You’ve done your research and matched a foundation to your program. You’ve contacted the foundation’s officer, introduced your organization, and garnered interest in your mission. You’ve written a killer proposal that has a great program description, a clear and detailed budget, and shared client testimonials. All describe and demonstrate how your nonprofit will help the community. So why didn’t you get funded? You did all the right things. Or, did you?
Importance of Your Evaluation Plan
You can’t forget this very important piece of the proposal because having a solid program evaluation plan demonstrates to grant-makers what you plan to do with their money and how you plan to meet to your goals. It makes potential funders feel comfortable giving your organization their money because you have thoroughly described how their contributions will be put to good use.
Designing Your Evaluation
In designing your evaluation plan, you should clarify at the outset what you want to learn and how you plan to measure your program’s success. Therefore, clearly written and numerically defined outcome objectives (with a specific data collection timeline) are an important part of your evaluation plan.
By gathering and evaluating data throughout the grant time period, you will have the information needed to make any necessary program modifications to enhance overall performance and ensure the achievement of your outcomes.
Additionally, you will need to determine and plan to collect necessary information that will be used to identify program challenges that could reduce participant success rates. Funders will take note that you are planning to evaluate the efficiency of program services twice a year, thereby allowing for possible midcourse corrections that will help ensure program success and increased positive impacts for the community.
An evaluation determines the degree of impact and effectiveness of programs. Evaluations help grantees to create objective reports that detail the return on investment for a funder and to demonstrate the benefits to the community that the organization serves.
It is important to remember that evaluation plans are important for both the grantee and the grant-maker. They answer questions both parties have in regard to a program. And while the questions they can address are nearly limitless, the following are some commonly asked.
- Did the grantee do what it set out to do?
- Was the program implemented effectively and as intended?
- Are program services generating the anticipated benefits for the participants?
- Could the implementation be improved upon?
- Did the grantee achieve the impacts that were intended, why or why not?
Different Types of Evaluation
There are different types of evaluation strategies that may be used when planning a program. Listed below are three of the most commonly used.
Logic model or theory of change: These are generally flow charts that explain what the program will offer and what the organization hopes to achieve. The model visually illustrates the connections between the target population, activities, outputs, and outcomes.
Quantitative methods: This type of evaluation focuses on measuring or counting data (usually by calculating and reporting averages or percentiles). For example, quantitative methods may report the number of enrollees in a program, the number of dropouts, and the number of participants that completed the program. Quantitative methods can support cause and effect relationships between the intervention services and the outcomes.
Qualitative methods: This type of evaluation is based on input gathered through direct contact with the people or groups involved with the program. This contact can include in-person interviews and staff observations. Quantitative methods can document that participants are moving in the right direction. Additionally, they gather different participant perspectives and feedback about the program. Note that qualitative methods are not used alone. Instead, qualitative methods should be used as a complementary source of information. By combining quantitative and qualitative methods, your organization can present a more comprehensive story to the grant-maker (with the data to back it up).
An evaluation plan that isn’t carefully thought out can waste your organization’s time and resources. Make sure you are addressing important questions that won’t lead to incorrect data interpretations. Be certain that it fits the needs of the target population the organization is serving. Make sure that the data you gather is relevant to specific questions and the program’s needs. And if all else fails, seek outside resources and assistance for crafting your evaluation plan.
Remember that the strength of your plan may be the difference between receiving a grant award and walking away empty handed.