Research Friday: Does your nonprofit have an outcome-driven culture?


posted by
 Karina Lungo,
Research Assistant,
ASU Lodestar Center

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

With the recent scarcity of grant funding, excellent program evaluation practices are becoming a distinguishing element of effective and grant-competitive nonprofit organizations. However, studies reveal that most nonprofits still view evaluation as exclusively about program outputs, and they often perceive data gathering as a resource drain and distraction.1 Even those who are eager to conduct evaluations often lack the funding and knowledge to evaluate their programs appropriately.

There are different approaches to evaluating a program. Some organizations gather data such as program expenditures, customer satisfaction or program outputs (e.g., the number of individuals receiving the services, number of trainings provided, number of animals rescued, etc.). However, increasingly nonprofits are moving to the practice of outcome evaluation. Program outcomes are defined as the expected and/or actual benefits that program participants will receive. Outcomes usually imply changes in behavior, condition, skills, attitudes or knowledge in the individual, community or other target population. Outcome evaluation therefore involves the verification that program goals are being met. Other evaluation forms include: process evaluation, which requires that specific program activities and procedures be reviewed in order to help explain why a program worked or did not work; and program monitoring, which uses in-process measures to track whether a program is being executed as designed. More sophisticated methods of evaluation include random controlled trials (RCTs) or the use of a logic model.6

Grant funding and the proper knowledge to conduct program evaluation are common issues: