Evaluating Existing Programs

This week we will focus on evaluating your programs. Great care should be taken on designing and implementing your program evaluation because it is the one tool that can provide an accurate (and hopefully objective) look at the impact you are making in the community. The cost of evaluating your programs is a tiny fraction of the money your organization spends implementing these programs.

Lets look at some strategies and approaches that may assist you in the evaluation process

1) Difference between an internal evaluation and objective (external) evaluation – Decide if you want to hire an external evaluator who can be more objective or use an internal evaluation process where the evaluator has ‘special insights’ into the staff and programs. Frequently the funding source will request, or require, an external evaluation to help assure objectivity.

2) Risks of external evaluation – Sometimes the external evaluator will not understand your culture and might be insensitive to the internal politics and dynamics of the organization.

3) Risks of internal evaluation – The great risk here is that people are too close to the organization and might only reinforce what the leadership wants to hear. It is critical for internal evaluators to be honest and direct to help guide the leaders of the organization who will make the strategic decisions relating to the programs.

4) Purpose of the evaluation – The first objective of the evaluation is to clearly define what the evaluation should ultimately accomplish. Look at the type of information that will be collected and for what purpose it will be gathered.

5) Outcome based evaluation – Funding sources are looking more and more on program outcomes and the impact on your constituencies and community rather than on the number of program participants. These types of outcome based evaluations usually take place over a longer time period (sometimes years).

6) Activity based evaluation – This is an evaluation that looks at the internal goals and systems of a program (number of clients served, how the staff is spending their time, etc).

7) Involving people in the process – Be sure to involve key staff, clients, board members, and funders throughout the evaluation process. Involving these individuals will increase the likelihood of ownership and help you make better changes.

8) Evaluate yearly – Try to evaluate and make the necessary changes in your programs on a yearly basis.

9) Using the results of the evaluation – It is important to develop a change strategy that clearly looks at the results and plans out the necessary steps to change the systems and/or people to improve performance.

10) Build in the evaluation right from the start – The only way to really evaluate the performance is to be clear what your expectations and benchmarks of success are right from the start of the program. When designing the programs, be clear to build in quantitative objectives that you can review.

Now for some great tips from a reader:

From Sharon Heinlin, Affiliate Faculty Member for the Masters of Nonprofit Management program at Regis University: “I would include the importance of continuous de-briefing as part of program evaluation. When a nonprofit does this, it can really promote amazing results!”

Off the topic of program evaluations, but equally important, a reader who enjoys volunteering wrote to us with a good point on volunteering: “I enjoy volunteering, and I’m sure many other people do to.  However, the biggest pet peeve of many of us that volunteer is not having a work agenda.  Or, being told, ‘oh, just find something you want to do…’   If there is a choice, lay it out for us, along with what is expected. Next, be available, or have suggestion sheets that you actually read, for feedback.  Volunteers see the work in a different manner than staff.  Since they are giving away their time, they want it used just as wisely as the staff would like. Appreciation IS out pay!”

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