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Don’t let evaluation become the elephant in the room

Evaluation… Impact Assessment… Reporting…

Simple in concept, but capable of causing severe challenges for your organization if not properly managed.

So, why are many nonprofits missing this important piece?

In the private sector, where my experience lies, measurement and evaluation is relatively straightforward: Return on investment. Profitability. Efficiency and effectiveness.

In the nonprofit world as I’m learning, however, measurement and evaluation is much more complicated. How do you begin when faced with the task of reporting social return on investment or social impact? Is it the complexity of the task that keeps nonprofits from developing evaluation norms and ultimately developing a culture of learning, or is it that they don’t know where to start?

Luckily, it’s really not that difficult to get started. You don’t need specialized training, and you don’t have to tackle everything at once.

Start small, think through and discuss what you want to know and why it’s important, set targets, experience some success, refine along the way, use results and grow. Before long, eyes will be opened and results can astound.

Staff, boards and (ever important) funders will take notice.

This is a very different picture from that of our nonprofit unicorn in the comic, who avoided developing a strategy for her evaluation. In her enthusiasm for starting her community project, she jumped in head first without a learning and evaluation plan.

The evaluation elephant then crowded her budget, key learnings were lost, and the reporting requirements not only became burdensome, but ultimately bumped her from focusing on her project altogether.

Sound familiar? How many times have we failed to plan out our evaluation strategy, then scrambled at the last minute to put together a report simply to satisfy requirements of the funder? Key learnings end up trampled on the floor, offering no value to our organization.

Let’s make a point to deal with the elephant in the room.

If evaluation is properly planned from the start, you’ll be amazed at the key learnings you’ll find along the way:
– Cost saving approaches
– The right resources to engage and when
– How to better meet stakeholder expectations

Be sure to record them at every opportunity. Not only will you be on your way to developing a culture of learning, but your reporting will be a lot easier too!

A simple approach? Perhaps. But sometimes that’s all we need.


Dan Weber

Dan Weber (dan@capacitycanada.ca; @iamdanweber) is an Executive-in-Residence with Capacity Canada, his first nonprofit role after a career in the private sector that included leadership in sales, operations and project management. Capacity Canada (https://capacitycanada.ca/) is a national registered charity that brings together the ideas, people and resources that fuel social innovation. Our vision is to change lives through courageous community organizations. We are accomplishing this by providing nonprofit leaders new resources and professional support that enhances leadership skills, stimulates cross-sector collaboration, promotes knowledge sharing, and encourages social innovation.

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