Using Program Evaluation to Support Nonprofit Fundraising

May 2, 2017

This article was written by Trina Willard, Principal Consultant of Knowledge Advisory Group.  Trina will be joined by Amy Nisenson, executive director, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, and Marcy Horwitz, President, Marcy Horwitz & Associates, Inc., for “Winning the Grant Writing Game” beginning May 18.    

In the 20+ years that I’ve been a program evaluator, there’s one reason I hear over and over again for why some nonprofits (and other organizations) shy away from program evaluation:  

“Oh, we don’t need to do an evaluation. We know we’re doing great things!”  

My reply is always the same:  

“I’m sure you are doing lots of great things…but can you demonstrate it? And do you know what you need to do to make more great things happen?”  

One of the benefits of conducting an evaluation is the positive impact it can have on fundraising success. An evaluation acts as an accountability tool for those who might potentially give money to the organization, showing how and where the organization is most successful.  By creating an understanding of what works and doesn’t work, employees and volunteers for the organization can continually improve the services they offer.  

Let’s consider this example:  

Fictional nonprofit, Water Everywhere, raises funds to help communities in developing countries have access to clean water. They do this in a variety of ways, from airlifting crates of water bottles to installing filters on spigots and building wells in these communities.  

In conducting evaluation, Water Everywhere learns about the effectiveness of each of their initiatives, ultimately determining how many people are helped per dollar of funding used.  If the organization finds that installing wells is the most cost-effective way of helping individuals long-term, they might then choose to focus more of their funding on that particular initiative and adjusting other efforts.  For instance, they may decide to airlift bottled water only in crisis situations or selectively install water filters in areas prior to building wells.  Further, Water Everywhere can disseminate the results from the evaluation process, and how they adapted delivery using that information, to potential donors.  

When nonprofits share the results from evaluation efforts, potential financial supporters not only gain an understanding of exactly how monies are used, but also 
learn how these organizations can grow, adapt, and use their funds for maximum community impact.  As an added benefit, evaluation provides a conduit for cultivating donor relationships that may be critical to organizational sustainability.  

If you’re interested in learning more about effective grant writing, including practical strategies for conducting program evaluation for your nonprofit programs, please join us for the upcoming four-session series, Winning the Grant Writing Game, which begins on May 18, 2017.