful data informed approach, while considering and minimizing the burden of those efforts on the organizations.
What compelled the Foundation to continue its work with Rosov?
Rosov helped us build an overall internal approach to how we should be thinking about questions, in addition to how to collect, analyze, and report upon data. We see value in continuing our relationship with Rosov because of the framework we built together that will continue to support the Foundation’s evaluation approach in the days ahead. Information fuels the internal and external workings throughout our sector; data are then used to ensure our neighbors who engage with our grant partners know they can rely on Fisher-funded programs for high-quality experiences that meet or exceed their expectations. Staff was able to be open, honest, and vulnerable in front of Rosov staff in a fashion that identified gaps in our learnings and offered new ideas for the way forward. Their entire team has been a joy to work with. They studied our grant portfolio, were familiar with our grant partners and their work, and were sensitive to our needs; they were always fully prepared for meaningful discussions, demonstrated professionalism, and were ready to guide staff through each encounter throughout our entire experience together.