When it comes to nonprofit program evaluation, there are a lot of misconceptions out there.
Even a basic Google search brings up some iffy advice – having you believe, for instance, that the only way to measure nonprofit impact is to spend thousands of dollars on outside consultants or invest in pricey software to collect dozens of data points.
But your community won’t automatically benefit more from you spending a ton of money to measure your organization’s performance. In fact, the vast majority of nonprofit program evaluation is done in-house with simple tools.
Your organization will benefit from consistently measuring your impact.
Regular nonprofit program evaluation comes with a host of benefits for your organization:
- You’ll start to understand how effective you are in reaching your stated goals.
- You’ll be able to course-correct as necessary – before you’ve expended a ton of resources into the wrong approach.
- You’ll streamline your program delivery and avoid mission drift.
And when you’ve already got your own systems in place to measure your nonprofit’s performance, you’ll find it’s much less of a headache to respond to program evaluation questions on grant applications and reports.
The Basics of Program Evaluation for Nonprofits
So what are the basics of nonprofit program evaluation?
Here’s how to get started.
Identify Your Goals & Select Outcomes
Think about the fundamental why of each program you run. What value does it provide for the people who participate? Having a clear understanding of your programs’ goals will help you select the right outcomes to measure your organization’s performance.
Choose outcomes that are within your ability to track successfully, and categorize them as short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes. A homework help program for teens, for example, might identify a percentage of homework completion as their short-term outcome; passing grades for the school year as their desired intermediate outcome; and high school graduation as the long-term outcome they hope their students will achieve.
Some programs will have more obvious choices than others. If you’re stuck, bring one of your program participants to mind – what do you hope this person gains during the time they are involved with your organization? If you run into them six months later, where do you hope they’ll be? A year later?
Gather & Analyze Your Data
One of the biggest challenges for any nonprofit looking to measure their organization’s impact is collecting all of the data necessary to analyze the success of their programs.
Think through all of the collection methods you have available to you. What other stakeholders can help? You might find that the availability to gather critical data narrows down your options, in terms of outcomes you can reasonably track. And that’s okay!
Whatever outcomes and data collection methods you choose, be sure to ask trusted advisors and friends of your organization for feedback – you never know who might just have the perfect solution.
Evaluation can help you test and refine the effectiveness of your programs and the impact you’re making on your community. You’ll be able to see where your programs are underperforming and make the adjustments necessary to increase their value.
In order to do this, though, you’ll need to have reliable, comparable data – and that requires a level of consistency. So whether you’re collecting report cards, taking event attendance, or collecting participating surveys, make sure to perform the activity regularly and ask the right questions to evaluate growth.
Measuring your nonprofit’s impact is better with friends.
Imperfect evaluation is better than none at all – don’t hesitate to dive into the planning stage!
But whether it’s outlining your process or looking for tried and true tips for increasing your organization’s performance, it helps to have a supportive network where you can ask questions and get great advice.