do you have a love or a hate relationship with program evaluation?

How Program Staff Can Feel Supported by Program Evaluation Instead of Attacked

I heard an interview with Chari Smith, a specialist in nonprofit program evaluation. I like her perspective. Some of the points she made (none of these are direct quotes):

1.         A lot of people who run nonprofit programs wince at the idea of program evaluation. Or they flat-out hate it. Mention “program evaluation” and they tense up. Why? Because they see it as judgemental and punitive. Somebody’s going to come in, apply their fancy evaluation methods, and tell us we’re not doing a good job.

2.         It doesn’t have to be that way. For one thing, program evaluation can be collaborative. It can be a team effort, guided both by the evaluators and the program staff. It can seek not just to provide information the funders or board want, but to provide information the program staff want. Instead of feeling like something done ‘to’ the program staff, it can feel like something done ‘with, by, and for’ the program staff.

3.         Program evaluation leads to something everyone wants: program improvement. Evaluation leads to change, which leads to more and better outcomes. Everyone wants that: funders, boards, leaders, and workers – even recipients of the nonprofit service.

4.         A nonprofit with a healthy program evaluation function follows this pattern: measure, change, measure again. Maybe the news from the first measurement is not great. But then the organization can change and measure again. Funders respect that. They like good results, sure, but they also like to see organizations that are brave enough to measure and then responsible enough to improve things and measure again.

5.         Why do program evaluation? Some organizations say, “Because we have to.” Foundations, grant makers, donors, or boards require it. Other organizations say, “Because we want to.” They care enough about their mission to want to achieve it well, and they know program evaluation gets them there.

6.         So a healthy, collaborative program evaluation leads to more and better achievement of the mission, supported by more and better funding. What’s not to like?

love, joy, peace … Michael Michael is a freelance consultant to nonprofits, with an emphasis on research. Contact him for a free, one-hour consultation.

Vol. 1 No. 37