Top 5 Reasons to Focus On Nonprofit Program Evaluation

Social Solutions Blog

Top 5 Reasons to Focus On Nonprofit Program Evaluation

A recent Mashable article spotlighted the work of Lava Mae, an inspiring nonprofit working to bring “radical hospitality” to the streets. Lava Mae began in 2014 when founder Doniece Sandoval converted two old city buses into a mobile shower unit for the homeless. Since then, they’ve expanded to host a “pop-up care village where visitors can not only access hot showers and clean bathrooms, get a free lunch, “shop” for personal items at the donation store, get a free haircut and a dental check up, and connected with housing and employment services.

In the midst of getting some great press and impressive grants from folks like Google and the KIND foundation, they’ve made program evaluation an important priority for the coming year. Mashable reports:

“[A]n average of 300 people visit the [pop-up care] village in the four-hour period it’s open, near San Francisco’s main public library. Based on exit interviews, [Sandoval] and her team will evaluate how well the services are working, and how often and on what scale to extend the villages into 2017.”

When small nonprofits talk about program evaluation, they often feel overwhelmed. Too often we assume program evaluation requires lots of time and money that smaller organizations simply don’t have. But, nonprofit program evaluation doesn’t need to be intensive to be valuable. Simply put, program evaluation is nothing more than a systematic method for collecting, analyzing, and using information to answer basic questions about a program. And, as Lava Mae’s example demonstrates, an effective evaluation can begin with something as simple as a short exit interview.

So, even if you’re a small organization, program evaluation can be a powerful strategy for 2017. Why? Keep reading for our top 5 reasons you should focus on nonprofit program evaluation.

5) Attract More Funding

From foundation grants to major donors, funders want to support programs that can demonstrate impact. They want to invest in programs that know how to drive positive outcomes. Stories and anecdotes can give a human face to your success, but to be truly powerful they need to be backed by concrete data.

Grantmakers generally required some type of program evaluation as a condition of funding. And, while they ultimately want to see strong outcomes, simply having systems in place for program evaluation can demonstrate a commitment to high-quality programs that funders value. While individual donors may not “require” program evaluation formerly, they too want to see real, tangible evidence of your success. Focusing on program evaluation will ensure that you can demonstrate and effectively communicate your impact and outcomes to critical funders this coming year.

4) Expand Community Partnerships

Sharing your nonprofit program evaluation data can be a great way to attract volunteers and community partnerships. Just as funders want to support successful organizations, other nonprofits, government agencies, and local businesses are excited to work with nonprofits that can drive real change in their communities. A strong program evaluation systems don’t just help you showcase success, but can give you important data about how you create that success. This gives you the power to show individual partners and contributors how their specific efforts and contributions can create even more impact.

drive positive culture change3) Drive Positive Culture Change

Far too often, especially in small nonprofits, caring becomes a surrogate for competency. This can create challenging and even toxic organizational culture. We’ve all been in a meeting or conversation where someone demands that their ideas are best because they have the most passion or commitment to the cause.

While certainly passion and commitment are critical to nonprofit success, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Lasting success and impact requires a commitment to ongoing evaluation and assessment. We have to support what works, but we also have to be willing to explore how we can do better. Focusing on nonprofit program evaluation helps shift your organizational culture away from the reliance on strong personalities or passion towards data-driven decision making that recognizes and supports what works, no matter who voices the ideas.

2) Improve Outcomes & Efficiency

An effective nonprofit program evaluation helps you to identify what works and what doesn’t. That knowledge empowers program managers to focus on the essential components of your program model that most benefit participants. It also allows them to fine tune program design and delivery to maximize outcomes. At the same time, being able to adapt, improve or eliminate program elements that do not contribute to success saves valuable resources. So, focusing on nonprofit program evaluation gives you the information you need to not only produce better outcomes, but also spend less time, money, and energy to do so.

1) Replicate and Scale Your Impact

A strong focus on nonprofit program evaluation gives you the tools you need to replicate and scale successful programs. For some organizations, that might mean expanding programs (with that increase in funding your evaluation helped you capture!). For others, it may give you the tools you need to inspire and lead other organizations to replicate your success in their own communities. Regardless of how and where you replicate and scale your impact, sharing critical findings from your program evaluation adds knowledge and power to the community of change-makers. That means you don’t have to be a big organization to become a true leader in your field. You simply have to focus on program evaluation and be willing to share what you learn.

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