Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a 7-part series on Developing A Growth Business Plan. The series is based on presentations made at the Social Impact Exchange Symposium on Scaling Impact held June 14 and on the experiences of nonprofits that participated in the business plan competition. Evaluation and Sharing Knowledge was presented by Geri Stengel.
“Evaluation” and “measurement” bring shivers of apprehension to some, with visions of a mound of data collected for external reports that have no bearing on anyone’s job but do affect whether the organization gets funding.
Get rid of that mindset and you get rid of “data angst.”
Measuring and evaluation allow an organization to continuously improve. In fact, that’s its main purpose: Showing you what is working well and what isn’t so you can improve your programs.
When used correctly, evaluation fosters a culture of teamwork; of creativity and innovation in delivering services; of shared excitement about new possibilities.
Of course, what you ultimately want to measure is impact: Does what you do make a positive social change, one that would not have occurred anyway? You want to assess:
- inputs and activities of the program;
- outputs (results that can be measured);
- outcomes (changes to the social system that happened because your program exists);
- alignment of outcomes with your goals.
For example, a program whose mission is job creation might measure the number of jobs created in a given zip code; that’s an output that tells you if increased employment of previously unemployed people – the outcome sought – was actually achieved.
If the outcomes are not what you hoped, you can tweak the program, measure again, learn again, and improve again.
The purpose of measuring is to analyze and improve. This is a continuous process, whether you are aiming for incremental improvement over time or a breakthrough. Practice only makes perfect when there is frequent, high-quality feedback so that adjustments can be made. This is true in math, sports, music and, yes, your nonprofit’s program.
Impact assessment is a continuum, from anecdotal success stories to experimental analyses conducted by a third party.
As an organization moves from the anecdotal to third-party assessment, the results of its impact assessment become both more credible and more expensive.
Story-telling is powerful, important, and necessary. Investment in independent research offers different benefits:
- It is unbiased.
- It is more credible to funders.
- Someone whose job it is to measure and evaluate will be able to use more sophisticated techniques and will know what questions to ask.
- The results will be processed efficiently and effectively.
- Your staff is not burdened with extra work; they can do what they do best: deliver program.
We talk about evidence but don’t forget to tell the stories about the people whose lives you’ve changed.
- Stories pull at heart strings.
- Stories are compelling.
- Funders are people, they react personally.
- Stories make the case.
- Evidence proves you’re making an impact.
Want more detailed information on measuring outcomes, logic models and theory of change? Read Outcomes Measurement Strategies by Laurell Molloy, Innovations Quantified.
For more about the ideas and insights from SIEx11 check out our SIEx11 special section and our free, downloadable ebooks, Scaling Impact: A Primer For Nonprofits and Getting Ready to Grow. Yes, it is aimed at small businesses but the tools and process apply to nonprofits as well.
What evaluation tools does your nonprofit use?