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What is the key ingredient to create quality surveys?

February 10th, 2023

alignment definition Webster dictionary

Alignment is the key ingredient to create quality surveys.

Let’s unpack that.

Alignment is defined as the proper positioning of parts in relation to each other. In program evaluation, these parts are: (1) measurable outcomes, and (2) survey items. The alignment between these two parts is the secret sauce in knowing what to ask in your survey. First, you have to define the impact you expect your program to make, and then you can build survey items based on the defined impact.

A measurable outcome statement, also known as a change statement, provides clear direction for what you expect to change as a result of program activities. Let’s walk through an example.

Northwest Real Estate Capital Corporation (NWRECC) manages affordable housing communities. Fourteen of those communities offer a resident services program, in which a Service Coordinator connects residents to a range of services and resources, such as home management assistance, health and wellness coordination, social events, and educational opportunities. We worked collaboratively with NWRECC to develop five measurable outcome statements for their resident services program that align to the program activities.

Let’s walk through one outcome to illustrate how the alignment process works.

Building Community Outcome: Improve socialization within the community, which will lead to reduced feelings of stress and isolation.

An effective evaluation plan to measure program impact and implementation focuses on aligning all the key components, including the outcomes, activities, and measurement tools. In this case, the survey items that were developed for a resident survey align with the program components, as explained in the following example for the Building Community outcome.

Outcome to Survey Alignment

How do we measure if residents improved their socialization within the community?

In the survey, we asked what services residents participated in. One of the options was social events. This response choice helped us to understand how many residents participated in social events across the 14 properties. If the outcome is to improve socialization, we need to know who participated in socialization opportunities.

How do we know if they improved socialization within the community? Reduced feelings of stress? We ensured that survey items specifically aligned to these aspects of the Building Community outcome as shown in the following questions. Do you see the alignment?

  1. Because of the Resident Services program, my overall stress level is…. (choose one)
    1. Better
    2. The same
    3. Worse
    4. I don’t know
  1. Because of the Resident Services program, the support I have from the community is…(choose one)
    1. Better
    2. The same
    3. Worse
    4. I don’t know

There were more survey items aligned to this outcome than the two included here, but this excerpt is just enough to help you understand how alignment works. Alignment between what you expect to change and the content of your surveys will ensure you are measuring what matters.

Want more? Check out my book, Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to survey design.

Want to learn more? Join me at 11:00 a.m. PT on Thursday, October 13 for Building a Culture of Evaluation.

During this 20-minute webinar hosted by American Evaluation Association, we’ll explore issues around an organization’s willingness to engage in the process through real-world examples and a concrete process on how you can build a culture of evaluation. More information & registration here.

To receive a discount, use the promo code evalrocks. If you have any trouble with the discount code or registration, please contact Benjimin at bborucki@eval.org. Please note: you will have to set up an American Evaluation Association account in order to register, even as a nonmember.


A New Partnership

I’m excited to share with you that Evaluation into Action, LLC, is now an affiliate partner with Joan Garry’s Nonprofit Leadership Lab. I’ve been a big fan of Joan ever since we crossed paths a few years ago. What truly caught my attention is her 14 attributes to a thriving nonprofit. One of them was to have clear and measurable outcomes. And that means, you need to have program evaluation in place.

One great way to check out how valuable the Nonprofit Leadership Lab can be is to join Joan Garry for a jam-packed workshop that will give you the practical advice you need to strengthen your org and lead with more intention. Here are a few webinars you can take advantage of. Click the link to reserve your seat!

What They’re Saying

I’m so grateful for ongoing positive feedback for my book, Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple: Get your Data. Show your Impact. Improve your Programs. Thanks to Jane T. for her review.

“This is my go-to book for program evaluation. Chari spells out in very clear language the process/steps of evaluation and gives great examples of how this works. It’s all about the impact of our programs and the “so what” of results. I teach program evaluation and design and recommend this book to my students, as well. Buy this book if you work in nonprofit – you won’t be sorry you did!!!!”

If you have my book, please consider writing a review and rating it wherever you purchased. It truly helps others find it more easily.


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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