Evaluation Plans for Your Nonprofit

“Can’t I just make the project happen and then look back at it and give my review of it why it worked or didn’t work?” I hear questions similar to this one when nonprofits don’t understand evaluation plans. Heck, I asked questions like this myself when I was just starting out as a grant writer.

When we are all pressed for time and ready to go the ‘do it imperfectly and get it done’ approach may seem to make more sense rather than spending a bit more time creating plans.

I understand sometimes it just feels like ‘over-planning’ or ‘too-many-meetings’ syndrome, but projects that will really make a great impact to meet the numerous needs in your community aren’t a simple blog to write imperfectly and publish. Projects have deeper repercussions and should have a major impact on your beneficiaries to make change happen.

Plus, if you take the time to really put into place an evaluation plan, then the project will hit fewer bumps and keep moving on with everyone clear on the goal. It will not be raising money for the sake of raising money but raising money to make REAL lasting change in people’s lives and in your community.

Evaluation Plan Unveiled

How to create an evaluation plan. Well, first you need to know what your desired outcomes are for the project. In the last podcast, we had an example from the perspective of a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with substance abuse disorders. We will call this nonprofit Recover with Strength.

Recover with Strength conducted a Needs and Strengths Assessment and found that a major barrier for many of their beneficiaries (or people in recovery that they served) was that they did not have transportation to get to the services that Recover with Strength offers coupled with the fact that there are high poverty and unemployment rates for many of the beneficiaries.

Recover with Strength then came up with an Uber-like project where they would secure a vehicle and the drivers would be selected beneficiaries. Their beneficiaries would serve their beneficiaries. They would meet two needs at once: providing jobs and providing access. But to do this, they first need to secure other funding to help subsidize the fees associated with securing rides to pay the drivers. They outlined how much money, resources, manpower/people, and time it would take to make this project come to fruition in different ways. For example, approaching auto companies to donate a vehicle, going after grants for a vehicle and project costs, or fundraising for the cost of the vehicle. This is great, but it still does not address the outputs and outcomes. What are those fancy words that sound the same?

Why you need to be specific

What are the specific outcomes desired for this project? This is something to identify even before you go after the funding, as grants, corporations, and even (at times) the public would like to know the true impact of what their funding will accomplish.

Just saying, “We will get a vehicle to help provide services” is not enough these days. Competing for funding in any of these streams is competitive and, let’s face it, with the transparency of the Internet and social media there is more focus on whether nonprofit programs are really making a difference and how much funding is realized by the beneficiaries.

Previous evaluation measures focused strictly on how much money was spent, the number of people served, and on beneficiaries’ satisfaction. Of course, it is still important to include these, but it will also give you the edge of running a better project (and being more competitive for funding) if you look at the impact on your beneficiaries and on the larger connection to the community. So, what does this look like?

It doesn’t have to be a logic model (although some funding sources do require logic models). But I’m going to explain the basic premise of it without getting too heady.

Inputs: What you need

We’ve already discussed the resources/manpower/money/time needed and sometimes you might hear the term ‘inputs’ and that is basically what the word is referring to – what do you need to make it happen. If you rolled up everything we talked about last time, those are basically inputs. Click here to read or listen to episode GWF 022: Developing Projects for Nonprofits.

Outputs: The pure data

Now, let’s look at the ‘outputs,’ which is basically what results tangibly from the project. I.e. how many individuals in recovery are driven, how many services they attend, how many drivers of Recover with Strength are hired, how many cars are purchased, and so forth. These are basic outputs only track quantitative means of measurement of the number, and many nonprofits only track those outcomes and say they reached their goals. But take it a step further.

Outcomes: The Real Meat

These are actual impacts/benefits/changes for beneficiaries during or after your project. How does this look different than the outputs? Well, let’s say look at the Uber-like project to Recover with Strength.

Output: 100 beneficiaries will get driven to services annually.

Outcome: 75% of beneficiaries will remain sober annually

Outcomes are what the changes are for the beneficiaries / community.

These may include:

  • Knowledge and skills (short-term): 75 individuals in recovery (beneficiaries) increased their knowledge by 50% of coping skills and relationship skills.
  • Behavior (intermediate-term): 75 beneficiaries remained sober for one year.
  • Values (long-term)/Conditions and Status (long-term): 25 beneficiaries now volunteer as drivers for other peers

Targets: How much change?

Outcomes do have to be quantifiable or measured. It’s nice to say that Recover with Strength individuals served will maintain sobriety, but if you noticed the example was that 75 individuals (75%) of the 100 individuals served annually would remain sober.

Why not 100 percent?

Well, realistically it is near impossible to reach 100 percent of outcome success with each project. The reason you have projects in the first place is to fill a gap and meet a need, therefore, there are probably many predictors in attrition rates, so it is fine to acknowledge that you may not reach 100 percent. Don’t get me wrong. You can absolutely overshoot your success rate and you won’t always see attrition. Say that at the end of the first year 85 people maintain sobriety. That is excellent! But it would be worse if you said 100 people would remain sober and then only 85 did.

Of course, attrition rates should be considered for every demographic and could even be for a ballet project for seven-year-olds. If you said that 50, seven-year-old children would increase their ballet skills by the end of year one and you are serving a total of 50 kids, you are setting yourself up for failure.

The reality is that five might move away, three may drop out because they decided that ballet looks cooler in the movies and is harder in reality, four of them end up resigning because their parents start working crazy hours and don’t have the time to drop them off, and so forth. Whenever you put together a project there are challenges, so it is very important to really make realistic goals of how much change will happen.

Data Tracker

Okay, now that you identified your project, accounted for time/money/manpower (inputs) needed for it, what the outputs and outcomes are, you must see how you will track all the data. This doesn’t have to include a crazy expensive software system or hiring a $30,000 consultant to give you end results of n/398 that make no trifecta sense.  But it is important to not only identify what information and changes that you expect, but how your nonprofit will collect the information.

We will be going over this in the next podcast…

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