If you’ve carefully shaped the goals, objectives, and outcomes section of your nonprofit grant proposal, the desired project results are clear. The evaluation section, then, explains how the organization will measure whether it met those goals, objectives, and outcomes.

The evaluation section identifies who will conduct the evaluation and why that person or consulting group is right for the job; what information is already known about the situation or population served; what instrument(s) will be used to measure the project’s results; and how the finished report will be used.

Different kinds of evaluation are appropriate at different stages of a project. In a project’s first year, the most important question may be, “How can we make it run better?” A nonprofit with a brand-new effort may want to spend the first year analyzing its internal efficiency, balance of responsibilities, and general productivity before beginning an in-depth study of whether outcomes are being achieved.

Some organizations evaluate all their projects with project staff. Who’s better suited to understand the details and nuances of the work? Who else can grasp the purpose and objectives of the project so quickly?

Of course, the opposing view is that you get biased results by asking staff members whose ideas may have shaped the programs and whose livelihoods may depend on continuation of the project. Yet, outside consultants are more expensive, and they, too, are employed by the nonprofit organization and may bring some biases to the evaluation.

Here are some common questions addressed in evaluations (progressing from basic to complex):

  • What activities did you complete? Were project funds spent according to the proposal plan?

  • How many people are being served and by how many units of service (hours of counseling, copies of publications, and so on)?

  • How do consumers of the organization’s services rate the quality of those services?

  • How does this organization’s work compare to industry standards for effective work of this type?

  • What changes have been effected in the lives of the constituents served?

Often a nonprofit can discover a lot about the effectiveness of its work by analyzing information that it already gathers. For example, an organization may have on file intake and exit interviews with staff and clients, videotapes of activities, or comments submitted to the website.

If your organization plans to gather data from new sources (such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups), the proposal should explain what those sources are, who will design the instruments to be used, who will gather the information, and who will analyze the results.