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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  • Like you, I have bemoaned the lack of evaluation tools
    for nonprofits. The data in this report shows how much needs to be done in both defining evaluation and funding it. Counting number of people served isn’t enough; we need to find a way to measure whether the service did any good, and that’s still a long way off.

    As one nonprofit director said to me, “We measure success if you learn something you can use. If you can balance your checkbook or recognize the importance of savings or recognize the rip-off of payday loans; if you can get a higher-paying job or do better in school or graduate or you decide that something else than being professional football player is what you want to do … that is success.”

    He’s right. But how do we tell which nonprofit is doing that best? We still don’t know.

  • I think you’re right, Geri, this is frustrating and highlights a HUGE disconnect between what funders say they want, outcomes and results, and what they fund and accept. In dark moments, I wonder if after all this time, all this attention to outcomes and evaluation, if this is the best we can do – but those moments pass and I’m hopeful again that nonprofits will pick up the charge and want to learn more about their effect. Hopefully….


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