The sun in shining brightly in my neighborhood this week and temperatures are gently creeping into the "warm" category. Early bulbs are beginning to peek up from the soil and birds are chirping as dawn breaks in the mornings. These signs of spring always give me energy, reminding me that it's never too late to revitalize your home, your wardrobe or perhaps your exercise routine.
While revitalization and renewal don't only apply to our personal lives, it sometimes takes a more intentional effort to renew your thinking at work. Nonprofit leaders are swamped with a variety of demands that require daily attention, so carving out time to think about opportunities for change and improvement can sometimes be tricky, unless you have the right tools.
The Standards for Excellence Institute® is a national initiative that works to help nonprofit organizations act ethically and accountably while enhancing the public's trust in the nonprofit sector. The Institute's centerpiece is the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, which identifies key areas of effective nonprofit management, and offers guidance on developing and implementing a successful program evaluation plan. The Standards provide a great roadmap for nonprofit leaders who wish to create meaningful opportunities to implement best practices across all aspects of nonprofit oversight, administration and operations.
Allow me to share one area of the Standards that is near and dear to my heart and speaks clearly to the principle of organizational self-examination as a key process for "breathing new life" into your nonprofit.
Program evaluation refers to the process of gathering data about a service or program to determine its effectiveness. Nonprofit organizations that thoroughly and strategically evaluate their programs show a commitment to the communities they serve by identifying their successes and challenges. More and more funders now expect to see an evaluation plan in the programs they fund. The Standards for Excellence provides guidance on key best practices in program evaluation, including:
- Cost. A good rule of thumb is to outline your program evaluation plan as you are creating the program itself, at the very beginning of the planning stage. This allows you to include the costs of implementing your evaluation in your program's budget, and many funders consider underwriting the evaluation costs as evidence of a commitment to delivering the highest-quality program.
- Program Definition. Nonprofits typically form to alleviate specific problems or address certain issues in society, and define mission statements that include a purpose and broad methods for achieving their goals. When drafting your program evaluation plan, be sure to begin with a comprehensive definition of your program at the beginning to establish the plan's objectives. Move beyond the mission statement to identify the vital components of your program to help you determine an appropriate evaluation method for each one.
- Monitoring vs. Evaluation. Nonprofits should be prepared to include both monitoring and evaluation procedures in their evaluation plans to ensure they are consistently and thoroughly analyzing their effectiveness. Monitoring refers to the essential, ongoing process of collecting information related to your program delivery and operations, such as how many people participated, the amount of time dedicated, the dollars spent or generated, or anything else that is important to count.
- Evaluation goes beyond monitoring. It weighs the information gathered by your monitoring systems and assesses the impact you can claim as resulting from your program. Whatever evaluation methods you use, be sure to look at how your program has changed the conditions for your targeted population or problem.
- Effectiveness vs. Efficiency. The key to determining program effectiveness is the identification of standards, benchmarks, or criteria against which progress or performance can be assessed. Perhaps you are evaluating the year-over-year results of an annual fundraiser, or the outcome of a program against national statistics. Be sure to include criteria in your evaluation plan that you can compare against your data to help identify specific results and areas of improvement.
- Efficiency is determined by the ratio of outputs to inputs. Efficient programs offer satisfactory results that are achieved with an appropriate amount of dedicated resources. Paying attention to the efficiency of your program minimizes waste, expenses, and unnecessary effort.
Ready to learn more about creating an excellent program evaluation plan for your nonprofit, as well as many other best practices for nonprofits? The Pass to Excellence seminar is designed for nonprofit leaders to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the Standards for Excellence, including effective program evaluation planning, and to attain the resources necessary to put them into practice. The seminar will be led by Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant Trina Willard, who will work with attendees to develop a tailored work plan for each organization to implement key areas outlined in this vetted code. This plan will help leaders strengthen the management, governance, and operations of their organizations with concrete strategies and best practices.
Who Should Attend
Nonprofit board members, management staff, and leading program staff that are responsible for setting policies within their organization, or are charged with assessing and improving their organization's internal infrastructure and capacity.
What You Will Learn
- Strengthen the management, governance, and operations of your organization with concrete strategies and best practices
- Educate yourself on how to assess your organization against the benchmarks of the Standards for Excellence code
- Engage with a set of best practices for nonprofit management and governance as outlined in the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, and learn about how embracing and living by them can improve effectiveness and sustainability
- Develop a work plan for improvement in the key areas of the Standards for Excellence code: Consider earning the Seal of Excellence through the Standards for Excellence accreditation program or the tiered approach for recognition of strengthening organization's management and governance.