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Observations and Inspiration from Chari Smith

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Why I Wrote A Book

December 7th, 2020

** Available for purchase as of January 2021! Purchase now on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble **

In the blur of workshops on program evaluation I’ve taught over the years, there’s one persistent question to which I’ve never had a satisfactory answer: “Chari, have you written a book about this?”

While flattered, I never really took this question seriously. I assumed it was just a kind way for clients and colleagues to encourage me and thank me for my help. My consistent answer was no, no book.

But then, not long ago, I taught a session at the Oregon Program Evaluation Network (OPEN) annual conference. My topic was on how to introduce and integrate program evaluation into a nonprofit’s ongoing work. The conversation was lively, and the questions kept coming. 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 twenty-plus years in the nonprofit program evaluation field. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me.

Feeling inspired, I hunkered down and put together 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 getting 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 and quickly found a publisher. I was equally proud, excited, and nervous.

The good news? They liked it! The scary news? They wanted MORE.

They wanted me to expand the book to include creating the evaluation plan and how to go about implementing it.

For the next six months, I dug deep. The book grew to address all program evaluation steps: 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 while I wordsmithed each paragraph and wrote and rewrote 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, 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 October, when an unexpected turn took the book in a new direction. CharityChannel, which publishes books for nonprofit professionals under imprints such as CharityChannel Press, approached my publisher and asked to take my book under the wing of its new Author Brick Road project. According to CharityChannel CEO Stephen Nill, “Author Brick Road leverages its deep publishing experience to empower visionary and transformative leaders to write and publish books of extraordinary impact, clarity, and usefulness.” It was a good move for everyone, so I made the switch.

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.

I love that my program evaluation work helps take 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 help even more organizations 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 positively impact the communities they love and serve.

*** UPDATE AS OF JANUARY 20, 2021: 

I’m thrilled to announce that Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple: Get your data. Show your impact. Improve your programs is now available for purchase. (Bonus: every book purchase includes access to a book companion website, which has samples and templates you can download and use right away!) Visit my book page now for more information, or click below to buy now. 

Now we have an amazing way to measure the physical, emotional, and mental effects of our programs...

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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