Evaluation is a powerful tool for nonprofit organizations. In fact, evaluation is the “secret sauce” that differentiates organizations that thrive versus those that only survive. Additionally, evaluation can be a catalyst for positive change. For example, REC worked with a client for three years. At first, there were some reservations about data and using evaluation. However, as time went by, and the staff could see how evaluation directly supported and impacted their community, there became a new energy and excitement around evaluation.
In fact, since REC worked with this client, they managed to raise more than half a million dollars in new funds! So what exactly are the benefits of evaluation? How can evaluation be your competitive advantage or “secret sauce”? Below are 6 key benefits (in no particular order) that can help your organization thrive in a highly competitive world:
1) Ensures your organization is delivering the best programs and services
There is always room for improvement, especially during changing times. As your organization provides vital services to the community, how do you know your delivering the best programs and services? Another question to consider is whether the same programs and services are still meeting the needs of your constituents, the community, and the overall mission of your organization. Evaluation provides quality control to support your efforts and ensures your time, money, and resources are well spent.
2) Makes programs, services, and systems more efficient and effective
The deeper your organization dives into evaluation approaches and adopts program evaluation into your culture, the more opportunities to leverage evaluation to make programs, services, and systems more efficient and effective. In other words, evaluation becomes a bridge that connects different individuals, departments, and partners around shared goals. When you apply evaluation to your organization and commit to this approach, your organization will discover opportunities to streamline efforts and make critical changes to improve what you do. For example, REC has helped numerous clients take existing tools and approaches simply how they work with data – all with evaluation guiding the direction.
3) Provides direction and informs strategic decisions
Effective organizations are ones that can and do pivot when necessary. What worked a decade ago may not work today. Evaluation becomes a tool and resource to provide your organization with direction and guides strategic decisions. Sometimes you need to make difficult decisions and evaluation provides your organization with vital intel. Trust your gut, but also make sure you can back up your decisions with strong evaluation findings.
4) Supports funding opportunities
What better way to demonstrate the value of your organization than with numbers and stories that speak for themselves? Your organization could hire the best grant writer in town, but even a seasoned professional can’t show how your organization is making a difference without data. Telling a potential funder that you think you are making a positive impact is less compelling than showing them evidence. Data is critical, especially in a competitive market where you need to differentiate your organization from others.
5) Strengthens and informs communication and marketing efforts
Similar to funding opportunities, evaluation can give the communities you serve a voice. Whether your data speaks to how your organization has changed lives or demonstrates how your organization helps people become more independent, evaluation is an important source for communication and marketing efforts. Your constituents, your advocates, and the people you serve all want to know how you are improving lives. Evaluation provides the words, the stories, and the statistics to garner more support and broaden and deepen your impact.
6) Produces results you can trust
At the end of the day, you want to know that what you are doing is working. Furthermore, you want to be sure you are making a difference and you need to know how you are changing lives for the better. Evaluation produces results you can trust. When your organization embraces the benefits of evaluation, you know how you are making a difference, who you are serving, and what kind of impact you are making. This is powerful and vital information. You can feel confidant about your decisions because you know what is working and what needs to be improved.
So, go out there and make sure your organization is thriving! If you have any specific follow-up questions to this blog post or any other research and evaluation needs, please contact Dr. Annette Shtivelband.