This month our focus is on outcomes of nonprofits. Simply put, outcomes answer the question, “what have we accomplished?” Clearly, the purpose of a nonprofit is to change something or make a difference, so when we measure outcomes, we need to answer the “making a difference” question in light of the work being done by the organization. We have looked at the vocabulary commonly used to explain outcomes and one commonly used approach to express accomplishments-the logic model.
As we wrap up the month of June, let’s spend some time talking about how to design an evaluation plan for your program or service. Like most things, it is easiest to begin designing an evaluation plan at the outset of the program. Better yet, design the evaluation plan when the program is being designed. As you begin, answer the following questions:
- How will we know the program is a success? What will our participants or clients look like? How will their lives be better?
- Using the answers to the above questions, think about 2 or 3 questions that will help you know that the program or service is making a difference in the lives of those you serve. For instance, in a job placement program, one obvious question is how many people obtained employment. Another question might be how many people are still employed after three months and still another might be how many people have obtained a raise or promotion after six months.
- Once you have the questions that you want to answer, the next step is to determine what information you need to answer these questions. Because data collection can be time consuming and expensive, you will want to focus on just two or three questions. It can be tempting to develop an evaluation plan that has the organization collecting a lot of data and doing lots of follow-up with clients; however, remember that such a process can be overwhelming for staff and quite costly. Instead, focus on a few key questions and collect anecdotal stories of success throughout the program year.
One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make is not including any funds in the budget for evaluation costs. Evaluation costs money! Typically, someone must collect the data (and often a specialized software system is used) and analyze it. For programs that track longitudinal outcomes or those that are designed with control groups, the costs can be even more significant.
The basics of evaluation are not so basic. Even to the most experienced organization, evaluation can often be overwhelming. If your organization needs help in designing a cost-effective evaluation, feel free to call on us!