As a new/new-ish non-profit, you’ve probably heard people mention program evaluation. In fact, someone, perhaps a potential funder, may have directly asked about your plan for evaluating your program. If you were unsure of how to answer that question, the great news is that you’re likely already familiar with evaluation! After all, as humans, evaluation is part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s evaluating progress towards personal goals or evaluating the new Italian restaurant you recently tried, we’re constantly evaluating how well something did or did not work.

In the case of your non-profit, evaluation is a systematic process that critically examines your program. The program evaluation process includes gathering and analyzing information about your program’s activities, characteristics, and outcomes. Ultimately, the purpose of program evaluation is to help you make informed programming decisions (i.e., continue, discontinue, or modify the program), in order to maintain or improve the program’s effectiveness.

You may now be asking yourself, so, why should I invest in the process of evaluating my program? After all, I’m doing the work daily, so I have a good handle on whether things are working or not. You’re absolutely right that you know the ins and outs of your non-profit the best! However, program evaluation provides you with the opportunity to step back from the day-to-day work and formally  assess your program. And, by the end, you’ll benefit in the following ways:

  1. Provide evidence of what works and doesn’t work in your program. Program evaluation assesses your activities to ensure they are as effective as possible. There are few things worse than investing hours of time and money into a program, only to find that it is not effective. Evaluating your program will help you avoid that pitfall by answering basic questions such as:
    • Are participants benefiting from program services?
    • Are our recruitment strategies working?
    • Are participants satisfied with the program?
    • Are some participants benefiting, but not others (i.e., women versus men)?
  2. Allow you to showcase your non-profit’s effectiveness to the community and funders. No matter the type of non-profit organization, staff are ultimately responsible for demonstrate the program’s impact. A program evaluation allows you to have concrete evidence that speaks to your success or progress, without relying solely on feelings.
  3. Help you improve the front-line support provided by staff. As you know, program participants are the “why” behind what you do and are truly the lifeblood of your non-profit. Every action taken is ultimately in service of them. This of course includes staff members performance. So, with that in mind, program evaluation allows you to understand how you can better service participants, by asking questions such as:
    • Do staff have the necessary skills to work effectively with program participants?
    • What types of training would benefit staff?
    • Do staff have the appropriate supports to function effectively?

Now, it’s your turn! Can you identify additional reasons why your non-profit needs program evaluation?