By Abby Rolland
In philanthropy, funders often ask how well and to what degree nonprofits have an impact on their clients, stakeholders, and communities they serve. There are multiple ways to ask about and measure impact – just take a brief look at questions compiled from various resources about understanding nonprofit mission and impact over time. There are certainly more questions that could be asked.
Does the organization stay focused on their mission and think holistically and creatively in considering all potential ways to be more impactful? Do they effectively measure their impact
Is the program effective – does it have tangible outcomes (qualitative or qualitative)?
Does the organization’s strategy or a program have measurable difference and one that successfully meets its mission?
Is the organization well-thought of in its community, does it change peoples’ lives for the better, and/or is it a difference maker?
Is the organization an excellent communicator internally and externally? Does it clearly communicate the results they are achieving or demonstrate collaboration with others?
Are its end users enthusiastic about the services received?
While these questions begin to get at assessing impact, there are other ways to do so as well. One way is by analyzing and better understanding outputs (achieving short-term goals), outcomes (achieving medium-term goals), and impact (achieving long-term goals) through the process of evaluation.
While evaluation has been a prevalent topic in the nonprofit/philanthropic sector, ideas about how and in what ways to evaluate nonprofit partners and their programs from the perspective of funders has changed.
An Introduction to Evaluation
There are a variety of tools, approaches, and structures used in evaluation. One commonly used tool is the logic model, which integrates program planning, implementation, and evaluation, and shows the relationship between what you put in (the resources), what you will do (the activities), the immediate tangible results (the outputs), and the changes you anticipate that will address the goals (the outcomes).
An example of a logic model
After creating a logic model, an evaluation plan can be drafted. There are two types of evaluation plans – one is a process evaluation plan (what did we do? How well did we do it?) and the other is an outcomes evaluation plan (what difference did it make?). Each plan pulls aspects from the logic model into the plan and uses indicators to determine if an outcome has occurred.
An example of a type of an evaluation plan
In addition to crafting these plans, collecting data is important to the process and work of evaluation. Various methods, including document review, surveys, interviews, and more can be created and used to collect data relevant to evaluation. Then, there are numerous ways that nonprofit organizations can analyze, report on, and use data through types of qualitative and quantitative analyses.
There’s an intriguing approach to evaluation explained by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative.
In the past (and currently, in some cases), evaluation of nonprofits/grantee partners by foundations has been heavy-handed, contributed to an imbalanced power dynamic, and hinders a dual learning approach by both foundation and partner.
Equitable evaluation takes the traditional notion of evaluation for the sake of evaluation and turns it on its head to advance an approach that combines learning with evaluation and helps both foundation and nonprofit partner improve. It offers a space to reflect and learn so that organizations, grantees, and partners can become more relevant and more effective in achieving goals. An article from Grantmakers for Effective Organizations titled “What does it take to learn together well" points out why we want to learn together (building shared knowledge of an issue, developing a new plan or initiative, identifying course corrections if need be), to how partners can work together in a shared learning environment and engage the community in learning. This approach, while potentially more intensive and requiring more in terms of capacity, ensures that evaluation produces meaningful results and isn’t done just to be done.
Equitable evaluation focuses on building/strengthening trusting relationships and effectively collaborating to design an evaluation that benefits all parties as well as the overall community.
There’s a great deal to learn about evaluation through online resources, academic coursework and related degrees, and real-world experience.
harp-weaver staff are eager to follow along with the Equitable Evaluation Initiative and how other funders approach evaluation. There’s always more to learn in this field about how all of us can work together to better serve our communities.