I first came across the term evidence-based as a description of a specialization in medicine. Yes, Evidence Based Medicine is a new subspecialty. I know what you are thinking - the same thing I wondered when I heard this. "Wait, if evidence-based is a specialty, what other kind of medicine have the docs been practicing?"
Well, it turns out, that the evidence-based protocol in medicine, which involves a certain number of Random Control Trials (Hey, you, get back here, I heard you start to leave the room) and a specific protocol for reviewing the medical literature, is contested by folks who practice medicine based in science AND human judgment AND quality of life. It's a beautiful parallel to the role of evidence-based practice in philanthropy and nonprofits - proof + passion, head + heart.
Evidence based practice is what we got when the protocols for using specific kinds of research analyzed in specific kinds of ways spread beyond medicine into domains such as education and nursing.
Evidence based practice is expanding in philanthropy. The Annie E Casey Foundation has an evidence based practice group. The spread of EBP seems to be in direct proportion to the growth of Program Related Investments, Impact Investing, and Social Impact Bonds - all tools that need external standards for success. It's also riding the wave of charity rating efforts, independent ratings organizations, and institutions focused on improving philanthropic practice. Nonprofits and evaluation groups are using evidence-based practice not only to assess programs but to design and replicate them. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains an online database of evidence-based programs and practices.
This is not a fly-by-night buzzword. Evidence-based is a rigorous approach to the application of research to practice and while the approach may not have all the answers we can expect to see more of it.