Evaluation Is Not Your Enemy

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You get that sinking feeling: the part of the proposal where the funder asks  “How will you evaluate your program?” You know it works, there’s widespread agreement that it’s a good program, but how to demonstrate it? How to get comfortable with evaluation, to be sure it’s more than a cursory bean-counting exercise?


Allison Shurilla, founder of Brooklyn-based AS Community Consulting, urges nonprofits to create an “evaluation culture.” She defines an evaluation culture as proactive. . .looking inside and outside. . .includes the organization and its programs. . .integrated into everyday work. Look for what you’re already doing that captures information and gives you feedback. Find ways to make data collection easier to access, for internal understanding and for external reporting.


Shurilla said, “having these processes in place is a true investment for organizations of any size. Investing in building an evaluation culture can help you streamline these steps so that they are a natural part of your work. You will be doing evaluation without realizing it.”


It’s good to remember that the root of evaluation is the word “value,” and any nonprofit program worth its salt delivers value to all its stakeholders.  The board wants to know that the work aligns with the mission; program staff want to know that what they do has impact; funders want to know that the grant helps create value for the community. And (too often overlooked) the beneficiaries of the program — the clients themselves — should participate in program design and in talking about the benefits they receive.


Evaluation ought to be a part of the DNA of a nonprofit. It’s the way you know you are on the right track and all of the targets and goals are clear, realistic and appropriate. This doesn’t mean you have to measure everything — just the important things, like what you and your clients set out to accomplish in the first place and whether or not you are accomplishing it. If you want to get to a destination, one of the first things to know is how you’ll recognize it when you arrive.


An "evaluation culture” means when you get to that part of the proposal you’ll get that good feeling from having a solid story to tell.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center

and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.



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