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Why Is Program Evaluation So Important For Nonprofits?

You may have a vision and a passion for the work that you are doing in your community, but without measurable outcomes, it’s impossible to assess the efficacy of your organization. Is your nonprofit organization making a difference? Impact measurement is the only way to know.

How Nonprofit Programs Impact the Community

Nonprofit organizations are the embodiment of human compassion. Wondering if there’s still good in the world? Look at the work nonprofits are doing to help restore your faith in humanity. Nonprofits are driven by a passion to make our world a better, more compassionate place, one community, one project, one program at a time. And we need them. Desperately. Nonprofit organizations provide programs that impact our country by impacting our communities in 3 key ways:

  1. Nonprofits cultivate and sustain a social and cultural empathy

Nonprofit organizations are the embodiment of human compassion. It’s easy and common to look around us at a broken world, full of broken systems and disenfranchised people and wonder if genuine goodness really exists. But despite the odds, the needs and the challenges, nonprofit organizations are driven by people who are deeply motivated by compassion and a genuine desire to make a positive difference in their communities. This passion for positive change is contagious in the best and most crucial way, inspiring and engaging us all in meaningful work towards positive change. Nonprofits show us that the work is not only worthwhile but crucial to our social fabric, and that something better is possible.

  1. Nonprofits are catalysts for individual empowerment and economic change

Nonprofit missions are effective because they often begin at the grassroots level. They understand that the ripple effect of global change begins with one person. And then another. And another. As these organizations work to engage their community members on an individual level and meet their unique needs, the “unseen” become “seen.” The disenfranchised become connected and empowered, and the community as a whole is then positioned for economic growth.  

  1. Nonprofits foster democratic engagement

As nonprofit involvement positions a community for economic growth, it also empowers and equips the individuals within it and gives them both a presence and a voice. Because nonprofits care passionately about the people they serve, they are personally involved in the work for the people, with the people. Not only are they fostering relationships with whole communities, they are intimately familiar with not only the needs of the community, but the best way to meet them, positioning them to represent and advocate for their communities effectively in the political sphere. 

So Why Is Impact Measurement So Important?

Purpose

Impact measurement strategies are integral to the program planning process that every successful organization needs. Having clearly defined goals and objectives that can be measured means an organization must first have a clear vision for their purpose; who and how they are helping in their community. Aligning their measurement strategies will help both define and tailor their programming to better address their community’s needs.

Proof

From a funder’s viewpoint, the data gathered from these measurement strategies is extremely important. It serves as proof that their grant dollars made a positive impact for real people. Being able to show measurable results may mean the difference between being funded again or not.

Solution

If people and systems are not changed or helped in positive ways, then what is the purpose of the organization’s programming and funding? Data for the measurable impact of an organization highlights not only that there is a need within this community, but this organization is the solution to meeting that need. Since funders are looking for ways to be part of a solution, it’s critical to show that your organization can not only identify a specific community need, but provide the solution.

Support

People need help. Funders are looking for opportunities to help. If funders don’t know a particular need exists, they cannot help. Measurable impact data not only helps raise awareness of specific needs, but also establishes a possible solution or answer to that need, creating the opportunity for more ‘helpers’ to get involved with your meaningful work. The more you can raise awareness and show that your work is making a difference, the easier it will be to get support!

What is the Difference Between Program Evaluation and Performance Measurement?

Program evaluation and performance measurement are two different aspects of impact measurement, but both are an important part of the assessment process. So, what is the difference?

Program Evaluation

Program evaluations are assessments that a nonprofit will do periodically to determine the effectiveness of a given program, and are designed to address both the implementation of a program, (is this program being implemented as designed?) as well as the impact of the program (is this program accomplishing its purpose?).

Performance Measurement

Performance measurement, on the other hand, is an ongoing, internal organizational process. It is usually carried out by an organization’s own staff to determine lessons learned and how an organization, team or individual might improve.

5 Ways Program Evaluations Help Nonprofits

  1. Proves that the program is working
  2. Evaluates the program’s benefits
  3. Demonstrates efficacy for participants
  4. Identifies key aspects of the program that are effective/ineffective
  5. Establishes consistency of program implementation

5 Keys for A Successful Program Evaluation

Since funders want assurance that their contributions to your organization are actually making a difference, two critical questions to ask are: “What does success for our organization look like?” and “How do we get there?

  1. Define the parameters of the assessment. Clearly identify the questions the program needs to answer.
  2. Design the evaluation. What measurement tools will you use? How will the data be collected and organized? Who will be involved in the assessment?
  3. Conduct the assessment. Set a realistic time frame for your program assessment. Clearly define and communicate who and what will be involved in the assessment process, as well as how it will be carried out. 
  4. Analyze the results. Did the assessment answer the key questions? Did any other questions or needs come to light?
  5. Implement the changes. Now that your program has been evaluated and the data collected and analyzed, it’s time to implement the changes that will make your program, and your organization as a whole, more effective. 

Time to Shine!

Now that you have evaluated your organization’s programming, measured performance, and planned an implementation and timeline strategy, you have a strong foundation from which to fundraise. Not only can you clearly identify the specific needs of your community, but you can also answer that need with targeted programming, giving your funder the confidence they need to know that not only are they partnering with meaningful work, but effective meaningful work. 

For more resources 

Evaluation and Measurement of Outcomes

Program Evaluation

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