Where can I learn about nonprofit program evaluation?
Program evaluation is the process of collecting information about a program in order to make decisions about it. Including an evaluation plan in your program shows that you take your objectives seriously and want to know how well you have achieved them. More and more foundations expect to see an evaluation component in the programs they fund.
IssueLab Results is a place for foundations and nonprofits to share funded evaluations and to access the lessons of their peers and colleagues. It includes three key features to help change makers build on each other's knowledge:
- Share Results: A place to learn about the initiative, find out what we're up to, and upload your most recent evaluation.
- Find Results: A growing, open access collection of evaluations AND a tool for visualizing not just what has been learned but who is funding and implementing evaluations on the issues that matter to you.
- Measure Results: A curated collection of reports and methodological guides focused on building the evaluative capacity of social sector organizations.
According to Dr. Lee Mizell, a research and management consultant to public, private, and nonprofit organizations, an evaluation plan should, at minimum: clearly identify the target population
- specify program objectives in measurable terms
- identify key indicators of success
- outline data collection and analysis activities
- develop a timeline to monitor the success of the program on an ongoing basis.
However, nonprofits frequently design and implement evaluation activities after a program is up and running, making it difficult, if not impossible, for evaluators to gather the information they need to accurately measure the success of the program.
Although at least 35 different types of evaluation exist, you should first focus on what you need to know to make the decisions you need to make, and how to accurately collect and understand that information. The method(s) you choose will depend on the project and its objectives. If you plan to apply for grants, you probably will need to describe how information will be collected, analyzed, and reported.
In this recorded webinar, Building Excellence and Impact into your Program Designs, expert Liana Downey shares four "must-do's" when designing your program.
See also our related Knowledge Base articles:
- Where can I find technical assistance or a consultant for my nonprofit?
- Where can I learn more about hiring a consultant?
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Explore resources curated by our staff for this topic:
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
A Practical Guide for Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Evaluation Questions
Since stakeholders are potential users of evaluation findings, their input into the scope of the evaluation is critical to ensuring the integrity and value of evaluation results. This guide provides a five-step process for involving stakeholders in developing evaluation questions, and includes a set of four worksheets to facilitate this process. Published Oct. 2009.
Free Management Library
Basic Guide to Program Evaluation
Provides guidance toward planning and implementing an evaluation process for for-profit or nonprofit programs.
FSG Reimagining Social Change
Resources target primarily grantmakers, but may be applicable to nonprofits seeking to develop evaluation methods. Scroll down for a list of actual grantmaker evaluation projects.
Candid Learning for Funders
Making Measures Work for You: Outcomes and Evaluation
Candid Learning for Funders provides briefing notes that explain the basics of different evaluations techniques and answer some common questions about their uses. Each brief contains a mini-case, based on one grantmaker’s experiences.
Johns Hopkins Listening Post Project [PDF]
Nonprofits,Innovation,and Performance Measurement: Separating Fact From Fiction
Based on a survey of more than four hundred nonprofits, 85 percent of respondents reported that they measure program effectiveness, all of whom use output measures, like the number of persons served. Nearly 70 percent also reported using outcome measures, which focus on ultimate effects. Published 2010.
National Minority AIDS Council [PDF]
The purpose of this manual is to provide a step-by-step outline of the planning process that communities, groups and organizations should follow to develop action plans and successful programs.
Software to Support Program Evaluation
There’s no software silver bullet that will take care of all your program evaluation needs, but the right tools can help you learn more about the efficacy of your programs and help you act on what you learn. Published Jan. 2012.
Statistics Without Borders
According to the group: "SWB provides pro bono statistical and data science services. We work to improve human welfare by providing empirical knowledge using proper applications of statistical principles and best practices so that our clients can make more informed decisions. We focus on areas where access to such resources is limited."
"A strategic learning and evaluation system. When fully implemented, these elements work together to ensure that learning and evaluation activities reflect and feed into the organization’s latest thinking."
Foundation Center [PDF]
The Evaluation Conversation: A Path to Impact for Foundation Boards and Executives
Challenges foundation leaders to rethink the role of evaluation and turn it into a vital institutional tool to achieve philanthropic purpose and improve strategy. Published Oct. 2006.
Administration for Children & Families
The Program Manager's Guide to Evaluation
Online guide explains program evaluation: what it is, how to understand it, how to do it, and how to use it to improve programs.