Sunday, February 15, 2009

Evaluation Methods - How Can A Nonprofit Use Them To Raise More Money More Often

Many nonprofits, today, must learn about evaluation methods. They are most commonly requested when a nonprofit applies for a grant. The foundation (or whatever entity is offering the grant) may require, in their giving guidelines for instance, that any nonprofit that applies for a grant from them build a standard or professionally accepted evaluation method into their proposed program or project (that the nonprofit is seeking a grant for).

What are evaluation methods? An evaluation method is a way to check whether a nonprofit's program or project's intended goals, outcomes, successes, etc. are achieved, and if they aren't achieved (or achieved fully) why they weren't and what can be changed or improved to improve that program or project. Evaluation methods may be any one of many ways to follow through, and check in with the beneficiaries of a program or project that attended, or was served by, or in some way was involved purposefully in the program or project. The intended program or project beneficiaries may be asked to fill out a survey or may be studied to determine what they experienced in the program or project and whether there was a benefit. These are two different evaluation methods. There are many. Evaluation methods vary, from industry to industry, and often there are many to select from that are professionally accepted by a nonprofit's professional field of expertise.

Evaluation methods are built into a project or program, during its design stage, and it is the final form of the evaluation method that is described in the application for a grant. Evaluation methods are a guarantee for donors (investors in the program/project), and a guarantee for the beneficiaries of the program and project because they potentially lead to better programs; but most especially having evaluation methods built into all of your programs and projects is insurance for your organization's mission statement. If your organization has repeated successes to point at, it will grow and you should achieve greater and larger fundraising achievements. How can evaluation methods do this?

Donors, today, often request (especially when donating grants) that a program or project, that its funding, be designed by professionals in the field or industry that the organization works; that all aspects of the program or project be fully planned out (e.g. budget, fundraising, contingency planning, who the attendees or beneficiaries will be (according to demographics, etc.), anticipated outcomes and benefits, a time line, tasking jobs, and evaluating whether the program or project was a success). Donors, today, want to give their donations to organizations who will be successful, follow through, and share both the successes and lessons learned (and how those lessons learned will be used to better the next instance of the project or program). To understand what today's donors are seeking, read my post, A Shift In Giving: Proactive Philanthropists Instead of Passive Donors

Donors, today, including entities that donate grants are looking to solve issues or provide solutions to problems. They are 'donor investors', no longer handing donations over willy nilly just to get a tax deduction (if donors ever really did this). Donors, today, are understood better by the nonprofit sector to be people looking to solve our communities' issues but are doing it by providing resources (money, expertise, paying expenses for us, etc.) instead of by starting up or operating a nonprofit to address the issue. Their work, from where they sit, is to locate the best potential recipient of their donation. They ask themselves 'which nonprofit is working on the cause that is near and dear to my heart?', from this question, more questions are asked to narrow down to potential recipients. Following questions probably include: 'of these nonprofits, who is working on the issue that concerns me the most?', 'then...of these candidates, which nonprofits are doing excellent work: succeeding at their mission work, achieving the nonprofit's own benchmarks and goals?', and finally, 'which of these few nonprofits, that I've narrowed my selection down to, is providing services in the geographic region(s) that I care most about and which organization do I know is operating honestly (transparently) and which will I be able to trust to communicate thoroughly and honestly?'. These are the concerns of the modern donor, today.

Donors may give many grants in a single year, for instance, and while they may wish they could just drop by and have a nice chat with the grant recipient nonprofit's executive director or board president; many do not have the time to do so. (Some grant donors do, though!) So, in order to get information about how and where their grant donation was spent, and what that investment (donation) did for the community - they use standardized, or professionally accepted evaluation methods. It is critical for nonprofit leadership to understand that grant donors (like other kinds of donors) do not want to hear back (from the evaluation) that everything was perfect and everything went exactly as hoped. While it would be nice to hear this, it is suspect because as we know; no one is perfect and that is OK with most donors. What they want or hope to get from the evaluation method is the truth. Even better, still, donors want to come to know the nonprofit (grant recipient) by seeing what the nonprofit does with the feedback or evaluation method's results that they get back (after the program or project has finished). If, for instance, the program or project is going to be conducted again same time next year - it is really powerful for a nonprofit to demonstrate its professionalism, willingness to learn, and transparency by sharing with its donor(s) the (true, of course) results of the evaluation by sharing where there were successes and also which benchmarks that were not achieved, while stating clearly what the nonprofit is going to do with the feedback or evaluation method's results. If, for instance, we conducted an invasive weed specie eradication program on a land preserve and 70% of the invasive weed species were successfully eradicated, but the remaining 20% were not effected; the nonprofit should share this result with it's donor(s) (investor(s)) and also describe what they learned and how they will improve the same program, the next time it's conducted, to ideally eradicate more than 70% of the invasive species. No donor expects any recipient of their funds to do everything correctly the first time around and be completely successful. Not even the third time around. What a donor wants to see, over time, is that a nonprofit is not only operating professionally, ethically, and transparently; but it is not repeating its mistakes, but rather improving its work and the benefit of the nonprofit's work on the community.

And this is the key.

The nonprofit that understands that its donors (including its grant donors) are truly partners in its mission's work (and they are), and that they can keep those partners happy (willing to give again and to give more) by being inclusive, informative, honest, and thorough in communicating with donors about the nonprofit's own successes and where it knows it can improve - this is the nonprofit that will acquire a deeper relationship with its donors - and that is invaluable. Once a donor understands how valued, respected, and included it is in a nonrpofit's work (what is really going on where the donation went) - that donor then understands that a bond has been formed with the nonprofit, and it is not difficult for that donor to give again, to a previous nonprofit grant recipient; and to give more, this time.

I recommend the following resources to learn more about evaluation methods, how to build one, and options for various fields of industry (e.g. medical, education, child welfare, animal welfare, etc. nonprofits' work):

Free Management Library's provides a wealth of free professionally accepted best practices' information in the nonprofit sector's work. Their Basic Guide To Outcomes-Based Evaluation For Nonprofit Organizations With Very Limited Resources offers a beautiful free resource to learn about nonprofit evaluation methods.

The February 2000, Volume 9 issue of Snapshots , the Aspen Institute's free PDF newsletter provides a short but good summation about nonprofit evaluations.

Fataneh Zarinpoush's free 98 page Project Evaluation Guide For Nonprofit Organization's is also available from the Imagine Canada Nonprofit Library Commons

Many excellent books have also been written on the topic. On the left hand side of this blog's template there is a link to the best resource for books about all aspects of professional nonprofit work (everything from fundraising, to starting a nonprofit, to working with a board well, etc.). Click on the Amazon store to the right for a link to their books. I had picked the books, there, and they are the best of the best in the nonprofit professional sector and accepted as standards.


Anonymous said...

as always, excellent information. thank you!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Dear Anon,
Thank you so much for the positive feedback!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great tips for a new nonprofit leader.