How to Select the Right Evaluation for Your Nonprofit Programs

Evaluations come in many varieties. The type you choose will depend on whether your nonprofit’s program is brand new or has been refined, how much is known about what works in the field in which you’re operating, whether you want to prove that your approach is a model that can influence others, and how much money you have to invest in evaluation.

Your organization may consider these two basic types of evaluation:

  • Formative evaluation, in which you analyze the progress of your nonprofit’s work while it’s in process.

  • Summative evaluation, in which you come to the end of a phase or a project and look back on its accomplishments.

Now that you can drop these terms easily into conversations, here are three other kinds of evaluation you want to know:

  • Process evaluation: Did the project do what it was supposed to do and on schedule? Did you acquire an office, hire three key staff, promote programs, or sign up participants? Very good. In your process evaluation, tell your readers about the steps you took — the story of your program activities.

  • Goal-based evaluation: In a goal-based evaluation, you measure what took place and compare it to the original intentions. Did the project reach its goals? For example, your goal may be to “establish a tuberculosis awareness program in the southeastern quadrant of the city that reaches 500 individuals during its first year.”

    Determining whether a program was established is simple; figuring out how many people the program actually reached is a little more difficult. This answer depends, of course, on what method the project is using to reach people. In other words, you must define what you mean by “reach” before you start measuring the program’s results.

  • Outcomes (or impact) evaluation: In an outcomes evaluation, you ask whether you met your objectives and outcomes. Did the project have the desired outcome and make a meaningful difference? Although it requires time and attention, this type of evaluation is relatively straightforward.

    For example, if you oversee a tuberculosis awareness program, a desired outcome may be increased numbers of people being tested for TB and, if they have contracted it, taking their medication consistently to improve their health and reduce the likelihood they will infect others.

    Evaluating such an outcome requires an in-depth study of the population in that section of the city to determine whether they acted on the knowledge they gained and — if they were infected — continued to follow a strict regimen for taking their medication. Public health department data about rates of tuberculosis infections can be tracked yearly for the neighborhoods served.

    One of the hardest and most important things to ascertain in an outcomes evaluation is whether your organization has set the most meaningful objectives and outcomes.

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