How to Select the Right Evaluation for Your Nonprofit Programs
Evaluation is particularly important to nonprofit organizations because, unlike for-profit businesses, nonprofits can’t evaluate their performance by showing a profit at the end of the year or increasing the value of their stock. Foundations almost always require that grant-funded projects be evaluated, and of course, you yourself will want to know how you’re doing.
Evaluations come in many varieties. Sometimes they’re as simple as documenting that the program did what it was supposed to do; more in-depth evaluations may test whether some anticipated change occurred as a result of the project. Elaborate and complex evaluations often require an outside professional evaluator.
Nonprofit organizations are concerned with three basic types of evaluation:
Process evaluation: Did the project do what it was supposed to do? Often, this answer requires no more than simple counting. This series of school concerts will have a combined audience of 1,500 children. To complete the evaluation of this statement, all you need to do is to keep audience attendance figures.
Goal-based evaluation: Did the project reach its goals? Depending on the goal you’re evaluating, this type of evaluation can be either simple or complex: Establish an AIDS 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 the program.
Outcome evaluation: Did the project have the desired outcome? For example, if you oversee an AIDS awareness program, a desired outcome may be a reduced risk of contracting HIV.
Evaluating such an outcome requires an in-depth study of the population in that section of the city to determine whether behavior changed in a way that reduces the chances of HIV exposure. The evaluator needs to collect or have access to baseline data about HIV exposure before the program begins in order to evaluate this outcome adequately.
Sometimes you will use more than one type of evaluation on a project. Combining process- and goal-based evaluation is very common, for example.
The type of evaluation you use depends on the requirements of your audience for the evaluation. For whom are you evaluating the program? Yourself? Donors? Funders, for example, may request that one or all the above types of evaluation be carried out on a project they’re supporting. A board of directors may want to know whether your program is accomplishing its intended outcome.
Ideally, every project is evaluated in all the ways mentioned above. In reality, evaluations take time and cost money that you may not have. Outcome evaluations in particular can be very difficult to accomplish.