Just a few days ago I noted the engaging quality of an interactive evaluation report put out by the Knight Foundation. I called it "the most fun evaluation report you've ever read." I wasn't being snide, I meant it (although the bar is admittedly low).
Well, the bar just got a little higher. Today, the front page of that Arts section in The New York Times included a story about an evaluation report. It's a study of the costs of raising millions to build signature buildings. Costs so high that they can kill the entire organization.
The website for the study (from the University of Chicago, that well known comedy shop) features a two-minute animated video summarizing the findings. The website also provides easy access to a "bookshelf" of research and commentary on similar subjects, particularly much of the good work done by Clara Miller and the Nonprofit Finance Fund over the years. It's nice to see the findings being released in a variety of useful ways now, before the 2013 publication of two full books on the research. The research was supported by the The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
The report's findings aren't terribly surprising. Big buildings cost a lot of money. Especially after they're built. Institutions should think twice, and then twice again, when forecasting the hoped-for revenue and the actual costs of that new modern art wing or performing arts center. The data are comprehensive, the examples diverse, the interviews compelling, and the presentation engaging. The case studies are all examples of philanthropic and public partnerships and feature both big city and smaller community ambitions. For an evaluation study like this to be featured in the "newspaper of record" is impressive and unusual. Let's hope it's also influential.
And while you're at it check out Sparkwise, a free open source dashboard for measuring media and reach. Fast Company talks about them here.