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5 Simple Steps to Evaluating Your Program

5 Simple Steps to Evaluating Your Program

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Published by Marcie Wagner

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Published by: Marcie Wagner on Jan 18, 2012
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5 Simple Steps to Evaluating Your Program
By Jenelle Montoya and contributing author Marcie L. WagnerJanuary 2012For a startup nonprofit, the idea of program evaluation can be overwhelming, and yet funders areincreasingly asking grantees to provide not only numbers served, but demographic information andoutcomes-based information. As more nonprofits compete for areduced funding pool, its important that they know and understandthe difference their investment made in your ability to carry out theorganizational mission. Lets say your mission is to provide a safeplace for youth. Sure, you may have given Jim a place to sleep forthe night, but how did that positively impact his life and his future?What did you do for Jim to prevent him from having to use yourservices in the future? How many Jims did you help in 2011? Howmany did you turn away? What are their ages? Where did they comefrom? Why did they come? How many are high school drop outs?How many have their GED? How many are immigrants? And so on.The secret to getting started is to keep program evaluation simple and include board members, staff,and anyone else involved in data collection and use. Its easy to end up with analysis paralysis if youtry to do too much too soon. Realize that program evaluation is a process, not an event. It can takemany months to implement, and years to refine. Whats important is that you get started
now 
. If youreceive grant funding, you really have no choice. We are here to help!
STEP ONE: Decide What You Will Measure.
First you need to know what outcomes your funders want atyears end. Second, you must track the information your organizations leadership needs in order tomake knowledgeable decisions that either impact the course of your organizations future or ensureyour organization is tracking with your strategic plan (if you have one). This process can be as simple asreviewing different reports required by existing funders and the grant guidelines of your prospects. Sitdown with your board president or create an ad-hoc Program Evaluation committee to take on the task.There are several levels of knowledge you might need when it comes to collecting program data:
y
 
Data including age, residence, income, race, ethnicity(demographics)
y
 
N
umbers served, goods distributed, or other units of service youdefine (outputs)
y
 
The impact of your services on the lives of your clients (outcomes)Demographic data is easy to collect. It can be as simple as handing eachclient a form to fill out. If confidentiality is important, your form doesnt
 
require a name. In order to count numbers served or units of service, staff must be trained to recordthe people they serve each day and the specific activities they engage in with the client.Measuring the impact your services make on clients is a bit difficult, but it can be the most valuable andrewarding data you collect. If you decide to measure impact, it will benefit you to explore creating alogic model. A logic model illustrates therelationships between inputs, activities, outputs,outcomes and goals that create the structure andflow of your organization. Briefly,
inputs
are theresources that go into making your programactivities possible, such as technology, training,people and funding. The
activities
you undertakeas part of your program are what you will do toaccomplish your goals.
Outputs
are the product of your program, as in the number of people servedor the number of items distributed or made. Finally,
outcomes
are the impact of your work on those youserve, or the change affected in their lives. Logic models are a complex topic and there are manydifferent approaches that can be taken to developing one for your program. Resources are available forassistance in creating a logic model, including the United Way of Americas book Measuring ProgramOutcomes, which is available atwww.unitedwaystore.comfor a mere $5. The W.K. Kellogg Foundationhas also created a more complex logic model guide which can be downloaded free from theirKnowledge Center atwww.wkkf.org.Finally, set quantitative goals around the items youve decided to measure. If you exclusively measuredemographics, create a goal that 80% of clients served are classified homeless by federal definition,which helps you measure the impact of organizational outreach, or marketing and advocacy work. If youmeasure numbers served or other units of service, your goal could be to provide 1,000 children withshoes in a 12-month period, or provide 800 hours of community outreach to areas with high youthcrime rates. An example of an outcome to measure impact would be that 75% of clients are able toprovide for their food and shelter needs upon exit from your program, or that 60% of individualsreceiving parenting education report a greater sense of harmony and wellbeing in their households afterthey complete a course.
STEP TWO: Determine the Tools You Will Need.
Assess yourcurrent evaluation tools, such as client intake forms or reportingalready required by current funders, refining what youre alreadydoing and preventing duplication. The tools you need and thecost of collecting data depends on what youve decided tomeasure and the complexity of your plan. If youve decided tocollect demographic data, you can use current intake forms byincluding questions which add depth. If you collect numbersserved or units of service involve your staff in deciding how to do it efficiently. Use simple ticker sheetscompiled by hand, or use electronic spreadsheets with embedded formulas to automatically tabulate
 
numbers. Google Docs offers a free way to create electronic forms in an online database which allowsyou to distribute to a number of users via email. The software automatically compiles the numberssubmitted on the forms into a single spreadsheet which you can use for reporting. A more costly optionis to purchase database management software. There are several companies offering tailor-madesolutions.When collecting outcome-based data to measure impact, it can be difficult to determine the bestmethod. Lets go back to Jim. After providing Jim with a place to sleep for the night, your outcome is tolink him with community resources and increase his knowledge and utilization of such services, and toensure he follows through and uses your referrals. In order to accurately measure the outcome, youcould provide him with an exit survey allowing him to rate your services and the likelihood that he willfollow through with the referrals on a numerical scale. Lets say Jim does return; during the intake ratehis level of improvement on a scale from 1 to 5 since his last visit. At year-end calculate how manyclients returned once, twice, or never. If you come up with a logical way of quantifying this data, you caneasily record it in a database and tabulate it. Remember that you are the expert when it comes to yourwork and the data collection methods most applicable and reasonable for your particular service(s).
STEP THREE: Assign Responsibility
. When possible, put this responsibility in the appropriate staff person(s) job description. When you designate a person to manage the data collection process, includingcompilation and reporting, you are 90% on your way to success. Make sure you choose someone whohas the skills and understands the value in evaluation, and then provide them with the tools andtraining. In our hypothetical safe place for youth scenario, it makes sense to designate staff in chargeof client intake and discharge to collect and manage data collection. If data collection is new to yourorganization and the responsibility was not in a job description uponhire, you may encounter resistance from program staff to take onadditional tasks. We suggest you dont act flip about adding to theiralready long list of responsibilities Instead, introduce data collection inthe form of a PowerPoint presentation to the entire staff. Begin withyour logic model, as it will best convey that program evaluationrequires everyones full support and assistance. It will also clearlyexplain who is best positioned to collect the data: program staff. Placea quantitative value on the importance of data collection and how itwill directly and positively impact their job and their work with clients by, for instance, sharing theamount of support received from funders who require the data. Well done evaluation opens the door tonew and increased funding; it gathers emotional and financial support from your community as you tellyour story through qualified and quantified data which proves youre making a difference.
STEP FOUR: Implement.
Youre ready to implement the projectevaluation plan once youve decided what to measure, obtainedand prepared the necessary tools, and determined who isresponsible. Implementation should begin by creating a clear andconcise procedure manual. This manual will define thoseresponsible, the timing and frequency of data collection, and
 
Comment [MLW1]:
Public Benefits is anexplosive phrase for obvious reasons.

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