Many foundations have put funds into urban school reform. It seems clear that philanthropies are now re-assessing their strategies, looking under the hood and kicking the tires before they invest, and even demanding changes in governance and management as a condition to grantmaking. This paper proposes "Exploratory Case Studies" as a tool to improve philanthropic giving. It suggests that case studies can help funders target resources on districts with the greatest need while finding a better fit with beneficiary districts.
This paper suggests that foundation giving needs to be backed up by a clear theory of change and that foundation officials need to know whether the districts in which they plan to work or are already working match the foundation's interests."Exploratory Case Studies" with prospective district partners represent one way to proceed. Like "due diligence" in the private sector, exploratory case studies can help foundations understand whether they're about to enter a good match and, equally important, remind both foundation and district officials that effective grantmaking must tie funding to a theory of change.