January 13th, 2020
I struggle with the intersection of fundraising and program evaluation. The primary reason to do program evaluation is to learn, for continuous program improvement. It’s not a fundraising activity.
However, I’m often brought into an organization by a grant writer who wants my help to produce data that demonstrates the impact of their program. They usually want to create this specifically to present to a funder when applying for financial support.
While generating these kinds of reports can happen, before we can get to work the first thing I have to do is set context for the project.
Lesson #1 is this: program evaluation is not a public relations, marketing, or fundraising activity… it is first and foremost a learning opportunity. While program evaluation results may help secure funds, market programs, market operations, and overall boost communication efforts, it all starts with an interest in learning: what is going well? What needs improvement? What overall impact are we making?
As a part of my book writing process on nonprofit program evaluation, I interviewed past clients for inclusion of their stories in the book. I asked Brandi Tuck, the Executive Director of Portland Homeless Family Solutions, about how program evaluation has (or has not) had an impact on their fundraising efforts or revenue streams.
What she said knocked me off my seat:
“Because we had a program evaluation system in place, our annual fundraising from foundations increased to 677% and annual fundraising from individual donors increased by 753% (from previous levels).”
I was AMAZED – I honestly did not quite realize the incredible power that data has to turn into dollars.
How did this happen? Here’s what Brandi and I worked on together: we developed a process and outcome evaluation system for their Shelter program to learn what was going well and where improvements were needed. We also sought to generally understand the the impact the program was making. The data that came out of this work demonstrated clearly both the impact and areas for ongoing program improvement.
By having these data easily accessible and available, the program staff were then able to not only improve the programs, but also to share with funders (and potential funders) the ongoing work the team was doing for the Shelter program.
This mini-case study shows that the key intersection of program evaluation and fundraising is usage. Along the program evaluation path, you may learn what works well and where you need to fine tune your process. When program evaluation and fundraising cross paths, it’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate the measurable impact your program is making while also providing current & future funders the chance to turn those data into dollars.
Interested in learning more about how you can explore program evaluation at your organization? Feel free to email me anytime – I’d love to help!
Chari accurately captured the fundamental goals and mission of our organization and transformed our input into a clear evaluation process that helps us assess the impact of our programs on the lives of the families that we serve. Now we have an amazing way to measure the physical, emotional, and mental effects of our programs and to guide change, ensuring that we are delivering services in the most effective way possible.Brandi Tuck, Executive Director, Portland Homeless Family Solutions
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