When I say "evaluation" to nonprofit professionals, I often see cringes and scowls. Some think back to statistics classes and number crunching. Others speak of the challenges of not enough time, money, or capacity to do evaluation. All are wary about how evaluation findings will be used to make judgments about their programs. They think funders only want to hear good news. Consequently, nonprofits may not share the real lessons because what they learned is not positive. Instead, they tell funders what they think they want to know. So, what we have are a lot of evaluations, often poorly planned, and little commitment to using the findings to improve program effectiveness.
Two factors are forcing nonprofit organizations to reconsider the use of evaluations. The expectation for nonprofits to demonstrate accountability by achieving program goals and increased competition for limited funding opportunities are creating the demand for nonprofits to "measure outcomes." Organizations with data and information showing they are accomplishing what they intended will win the battles for new or continued funding.
This is a tough challenge for many nonprofit professionals. They know why they must learn how to evaluate and measure outcomes. There are many good resources available to learn outcome and evaluation "nuts and bolts." The Kellogg Foundation's Logic Model Development Guide (http://www.wkkf.org/Pubs/Tools/Evaluation/Pub3669.pdf) gives a solid introduction and templates for program planning and evaluation. The University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension's Program and Development Web site (http://www.uwex.edu/ces/pdande/evaluation) has helpful interactive online evaluation courses. Innovation Network's (http://www.innonet.org) Workstation requires registration to use the site at no cost. By registering, users gain access to tools that will help organizations identify outcomes and create evaluation plans.
But, before embarking on the task of learning, my advice is for nonprofit professionals to shift their negative views about evaluation to a view that embraces it. My approach for making this shift is fairly simple. Before focusing on the "nuts and bolts," I emphasize how the evaluation process and similar activities will contribute to the organization's success.
Continuous Learning to Increase Organizational Effectiveness
I have learned that an important part of getting nonprofit professionals to see the benefits of evaluation and measuring outcomes is showing how an ongoing process of formal assessment will help an entire organization become more effective. This process, also known as continuous learning (see Figure 1), incorporates feedback from evaluation, outcome measurement, and other assessments into discussions of how to improve existing programs, as well as develop new programs. My goal is to get them to see how they can use data, analysis, and conclusions to make informed decisions to run their programs. The benefits include successful programs, being able to demonstrate accountability, making decisions to efficiently allocate resources, recruiting and retaining qualified staff and volunteers, developing better budgets, and an increased ability to receive funding from a variety of sources (United Way of America, 2000). When nonprofit leaders see this connection, they make the shift. At the start of a long-term evaluation project, one of the participants felt the process would be a waste of time because previous evaluations never had any value. By the end, however, he was an avid evaluation advocate. His organization was able to use the evaluation findings to build the organization's capacity and leverage additional funding.
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Data Collection and Analysis
Measuring outcomes, undertaking evaluation--most questions focus on how they are different. I emphasize how they are related; you can't conduct an evaluation without outcomes. …