We have been working through the grant writing process over the past several weeks; today we continue with a discussion of evaluation….or, making a difference. Evaluation seeks to answer the “so what” question. However, many nonprofits and ministries struggle with evaluation and yours may also. Evaluation simply stated tells stakeholders including funders, the community and clients themselves, how you are seeking to make a difference in the lives of those you serve.
You see, if an organization is investing a lot of time and resources into programs and services that do not make a difference in those they reach, then we must wonder why the program exists. For this reason, it is important for all organizations to think through the process of evaluation and how they can demonstrate they are making a difference.
In today’s world of accountability and transparency, evaluation is necessary and can help identify the strengths and challenges faced by your organization. Let’s begin with the premise that “we measure what matters to us.” An everyday example of this concept is when we mark the growth of our children against a door frame so that we can compare how much they have grown over the past year. Or when we are trying to lose a few pounds, we weigh ourselves so we can celebrate our victories or work a little harder to get the scale to go in the direction we want it to.
Evaluation can and should begin with anecdotal success; however anecdotal success is not enough! Anecdotal success is not enough! To truly talk about how your programs and services are making a difference in the lives of those you serve, you need to use both stories and data. In other words, you are seeking to make a connection with the heart (stories, emotions) and the head (numbers, logic). To do this effectively, you can develop an evaluation plan in the following ways:
- Capture client success stories throughout the year. Have a process for staff to submit stories to one person who is the “keeper of the stories.” Then, use these stories when communicating with donors and when writing grant proposals. The stories can also be very useful in reminding staff why they do the difficult work they do each and every day. Finally, the stories can be shared with the board of directors to help them connect with the mission of the organization.
- Ask questions to help you understand if your program works. Then ask, how do you know it works? These questions naturally lead to numbers and data collection.
- Track data about those you reach and how their lives are changed as a result of the services you provide.
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Prove your anecdotes with statistics!
As you are planning your programs and services, think about how you will measure their effectiveness. It is easiest to do this when you are beginning a new program, but can be done at any point in the program. Then, use the data you collect to tell a story about the work of your organization and how it is changing the lives of those it serves.
Data provides measurable outcomes, a term frequently used in grant proposals. Measurable outcomes demonstrate through numbers that lives are being changed and the program or service is making a difference. While it can be difficult to measure how lives are being changed, particularly if you are involved in programs that are evangelizing or meeting basic needs, but by thinking through how the program or service operates, what the “typical” person looks like when they enter the program and the services the organization provides, outcomes can be tracked.
One of the easiest ways to get started with the evaluation process is to use a logic model. Members of the Faith Based Nonprofit Resource Center have access to a logic model in the membership portal.