Many nonprofits struggle with evaluation. I often hear complaints that evaluation is simply too difficult, that it is impossible to measure the effects of programs and services and that evaluation takes too much time and money.
However, to be successful in today’s world of accountability and transparency, evaluation is necessary and can help you to 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.
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.
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.
Does your organization need some help in evaluating its programs and services? We can help you develop a strategy to capture the data you need to prove your effectiveness.