When I encourage nonprofits to do program evaluation, I usually mention two compelling reasons. First, do it for the donors. Second, do it for program improvement.
1. For the donors – many nonprofits don’t even think about evaluating the results of their programs in a professional way until a foundation, or some astute major donor, insists on it. That is unfortunate. It’s re-active instead of pro-active. It would bring more smiles to the faces of foundations and major donors if they found nonprofits doing good program evaluation before they asked or required it. Many donors, many funding sources, are more likely to give, and likely to give more, if the nonprofit can show, in clear terms, that their programs are producing the desired outcomes.
2. For program improvement – here’s a simple formula: “Measure. Change. Measure Again.” I think I heard first from Chari Smith, who wrote the book, Nonprofit Program Improvement Made Simple. Take an existing program. Carefully define the desired outcomes, changes in the lives of the people you serve. Figure out how to measure those things. From what you learn, make the program better, to get more and better outcomes. You’re much more likely to improve a program if you know, clearly, how effective it is, in terms of desired results. If you want to serve well – and you do – then do program evaluation.
Those two reasons should be plenty enough to drive you to good, responsible, professional program evaluation. But lately I’ve been thinking about two other important, powerful reasons: legacy and integrity.
3. Legacy. You’re doing this work because you want your life to count for something good. You want to leave a legacy. You want the world to be a better place in some way, maybe in some small way – or maybe in some big way – because of the work of this nonprofit. That’s also true of your leaders, your team, your board, and your donors. Do program evaluation so you, and everyone working alongside you, can know their lives have indeed made a positive difference for your cause.
4. Integrity. When someone donates to your cause, you accept that donation with a promise – implied or stated – that it will bring the expected good results. When someone joins your team – staff or volunteer – you accept their service with the same kind of promise. Integrity is about keeping your promises. Understand what stakeholders are expecting – what it’s fair and reasonable for them to expect – and then do program evaluation to insure that you are keeping those promises, that you are accepting their contributions with integrity.
love, joy, peace … Michael