What to Do with the Results of a Nonprofit Program Performance Assessment
It is hard work to assess the performance of your nonprofit program, but it is even harder to react appropriately to the findings — especially if they are less than positive. Here are some basic steps to follow whether the findings are delightful or a bit discouraging.
Report what you discover
When you get ready to report on your program, look at your information carefully. Do you see positive change? Does one group appear to have done better than another group? If so, ask yourself why. Was there a dip in attendance during any part of the program? Did anyone drop out of your classes? If you interviewed program participants, did you discover any information that can be interpreted in your report?
If you like working with charts and graphs, this may be the time to use them. If your evaluation produces numbers — test scores, percentages of participants completing a full course, proportions of the general population reached by your program — showing results in graph form can make a strong point.
Review the goals and objectives of your project and determine whether the information you collected confirms that your objectives were met. If your program fell short of its goals, can you explain why and what you’ll do the next time to remedy the situation?
Consider your audience. If you’ll be sending a report to a foundation funder or to your board, you’ll want to create a more formal report than one you’ll share only with your staff.
Tell the story without numbers
While numbers are good, they usually don’t tell the whole story. And for many of us, they don’t do a good job of conveying the human interest that’s present in most nonprofit programs. Sometimes, the best way to communicate the results of your program may be to tell a story about a person or group of people who benefited from your services.
It can be helpful to interview a client and include one or two direct quotations about his experiences as a participant in the program. Be careful to guard your client’s confidentiality, however. Use a pseudonym or ask the client’s permission before using his name.
Don’t go overboard with your prose and don’t exaggerate. Your readers will know if your story is unbelievable, so stick to the facts — but do put a human face on them.
Be honest and take the results in stride
You want everything you do to have a perfect ending, but that isn’t always possible. Sometimes plans go awry. Maybe you didn’t find the clients you hoped to find, or maybe the audience failed to arrive on opening night.
Honesty is the best policy — for yourself and your funders. If your program failed to meet its objectives, try to figure out why so you can do better next time. Prepare a report that includes accurate data and an analysis of the reasons your program fell short of its goals.
If you do have to submit a less-than-favorable report on your program to your funders, remember that a foundation program officer will appreciate a straightforward and honest appraisal. If you fudge the data, your fibs can come back to bite you.
One purpose of an evaluation is to help you, your staff and board, and your funders discover more about your organization’s work. Often, coming away with new knowledge is nearly as important as achieving the results you imagined.