Nonprofit program evaluation refers to the process of gathering data about a service or program an organization offers to determine its effectiveness. Nonprofits that thoroughly and strategically evaluate their programs show a commitment to the communities they serve by identifying their successes and challenges. More and more charitable donors now expect to see an evaluation plan in the programs they fund.
The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector identifies key areas of effective nonprofit management, and offers guidance on developing and implementing a successful nonprofit program evaluation plan.
Consider the Cost
A good rule of thumb is to outline your program evaluation plan as you are creating the program itself, at the very beginning of the planning stage. This allows you to include the costs of implementing your evaluation in your program’s budget, and many funders consider underwriting the evaluation costs as evidence of a commitment to delivering the highest-quality program. If your nonprofit has already engaged in delivering your program without an evaluation plan in place, don’t worry! It’s never too late to research cost-effective strategies and include them in your budget and planning session for the coming year.
Define Your Program
Nonprofits typically form to alleviate specific problems or address certain issues in society, and define mission statements that include a purpose and broad methods for achieving their goals. When drafting your program evaluation plan, be sure to begin with a comprehensive definition of your program at the beginning to establish the plan’s objectives. Move beyond the mission statement to identify the vital components of your program to help you determine an appropriate evaluation method for each one.
Monitoring vs. Evaluation
Nonprofits should be prepared to include both monitoring and evaluation procedures in their evaluation plans to ensure they are consistently and thoroughly analyzing their effectiveness. Monitoring refers to the essential, ongoing process of collecting information related to your program delivery and operations. Outlining monitoring systems early on ensure you won’t lose or miss valuable information that could be gathered during your activity and later assessed, such as how many people participated, how much time did we dedicate, how much money was spent or generated, or anything else that is important to count.
Evaluation goes beyond monitoring. It weighs the information gathered by your monitoring systems and assesses the impact you can claim as resulting from your program. Whatever evaluation methods you use, be sure to look at how your program has changed the conditions for your targeted population or problem.
Effectiveness vs. Efficiency
The key to determining program effectiveness is the identification of standards, benchmarks, or criteria against which progress or performance can be assessed. Perhaps you are evaluating the year-over-year results of an annual fundraiser, or the outcome of a program against national statistics. Be sure to include criteria in your evaluation plan that you can compare against your data to help identify specific results and areas of improvement.
Efficiency is determined by the ratio of outputs to inputs. Efficient programs offer satisfactory results that are achieved with an appropriate amount of dedicated resources. Paying attention to the efficiency of your program minimizes waste, expenses, and unnecessary effort.
Ready to learn more about creating an excellent nonprofit program evaluation plan? Members of the Standards for Excellence Institute and its Replication Partners have access to an extensive library of educational resources to help nonprofit organizations implement each area of the Standards for Excellence code. Our educational resource packet on program evaluation includes tip, tools and best practices to support your program evaluation development. Become a member and download your resources today!