New Fellowship Program

Putting Evaluative Thinking to Work

Putting Evaluative Thinking to Work

We have some exciting news to share: After a one-year pause, The Duke Endowment’s Fellowship program is about to resume. It will look a bit different than it has in the past, but we believe the changes will strengthen its impact for the future.

The program will now be:

  • One year long, from June to June, instead of the current two years.
  • Project-based. Fellows will be hired to work on a significant project that the Endowment needs help with.
  • Focused on talented candidates who have a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily an advanced degree or extensive work experience.

Our aim – to give emerging leaders exposure to the philanthropic landscape and help them develop skills while contributing to the Endowment’s mission – stays the same.

Why We Made These Changes

The Endowment began its Fellowship program in 2005. Fellows spent six months in each of our four program areas to experience the grantmaking cycle from beginning to end. From its beginning, the program brought in talented and committed people who went on to do amazing work in their chosen fields. As we helped them learn and develop, we, in turn, learned a great deal from them.

In the spirit of learning and continuous improvement that’s so important to our work, we conducted an internal evaluation to assess the Fellowship’s impact in 2018. We surveyed staff members, along with all current and past Fellows, and conducted interviews with a subset of those groups.

Just as we had hoped, the evaluation helped us learn about the program’s strengths and challenges and uncover potential adjustments. Staff and Fellows agreed that the program benefitted participants, but were less clear about its purpose and the expected tasks and responsibilities of Fellows.

So instead of hiring a Fellow for 2019-21, we pressed pause. Armed with data from the evaluation, staff members from our grantmaking areas, communications, finance, evaluation and human resources came together to fine-tune the program and make it as effective as possible.

Our hard-working group – which included two past and two current Fellows – used evaluative thinking skills to shape our decisions. As we’ve learned at the Endowment, evaluative thinkers are proactive, seeking evidence and asking questions to inform action. Skills in their toolbox include the discipline of identifying and testing assumptions and hypotheses, posing questions, engaging multiple perspectives to understand what is – or isn’t – working, and applying evidence in real time to make better decisions.

The “Fellowship Revamp Committee” grounded its process in those evaluative thinking practices. In tackling each decision, for example, we disciplined ourselves to identify and challenge assumptions. Evaluation and learning techniques – before action reviews, framing questions, creating learning agendas and identifying unintended consequences – supported our meeting prep and facilitation.

The Learning Continues

Adopting an evaluative thinking mindset felt forced at first. But as we struggled together, the four habits of evaluative thinking helped pave a clear path forward. Now that we’re ready to launch the new program, we feel confident that our recommendations are based on solid evidence and well-informed reflection.

This fall, we’re selecting project proposals from program areas and departments. We’ll begin recruiting a Fellow in the spring. We hope to evaluate and learn from this pilot. We want to test our internal proposal process, for example, and see if our timing around recruiting creates any unintended barriers for students. We’ll keep a learning log to record insights in real-time.

It’s rewarding to see our efforts come to fruition. The Endowment is committed to this dynamic program and excited about giving it new life. Most of all, we’re eager to welcome future Fellows to our work.