What does evaluation look like in practice?

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Two researchers, Carman and Fredericks, recently took a look at what evaluation actually looks like in practice at nonprofit organizations. They targeted human service nonprofit organizations, and sent surveys out to a sample of over 300 nonprofits.

They found that most nonprofits (90%) complete at least some evaluation in their organizations, with 46% making a “concerted effort to evaluate most of their programs and organizational activities.” This is great news, that so many are using evaluation in some way, but it is concerning that only half are making a “concerted” effort. Organizations need to use evaluation not only when developing new programs, but also to make sure their existing programs are effective.

Not surprisingly, most (80%) organizations use internal management or executive staff to gather evaluation data, and only two organizations in the entire study used external evaluators (the rest used an internal evaluation staff member, board committees/members, or their external funder). This statistic was a little scary. Not many people have experience or have been educated in evaluation methods- which is why I believe degree programs in nonprofit management should require at least one evaluation course. Hopefully the over 80% of organizations that do evaluation internally used an evaluator at one point to design their evaluation process to ensure they are following best practices and accurately measuring what they think they are measuring.

Their analysis also found that nonprofit organizations tend to think about evaluation in three distinct ways: (1) as a resource drain and distraction; (2) as an external, promotional tool; and (3) as a strategic management tool. This wasn’t especially surprising, as many organizations only evaluate their programs because their funders require them to do so. This is why I think we need a fundamental shift in the way we think about evaluation. Evaluation, as I have mentioned in other posts, is at the core of many jobs, and we need to take an active role to evaluate our programs, policies, and organizations.

Here is the full article citation, in case you would like to read the complete article (I also have it available in PDF, email me if you would like a copy):

Carman, J. G., & Fredericks, K. A. (2008). Nonprofits and evaluation: Empirical evidence from the field. In J. G. Carman & K. A. Fredericks (Eds.), Nonprofits and evaluation. New Directions for Evaluation, 119, 51–71.

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