Program evaluation can feel intimidating and threatening to people who aren’t familiar with its use and usefulness, leading to a evaluation sometimes having a bad reputation. Given how powerful program evaluation can be for non-profits, I wanted to discuss five common myths about program evaluation and (hopefully!) dispel them.
Myth #1: Program evaluation is punitive. Oftentimes, non-profit staff members feel anxious because they think evaluating their program will lead to negative consequences (e.g., the program being eliminated) if the evaluation finds that the program isn’t a smashing success. The truth is that program evaluation is meant to help you improve. There is no such thing as a perfect program, so evaluation provides you with the opportunity to continually assess and improve your non-profit.
Myth #2: Evaluation is too time consuming. This is actually somewhat true. Program evaluation can be very time consuming when there isn’t a plan in place. No plan means that staff are left scrambling to locate and communicate evidence of program outcomes. But, when you take the time to plan for evaluation, it becomes a natural part of how you operate because it it embedded in your day-to-day activities.
Myth #3: You need to be an expert to do program evaluation. Oftentimes staff aren’t invested in program evaluation because they don’t know how to evaluate their program and don’t know who to turn to for help. To be fair, some aspects of evaluation are complex. However, when a plan is in place, the evaluation process is actually fairly easy and something most staff are informally engaging in every day.
Myth #4: Evaluation isn’t the best use of our limited resources. I’d argue that program evaluation is one of the best uses of your resources. No matter the size of your organization, you have limited time and resources. There are only 24 hours in a day and I don’t know of any non-profit who has an unlimited budget. Given these realities, program evaluation allows you to better understand what’s working (or not) and why, so that you can ensure you are being a great steward of your time and money.
Myth #5: We’re still in the planning phases, so we don’t need to think about evaluating our non-profit yet. (I love dispelling this myth. :-)) On the contrary, program evaluation should be a part of your planning process from the very beginning and will actually make your work have greater impact. Having a plan that includes your intended outcomes, activities, and methods for assessing your progress from the start will save you from many headaches down the road. Still unsure? Check out this TEDxYorkU talk from Samantha Yamada about how insisting on program evaluation from the very beginning paid off for her non-profit, Pine River Institute.
Is there anything about program evaluation that’s holding you back from implementing it within your non-profit? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to help you push past those barriers.