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B. J. Tatro, Ph.D.,
ASU Lodestar Center
NMI Instructor /
B. J. Tatro Consulting
You meticulously record what you do. You report on exactly how many people you served, where, when, and how. In the past, this might have been adequate, but no more. Today, nonprofit organizations need to be able to show the results of their efforts. And the demand for accountability isn't just coming from funders either. Board members, consumers, community members, and staff alike want to know if the services provided are making a difference and if the results really outweigh the costs.
So, how do you move beyond reporting on activities and outputs? How do you project short and long-term outcomes that are realistic, important, and feasible to measure?
The answer is not "let the grant writer do it!"
The most effective method for doing this, in my experience, is to work collaboratively with key stakeholders, including those who will be involved in and impacted by the program. Ask them what they hope and expect will be different as a result of implementing the program, and how they would know success if they saw it. (In fact, this step should really precede design of the program.)
Next, engage them in a discussion of whether the planned activities are sufficient to produce these desired results. There is often a tendency to establish outcomes that are too ambitious to achieve during the funding period or with the level of planned activity. Better to be realistic and succeed than to establish outcome targets that are impossible to achieve even if the program is implemented as planned. (And don't forget to take another look at your outcome targets if you receive less funding than you requested.)
Once you have your outcomes and targets established, have the key stakeholders help you figure out how to assess whether these results have been obtained. Their input can be really valuable when identifying measures and ways to collect data. An added benefit is that you obtain their buy-in, which is really useful if they'll be asked to provide data later on.
As you implement the evaluation, discuss the findings with them and together create meaning from the data. On many occasions, stakeholder discussions of the data have provided me with insights that I would never have had sitting alone at my computer.
Once the evaluation is complete, involve the key stakeholders in planning for program improvements and decision-making about the program's future. Engaging stakeholders throughout the program evaluation process not only results in a better evaluation, but contributes to stronger programs and sustainability going forward.
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Click here to read "What It Takes to Lead and Manage a Nonprofit Organization" — which discusses survey results of NMI participants and instructors on which skills they consider to be most valuable for nonprofit leaders to have.