EMCF requires empirical evidence of a program's effectiveness, evidence that shows not only how well a program is working but also how to make it work better.

Amassing evidence is an ongoing, dynamic process we call building an evidence base. This fosters a culture of learning and helps an organization continually improve a program, and replicate and expand it. 

How do we and our grantees know if our investments are making a real difference in young people’s lives? EMCF looks at two things:

  • Impact: The strength and rigor of evaluations measuring the effects of a program.
  • Quality: The systems an organization uses to track and ensure performance (participants achieve a program’s intended outcome, such as high school graduation) and fidelity (the consistency with which a program is implemented).

These two factors form the basis of our assessment of an organization’s evidence base, which we assign to one of four levels, according to our framework for Assessing an Organization’s Evidence of Effectiveness.

A major objective of the Foundation’s investments is to help grantees build their evidence base and raise it to a higher level, so they can serve more young people more effectively.


  • MDRC

    MDRC is a prominent evaluator and developer of social interventions.

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  • What Works Clearinghouse

    A centralized source of scientific evidence for what works in education to improve student outcomes.

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  • LINKS Database

    Child Trends' "About What Works" online database for service providers to learn how to improve their programs' effectiveness.

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  • Results for America

    The website of a nonprofit promoting evidence-based policymaking contains up-to-date information about funding programs that work on the national, state and local levels.

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When making investment decisions, including whether to renew or conclude a relationship, we use our “theory of investment,” developed and refined over the last decade, to take into account an organization’s evidence level, along with its overall organizational capacity, in order to gauge its preparedness to pursue “growth with quality.”