Should your organization hire an external evaluator or evaluation firm? The answer is that it depends.
When to Work with Internal Staff
Some nonprofits are poised to conduct evaluation internally. These organizations have qualified staff who know how to conduct evaluations, design surveys, collect data, analyze findings, and report results. Often, these individuals wear different hats such as program manager, communication, marketing, or grant writer.
Serving as an evaluator is an extension of what they already do. However, there are limits to working with an internal evaluator, these individuals may be spread really thin. They may be running programs, providing services, and wearing a lot of different hats. These individuals may not have the time or resources to implement a strong evaluation effort.
When to Work with External Evaluators
Bringing in an external evaluator can make the evaluation process easier, more reliable, and provide valuable information. External evaluators bring expertise that can improve and strengthen the way you evaluate your programs. Having someone external that asks why things are done a certain way, takes another look at existing data, and develops and implements strategies for evaluation can greatly improve how you measure and quantify your impact. Many funders even require that nonprofits work with an external evaluator. They want to make sure that their money is well spent and that the goals and objectives of a grant are achieved.
So, how do you know whether to work with an external evaluator? Below is a checklist to help guide the decision. Answer “Yes” or “No” for the following statements:
1) Are you required to hire an external evaluator? Y / N
2) Are staff disengaged in collecting data? Y /N
3) Are you having trouble getting grants awarded? Y / N
4) Are you unsure of how your programs and services are making a difference? Y / N
5) Are you worried about the quality of data collected? Y / N
6) Does your staff lack evaluation experience or expertise? Y / N
7) Do you have funding to hire an external evaluator? Y / N
8) Does your organization lack evidence of impact? Y / N
9) Is data and evaluation an area of stress for your organization? Y / N
10) Do you want to elevate your organization to the next level? Y / N
Take a moment to count how many times you selected “Yes”. Below is a summary of what your score means and whether you should hire an external evaluator.
0-3 – Your organization can likely handle evaluation internally. While your nonprofit may benefit from working with or partnering with an evaluator, it may not be necessary at this point. The one caveat is if you are required to work with an external evaluator.
4-6 – Your organization may want to consider your options with working with an external evaluator or evaluation firm. If funding is a challenge, this may need to become a line item for the next fiscal year. Evaluation prices can be reasonable, especially if you want to start small and build from there. It may even save your organization money if you are worried about the quality of the data collected and are having issues expressing the impact your nonprofit is making.
7-10 – Your organization likely needs to work with an external evaluator or evaluation firm as soon as possible. The quality of data being collected, staff engagement and support, and your organization’s ability to demonstrate your value are at risk. Not working with an evaluator is likely costing your organization time, money, and resources. At this point, hiring an external evaluator would be a cost-saving and would greatly help your organization.
As you determine whether or not to work with an external evaluator or internal staff, think about who will best help your organization accomplish your mission. You also want to make sure that your organization is ready for evaluation. In either scenario, make sure that you have the right person or people for the job! Often, nonprofits benefit from working with both internal staff and external evaluators.
If you have any specific follow-up questions to this blog post, or any other research and evaluation needs, please contact Dr. Annette Shtivelband (firstname.lastname@example.org).