There are two reasons evaluation of nonprofit programs is so necessary, especially when applying for grants.
First, and perhaps the most important reason is that evaluation helps your program. It gives your organization critical feedback that tells you if it works, how well it works, and how to improve it. Without evaluation, you're flying blind. Who would want to do that?
Second, funders require evaluation. Every funder, whether a foundation, a corporation or a government agency wants to know if the project they funded worked or not.
Consequently, your proposal must include how you will evaluate your project, when you will do it and how you will report your results.
Michael Wells, of Grants Northwest, calls these reasons the "carrot and stick" of grant preparation. The carrot is what your organization gains from evaluation and the stick is the funder requirement.
Wells suggests that rather than resent the funder's requirement as though it is something to fear, grant seekers should take advantage of that mandate to develop an outstanding evaluation because it will help make your program better. Focus on the advantage rather than a "rule."
Of course, you expect to succeed, or you wouldn't be proposing your project to a funder.
However, just as any experiment reveals much whether it succeeds or not, how admirably your project succeeds or falls short will give you and your funder valuable information.
So set up your goals, decide how you will achieve them, and then evaluate what worked and what didn't. Decide upfront what success will look like so you'll know how well you met it.
How to Do Evaluation Right
Here are some tips to help you develop that important evaluation section of your grant proposal.
Internal Evaluation or External?
Decide if you are going to do an internal assessment with your staff, or if you want to hire outside expertise to conduct your evaluation. Foundations often allow nonprofits to designate 5-10 percent of the total project budget for evaluation.
Before you design your evaluation, consider the reasons to do it. Carlson and O'Neal-McElrath, authors of "Winning Grants, Step by Step," suggest that assessments can accomplish these six purposes:
- To find out if the hypothesis was right. Did you do what you set out to do?
- To determine if the methods specified were used and if the objectives were met.
- To find out if an impact was made on the identified need.
- To obtain feedback from the people served and other members of the community.
- To maintain control over the project (evaluations often take place at various points in the plan allowing for corrections).
- To make changes in the program mid-stream, if necessary, to ensure the program's success.
Quantitative or Qualitative?
Decide if you will use quantitative or qualitative methods for your data collection, or what combination of the two types you will use. Develop a good description of these methods and why you're using them.
Integrate the Evaluation.
Make sure the evaluation component of your proposal connects with the proposal's objectives and methods. If those targets and methods are measurable and time-specific, the evaluation will be easier to design.
Ask yourself these questions as you develop the evaluation section of your proposal:
- What is the evaluation's purpose?
- How will you use the findings?
- What will you know after the evaluation that you didn't know before?
- What will you do as a result of the evaluation that you couldn't do before because you lacked the relevant information?
- How will your clients and community be better as a consequence of the program?
A Sample of Evaluation Section for a Proposal
Measuring the Success of the Ridge, Kids and Stewards Program
Currently, program facilitators administer both a pretest and a posttest to youth participants in order to measure what information is learned by the students during the six-week program. At the conclusion of each session, we also ask participating teachers to complete a detailed evaluation questionnaire so we can continue to find ways to improve an already excellent program.
The Ridge, Kids and Stewards (RDK) program is also regularly evaluated by an outside panel of professional evaluators. Because it is our goal to teach young people to become stewards of the environment, the RKS program coordinator and others are working to develop a more sophisticated, yet practical, evaluation process in order to measure the long-term impact of the program on youth who participate.
Sample reprinted with permission from "Storytelling for Grantseekers", Second Edition, Cheryl A. Clarke.
- "Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals", Jossey-Bass, 4th edition.
- "Grant Writing for Dummies", 6th Edition, Beverly A. Browning, Wiley, 2016.