As an organizational leader, there comes a time when you say to yourself — I need someone to evaluate the effectiveness of my organization or program — where do I start? The motivation to ask that question may come from an external source such as a donor who expects an impact evaluation with measurable outcomes. Perhaps the question was derived from a need to understand the efficiency of your staff by conducting a process evaluation.
Whatever the source, you have many options when it comes to implementing an evaluation plan. However, making informed choices of what is needed to evaluate your service or program will either make or break your effectiveness. Informed decisions can save you and your staff undue stress and undue cost, plus you may be able to use your findings to leverage for future funding.
However you got to this point, here are a few pointers to get you started on the right path to a sound plan for your external evaluation for your nonprofit.
Familiarize Terminology and Processes
Start by familiarizing yourself with terminology and processes. Take advantage of free resources and check out the Internet for terms such as Evaluation Design, Process Evaluation, and Sample Methodology.
You don’t have to know it all, but being somewhat knowledgeable will allow you to better contribute to the process.
Follow Formats and Instructions
Most evaluation proposals come with an established format. Read the instructions very carefully. It may sound elementary but many an error has been made by not following the instructions thoroughly. Ask an evaluator to work with your staff to write the evaluation section of your proposal. Evaluation terminology and its application can be overwhelming to an untrained eye. Matching program objectives and developing realistic process or impact outcomes in measurable terms isn’t as easy as it may look. You will be held accountable for those outcomes so be sure they are written in measurable terms.
Select an Evaluator
You hire professionals to deliver your programs, so too you should hire a professional evaluator to manage your evaluation plan. When selecting an evaluator, make sure s/he is user friendly. Is s/he equipped to manage the level of strictness required. Other traits include being comfortable working with staff and being culturally sensitive to the population being served. Who you select will probably be the most important decision you make regarding the evaluation of your project. Can this person be flexible in implementing an evaluation design that is measurable? Can this person relate to the challenges of program implementation? Can the person offer cost effective methodologies such as training existing staff or volunteers to assist with data collection. Can this person write the findings in a language you can use for future reference?
These and other considerations should be taken into account when selecting contemplating evaluation.