Foundations stress the importance of evaluation

by Julia Alvarez, Research Associate at JVA

Two JVA team members were in attendance last Thursday afternoon at the Colorado Nonprofit Association’s Fall Conference in downtown Denver, where the luncheon panel focused on nonprofit program evaluation.

Representatives from the evaluation departments of the Colorado Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust and the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado spoke about a growing emphasis in the foundation world on outcomes-based evaluations. This type of evaluation focuses on progress being made and social change being affected by programming, rather than solely on numerical outputs. Representatives from these prominent regional foundations encouraged potential grantees to think about three things before requesting funding:

How will we plan our program?

How will we execute our program?

How will we demonstrate that we are making a difference?

These foundations are looking for grant partners who want to change the world and who can show how they will do it or how they are already doing it. Panel members said that grantees with the strongest program logic demonstrate the best connection between program strategies and program results. They encouraged potential grantees to begin thinking about evaluation during the planning phase and to begin executing evaluation early in program implementation. When nonprofit organizations have a clearly articulated “theory of change” and when they can demonstrate how program activities and benchmarks feed directly back into this theory, funders are likely to view them more favorably.

Panel members emphasized the importance of measuring a few objectives really well, rather than trying to measure numerous objectives only halfway, and they reminded the audience that evaluation is not about being punitive. Rather, it’s about figuring out how to make change in the best way possible.

How is your organization preparing for this shift in evaluating thinking and planning? Do you need help crafting a “theory of change,” an evaluation plan or a formal program evaluation? JVA can help. We have an experienced team of evaluators who are ready to help your organization stay on top of the expectations and desires of foundations and other funders.

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