Evaluation Unit

At the Walton Family Foundation, all grant making is considered an investment for the achievement of a desired goal. Whether it is increasing the number of school choices available to families in an urban school district or increasing water flow in a tributary of the Colorado River, every dollar invested in projects and organizations has the intent of achieving results.

Given our entrepreneurial mindset, we seek to work with organizations that:

  • Have strategies based on sound theories of action;
  • Set clear goals; and
  • Include measurable benchmarks to assess performance.

Recent Publications From Our Evaluation Unit

Our Evaluation Unit staff conducts research and participates in the discussion about best practices in philanthropic evaluation.

Here are a few links to recent articles that have appeared in national media.


Guides to Creating Performance Measures

This video shows Walton Family Foundation grant applicants how to create the rigorous performance measures that they will need to complete their application.

All invited grant applicants should also review the following guides in order to compose complete and useful performance measures.


Our Approach To Evaluation

To measure progress toward our goals, we have established an evaluation process that provides useful information to our staff and board members about which organizations are effective, what strategies are working, and whether our overall mission is being achieved.

Our evaluation efforts include monitoring and assessing the efforts of individual grantees as well as investigating progress toward broader strategic goals – and doing so in a rigorous, systematic and timely manner.

Evaluation can tell us whether programs are working. It can also provide insight to staff and grantees about how to adjust and improve their efforts. We believe that both types of assessment are valuable to our work and essential to helping us achieve our goals.

We know that external factors affect grantee performance and the impact of our strategies and that the systems in which we work are complex and influenced by many factors. We are sensitive to this. Still, we operate under the assumption that it is possible, with some limitations, to understand, know, and objectively measure performance at all levels of our work, from individual grants through our strategies, initiatives, and programs.

Specifically, we believe it is possible, and in fact our responsibility, to base evaluations on rigorous scientific approaches. This is challenging, but necessary to ensure our evaluations are valid, accurate, and as objective as possible, thus providing reliable information for our board, our program staff and our grantees. We are committed to being transparent about measuring results and then using those results to most efficiently and effectively achieve our mission.


In addition to monitoring and evaluating our grantees directly, we also stay current on relevant third-party research. Here is some of what we have been learning:

K-12 Education Studies

  • A national evaluation of Teach For America corps members teaching high school math finds that students assigned to TFA teachers gain an additional 2.6 months of learning over students of comparison teachers.
  • This national study of charter schools conducted by Stanford University (CREDO) found significant positive effects in at least one subject for African-American students, low-income students, English Language Learners, and special needs students.

Freshwater and Marine Conservation Studies

  • This assessment of seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council demonstrates that the eco-label accurately identifies products as coming from healthy fish stocks, which helps seafood consumers who are seeking to buy sustainable seafood.
  • A study of Cabo Pulmo National Park, a marine protected area in Mexico's Gulf of California, showed dramatic increases in the amount and types of fish inside the park over a ten-year period, which has led to significant local economic benefits.

Home Region Studies

  • In a survey of quality of life in Northwest Arkansas, conducted by the foundation’s Evaluation Unit and the Survey Research Laboratory at Mississippi State, respondents from Washington and Benton counties answered questions about overall perceptions of quality of life, particularly in the areas in which the foundation invests.
  • This report was funded by the foundation to help guide investments in afterschool programming in Phillips County, Arkansas, and Coahoma County, Mississippi, and reviews outcomes associated with participation in afterschool programs and identifies promising practices of afterschool programs.
  • This in-depth review of comprehensive community change initiatives helped shape changes to the foundation’s strategy and evaluation efforts in the Delta, which now focus on basic community needs and targeted job creation. “Most comprehensive community change initiatives…have not produced the degree of community transformation envisioned by their designers.”

Our Staff