August 14th, 2020
I’ve taught workshops on how to do program evaluation for nonprofits for a long time.
Over the years I’ve been asked a whole array of questions about program evaluation: from funding, to logistics, to surveys, to trainings, to reports.
But there’s one question always surprised me, no matter how many times it was asked (spoiler: it was asked a LOT.) That question was “Chari, have you written a book about this?”
While flattered, I never really took this question seriously. I assumed it was just a nice way for clients and colleagues to encourage me and thank me for my help. My consistent answer was no, no book.
In the fall 2017, I taught a session at the Oregon Program Evaluation Network (OPEN) annual conference all about how to introduce and integrate program evaluation into a nonprofit’s ongoing work. The conversation was lively, and so many people had questions. And of course, one of those questions was That Question: did I have a book?
For some reason, instead of shrugging this question off yet again, it struck me differently. Why NOT write a book?!
Sure, I had no idea what writing a book would entail. How to go about publishing it. The logistics of it. Not to mention the mental gymnastics I’d need to do to try and sum up and organize my experiences and learnings gathered over my career of 20+ years in the nonprofit program evaluation field. But the more I thought about it, the more this idea appealed to me.
Feeling inspired, I hunkered down and put down my first draft thinking about what this book could be. I decided to focus on the core of all program evaluation work: how to write an evaluation plan. Painstakingly, I outlined my tried-and-true method of how to get from concept to a full-blown plan that an organization can then take and run with.
After a year, I had something I was ready to share. I was equally proud, excited, and nervous. I started asking friends and colleagues for ideas about where to take this first draft.
In the winter of 2019, I reached out to my network asking for help finding a publisher. Amy Varga, President of The Varga Group, was one of the folks who answered the call, and suggested I reach out to Kivi Leroux-Miller and Antoinette Kerr from Bold and Bright Media. I gathered my courage, and did just that.
The good news? They liked it! The scary news? They wanted MORE.
They wanted me to expand the book to include not only creating the evaluation plan, but also how to go about implementing it.
For the next six months, I dug deep. The book grew to address all steps of program evaluation — including creating an evaluation plan, determining the best methodologies to collect data, best practices for creating surveys, guides for managing program data, writing and designing compelling reports, and how to use data to improve programs over time.
Those six months were tough – I admit feeling a bit chained to my computer, wordsmithing each paragraph, reworking the table of contents, and writing and rewriting whole chapters.
The whole time I wrote, I thought back to the faces of those people who came up to me after trainings over the years hopefully asking if I had a book. I kept my eye on the prize: creating a step-by-step guide for how to do program evaluation for the non-evaluator.
Fast forward to today, August 2020… and I’m proud to say that my book is finally DONE. I’m not going to pretend that it was an easy journey. That it hasn’t challenged me – in both fun and terrible ways. Writing a book is as hard and frustrating as everyone says it is — but it is also truly a joyful, exhilarating, and incredible experience.
The thing I love about my program evaluation work is taking an organization from confused, overwhelmed, and resistant… to recognizing the value in the process and confidently going forward with a plan to collect and share data.
My sincere hope is that my book will do just that. That it will serve as a guide to help nonprofit professionals dip their toe into the incredible world of program evaluation, and teach them that not only can they DO nonprofit evaluation, but that they SHOULD. And not just because some funder tells you to… but because at the end of the day, nonprofit professionals want to KNOW that their programs are having the positive impact on the communities they love and serve.
I’m thrilled to announce the title of my first ever book: “Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple: Get your data. Show your impact. Improve your programs.” will be released in Fall 2020 by Bold and Bright Media.
Visit my book page to learn more about it, and to join my book launch mailing list to be the first to hear updates about it!
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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