What are Nonprofit Program Evaluation Methods? Grant Writing 101

Are you interested in learning more about nonprofit program evaluation methods? Are you curious about how to measure your nonprofit organization’s performance? 

We will break down this important aspect of grant writing in this article. You can read on to find out more about what nonprofit program evaluation methods are as well as the most common evaluation methods. We will also provide some guidance on how to determine what evaluation methods are best for your organization and your program.

What are Nonprofit Program Evaluations?

Program evaluation for nonprofits is the process of gathering data about a specific program to help make informed decisions about that program. Nonprofit program evaluations are a tool that can be used by your organization to understand many features of a program. You can measure program attendance, demographics of participants, revenue vs. expenses, or cost per unit of service just to name a few. 

Program evaluations help to answer questions about the effectiveness and impact of your program. You can use evaluations to determine if programs are helping your organization fulfill your mission and understand the impact that your programs are having on those whom you serve. You can also utilize performance evaluations to gain insights into your nonprofit as a whole.

Organizations often use program evaluation to determine efficiencies of a program such as looking at revenue versus expenses. Nonprofit program evaluation is also helpful in measuring success in terms of reaching program goals and objectives. When evaluating whether your program has met intended objectives and outcomes, you can also discover the effectiveness of the program. 

Evaluations are also an important piece of program design because many funders are interested in seeing results that are directly tied to goals and objectives. Strong goals and objectives linked to strong evaluation methods will be helpful in applying for program support.

When working on program evaluation, it is important to create an evaluation plan. The evaluation plan will lay out the goals and objectives you are looking to achieve, your evaluation methods, a timeline for evaluation, budget information, and resources such as funding and staff.

One important piece of an evaluation plan is a logic model that includes all project details such as inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. 

Inputs are everything that goes into your program including funding, staff, supplies, the participants, etc. The activities are what program participants will do during the program. Outputs are typically quantitative items that you can measure within your programs, such as the number of participants, the number of projects created, or the number of programs a single participant takes part in. 

Outcomes and impacts are the objectives of your programs. You may see these defined as short-term and long-term outcomes. These are often the results that funders are interested in even more than simply the number of participants. Outcomes and impacts are typically considered qualitative data and can be more difficult to measure. 

The logic model will help you understand and describe your goals and objectives, which will then help you begin to determine the best nonprofit program evaluation methods.

What are the Most Common Evaluation Methods?

There are many evaluation methods out there and the type that you choose will depend on your program and your organization. Below we provide information on a few of the most common methods as a reference and starting point. 

Subjective/Qualitative

Subjective evaluation methods may include observations, journals, photographs, or direct conversations with participants. These types of methods may help provide insight on objectives that are harder to measure quantitatively or may be used when other methods are not right for a certain audience.

Budget analysis

Budget analysis is the process of understanding your return on investment and can be as simple as looking at revenue versus expenses or may break things down to cost per unit of service. Budget analysis is also useful for measuring nonprofit organization performance. 

Tests

Tests often look like pre and post-tests that measure desired outcomes or maybe a test against controls depending on your program or project. Pre and post-tests are often used to measure the change in knowledge or attitudes. 

As an example, you might ask whether a participant enjoys science in school. You would use the same question on your pre and post-test and would ask participants to choose a number on a scale from one through five. You would be looking to see if the number changes after participating in your program.

Participation 

You may measure the total number of program participants but may also go deeper into things such as course/program completion, certification, or continued tracking of participants.

Performance

Performance refers to standard performance measures such as grades, test scores, graduation, job placement, etc.

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How to Decide Which Evaluation Method is Best for Your Nonprofit

It is important to understand your organization, your program, and your desired goals and objectives when determining which evaluation method (or methods) will be the best fit. You also want to consider the feasibility of data collection and analysis to make sure that you can implement your planned evaluation method. The best way to understand all of these pieces is through the creation of your evaluation plan.

As mentioned in our earlier section when explaining program evaluation for nonprofits, the central piece of any evaluation plan is the logic model. The evaluation plan will also include basic information about your overall program, why you are evaluating the program, and what you hope to learn from your program evaluation. By writing all of this out, you will be able to determine how you can learn the information that you are interested in obtaining.

There can be many types of logic models, but they will all help you lay out what you are trying to accomplish with your project (your goals) and what accomplishing the goals would look like (the outcomes). For example, if you are trying to increase the reach of your programs to serve more participants in a certain location (your goal), then your desired outcome could be 10% of program participants being from the desired city or county. You would be able to measure this by tracking the zip codes of your program participants.

It is also possible that a particular funder will recommend certain evaluation methods or even provide some evaluation assistance. You may be able to look at similar programs or organizations as examples when thinking about which evaluation is a good fit. 

We recommend creating an evaluation plan that specifies your goals and objectives to help you determine the best method of evaluation.

Additional Resources for Nonprofit Program Evaluations

There are many resources available to assist nonprofit organizations with evaluation. You can find some additional insights on our blog.

You may also find it helpful to seek guidance from a partner nonprofit that has successfully evaluated its programming. If you are evaluating a grant-funded program, you can try reaching out to organizations that have previously received support from the same funder. Some organizations may be more than happy to share insights regarding evaluation.

Groups such as the National Council of Nonprofits provide resources to aid in designing and implementing program evaluation. These resources include guidance on evaluation, links to sample evaluations, and links to training opportunities. 

One type of resource that can be particularly useful is a program evaluation model. These will help you see what others have done and are often put together from research on many previous evaluations. There are many resources available for program evaluation models, and where to find a good model will depend on your program. 

One highly utilized resource is from AMEE an International Association for Medical Education. It is also possible that if you are working with a particular funder, they will provide some evaluation resources.

You may also find resources specific to your organization such as evaluation tips for education programs, or evaluation resources for science-related work. Various sectors may also have program evaluation models specific to the type of work that your organization is focusing on. 

Universities can be another resource relating to nonprofit program evaluation methods. Many universities have courses focused on evaluation and you may be able to find resources through the appropriate department. You may even find that students within the university can assist your organization with creating and/or implementing program evaluations. 

Some organizations look to consultants that specialize in nonprofit program evaluation to assist in the development and/or implementation of program evaluation. Keep in mind there will be costs associated with this type of partnership, but some funders will cover some or all evaluation costs.

Wrapping Things Up: Nonprofit Program Evaluation Methods

Program evaluation for nonprofits has become increasingly more common in recent years as donors and funders appreciate seeing tangible results from their support. 

While program evaluation is a key aspect of every nonprofit organization, it is important to make sure you know what you are trying to evaluate and create a solid evaluation plan. You need to develop solid goals and objectives to implement good program evaluation. Your evaluation plan should include information on feasibility and testability to make sure your data shows the achievement of the goals and objectives.

There are many resources available to nonprofit organizations to assist with evaluation planning and implementation, so make sure to do your research. You also want to make sure you understand any evaluation requirements from the funder if your program has received grant dollars.

We hope that this article has increased your understanding of nonprofit organization performance evaluation and provided you with some resources to help you continue to learn more.

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