Quantifying Evaluation – At Last

Innovation Network, Inc. (InnoNet) has released a research study, State of Evaluation 2010, that illuminates the opaque current state of evaluation practice in the nonprofit sector.

There is an amazing dearth of research on the practice of program evaluation. Who does what and how is hardly ever asked – except by InnoNet. Using data from Guidestar, over 36,000 nonprofits were invited to participate in the study and 1,072 chose to do so. A few of the key findings (there are many more in the report itself, which is beautifully crafted for easy reading):

  • 85% of responding organizations report engaging in evaluation over the past year. Although the nature of the type of evaluation that they engage in varies widely including monitoring outputs, evaluating process and evaluating outcomes.
  • Only 27% worked with an outside evaluator.
  • Large organizations, those with budgets over $5 million) were more likely to evaluate their work and had staff dedicated to evaluation.
  • Funders and boards of directors are the primary audience for evaluation results (58% combined).

There were some unsurprising but still desultory findings reported as well. Including:

  • 36% of the respondents reported that NONE of their funders supported their evaluation work.
  • Evaluation ranked second to last in organizational priorities.

The bottom line is that evaluation continues to be difficult to understand and implement for many nonprofit organizations, strain the budgets or smaller organizations and unfunded by grantmakers.

I have a thought of how to try to change these dynamics. I wonder if it is possible to measure if and how organizations that are intensively implementing outcomes evaluation are better at serving their communities AND raising money. The one way to motivate both funders and nonprofits to make program evaluation a priority is to prove the value of investing in it.

 

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Allison Fine

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