I’ve been thinking about patterns in nonprofit program evaluation and performance management.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Funders are getting excited about data and evaluation! This means…
  • Funders encourage/require  nonprofits to demonstrate the immediate effects of their work (i.e. detailed output data and short-term outcomes included in monthly and quarterly reports)
  • Funders encourage/require  nonprofits to demonstrate the lasting effects of their work (i.e. more discussions about follow-up evaluations to see whether the program had any sustained effects 3, 6, or 9 months later)
  • Funders are asking nonprofits to provide needs assessment data in their grant applications
  • Funders are requiring nonprofits to use the funder’s own database to track their work (and since nonprofits often receive funding from multiple donors, this means a single program serving 15 youth might be required to record data in 3 or 4 different databases at a time…)
  • Funders want detailed demographic data on the program participants (not just the number of males and females served, but things like their country or birth or whether a teenager has an Individualized Education Plan at school, etc.)
  • Funders value rigorous evaluation methods (However… experimental or quasi-experimental designs may not be appropriate for the program’s developmental stage. Jen Hamilton and Jill Feldman are evaluation gurus on this issue.)
  • Funders are encouraging nonprofits to collect mostly quantitative data (i.e. demographics, outputs, outcomes) but are also very enthusiastic about success stories
  • Nonprofits and funders alike are realizing that evaluation is no small undertaking
  • Funders are offering more and more evaluation capacity building activities, like workshops, webinars, and materials about evaluation
  • Nonprofits are beginning to hire part-time and full-time internal evaluators
  • Internal evaluators in nonprofits are primarily focused on two things: reporting for funders and organizational learning
  • The growing emphasis on evaluation is sometimes the result of an organization’s strategic planning process, wherein nonprofit leaders have to and want to focus on data-driven decisionmaking so that their limited funds can go a long way

What trends do you see, either in the nonprofit world, or program evaluation, or both? Especially within the past two years?

— Ann Emery