Evaluating the Success of Your Nonprofit Organization

Many funders require that you explain in grant proposals how you measure the success of your nonprofit organization. Which services are producing adequate results? Which are not? Who is being helped by these services? Who is not? Where are improvements needed? Program evaluations can give good, valid answers to these questions. The key question is, “What does your program intend to accomplish?” The answer should be in your mission statement. An evaluation program will tell you what is actually being accomplished, so you can see how your intentions and performance match up.

Evaluation Methods

Here are some ways to evaluate your organization’s program:

1.  Outcome Monitoring is the regular reporting of program results in ways that can be understood and judged. Outcome monitoring keeps those responsible apprised of performance, allows problems to be detected (and corrected) early, provides proof about program effectiveness, and boosts confidence in the organization’s ability to perform.

Since too much data can hide pertinent information, you should monitor only a few key measures that will focus evaluators’ attention on data relevant to program management. These measures should be easy to interpret and tied to performance expectations.

For example, let’s say your organization is concerned with elementary education, and one of your goals is to improve the ability of children to learn a particular type of information. To measure the outcome of your work, you could give the children a test before they start your program, then administer the same test at the end of the program. Comparing the results of the two tests should help you determine if your program is functioning as it should.

2.  Surveys can help you collect statistically reliable data by asking your clients to rate the services they have received. To obtain quality survey results, you must choose your questions carefully, making sure that each one solicits exactly the type of response that will help you evaluate your program.

3.  Benefit-Cost Analysis attempts to assess service programs by determining whether total welfare has increased because of the program. To perform such an analysis, you need to determine the benefits of the program, place a dollar value on each benefit, calculate the total costs of the program, and compare the benefits and the costs.  Usually, the most difficult aspect of this analysis is placing a dollar value on the benefits. For example, what is the dollar value of saving a human life?

Data Collection Methods

Each organization needs to determine what data collection method serves its needs best. After determining what performance you want to measure, select the easiest, most practical data collection method that will provide the information for your evaluation. One or more of the following may be appropriate for your organization.

1.  Use of Technical Equipment: Data collected directly from a physical device or technical equipment. (Example: computer recordings)

2.  Indirect Unobtrusive Measures: Indicators obtained from records kept for other purposes, or from physical traces left by normal activities. (Example: sales records of “heart healthy” foods sold in the cafeteria.)

3.  Direct Observation: Use by a trained observer of specified formats and codes. (Example: street-corner observations of number of drivers wearing seat belts)

4.  Activity or Participation Log: Brief record completed onsite at frequent intervals by participant or deliverer, using format designed by evaluator. (Examples: participant’s sign-in log, daily record of food eaten)

5.  Organizational Records: Data collection forms routinely kept by an organization for purposes other than for the evaluation. (Examples: patient medical records, time sheets of staff members who record amount of time spent on different activities)

6.  Written Questionnaires: Written survey, usually with structured questions, to obtain data by mail or in-person from providers or recipients. (Examples: number of different activities each participant engaged in during an intervention, provider’s assessment of amount of time they spent on each activity)

7.  Telephone or In-Person Interviews: Procedure in which interviewer asks questions directly to providers or recipients, using either structured or open-ended questions. (Example: interviews with participants in a work-training program concerning training activities and their relevance to job aspirations)

8.  Case Studies: Collection of multiple types of data about a site or example entity, usually by an observer who is on site and uses informal observations and interviews, combined with available data and document review. (Example: case studies of states in their process of implementing a program of systemic change in mathematics education)

Recent grants received by our clients include:

$25,000 for a domestic violence agency - for general operating expenses

$15,000 for an organization providing assistance to seriously ill children and their families - for general operating expenses

$10,000 for an agency providing services for teen mothers - for case management

Murray Covens, Principal


North Texas Nonprofit Resources