Program evaluation is the process of collecting information about a program in order to make decisions about it. Including an evaluation plan in your program shows that you take your objectives seriously and want to know how well you have achieved them. More and more foundations expect to see an evaluation component in the programs they fund.
The Foundation Center's Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact (TRASI) is a searchable database for finding different approaches to impact assessment, guidelines for creating and conducting an assessment, and ready-to-use tools for measuring social change.
According to Dr. Lee Mizell, a research and management consultant to public, private, and nonprofit organizations, an evaluation plan should, at minimum: clearly identify the target population
- specify program objectives in measurable terms
- identify key indicators of success
- outline data collection and analysis activities
- develop a timeline to monitor the success of the program on an ongoing basis.
However, nonprofits frequently design and implement evaluation activities after a program is up and running, making it difficult, if not impossible, for evaluators to gather the information they need to accurately measure the success of the program.
Although at least 35 different types of evaluation exist, you should first focus on what you need to know to make the decisions you need to make, and how to accurately collect and understand that information. The method(s) you choose will depend on the project and its objectives. If you plan to apply for grants, you probably will need to describe how information will be collected, analyzed, and reported.
To learn more about program evaluation, Outcome Thinking and Management: Shifting Focus from Activities to Results is our daylong fee-based class that teaches how to adopt the popular outcomes approach to your projects.
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