Evaluation and Measurement in Nonprofits: An Introduction

“Wherever you go, there you are.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn

This quote is one of our favorites. Brighter Strategies partners with nonprofits to understand where they are and where they’re going. During the past decade of organization development consulting, we’ve realized that many leaders know neither where they are going, nor where they are. Below are several common scenarios we often encounter.

Missional Mindy

Mindy is Manager of Programs and Services at a nursing home facility, where she has worked for five years. She started as an intern while finishing her college degree and was gradually promoted to a management position. She chose nonprofit management as a career because she wants to make a difference in the world. She has formed close relationships with many of the individuals served by the organization and maintains a strong sense of purpose in the work she does each day.

Recently the organization hired a Director of Organization Effectiveness, to whom Mindy reports. Mindy’s new boss instituted an agency-wide program evaluation process, and Mindy’s in the hot seat. During an introductory meeting with her boss, Mindy confesses she has completed very little formal measurement of the programs and services she oversees. “I don’t have time to plan and implement such processes because I spend most of my hours with the residents,” she explains.

Jaded Jeffrey

Jeffrey has worked at the same nonprofit for 20 years. He’s seen dozens of eager employees come in and out of the organization during his tenure, all with one goal in mind: to make an impact. He’s watched these same staff – often young and not yet jaded like he – attempt to change the agency’s programs or practices without much lasting success.

This month’s employee du jour, Sarah, is ten years his junior and working on a new organizational initiative: program evaluation. After an intense and rigorous assessment period, Sarah shares her findings and recommendations with the senior leadership team, and Jeffrey can’t hold back his snickers. “Sorry sweetie,” he says. “But we’ve heard this story before, and nothing ever changes.”

Hopeful Holly

Holly is a newly hired President of her county parks and recreations agency. Her Board of Directors asks her to assess the nonprofit’s performance against a set of regulatory requirements and measure progress quarterly. After digging through the bleak paper trail left by her predecessor, Holly realizes the momentous task before her and decides to call in help.

At the recommendation of a friend in nonprofit management, Holly hires a local organization development consulting firm to implement an evaluation system overhaul. The firm begins with organizational assessments and then proposes an iterative outcome measurement and program evaluation process to kick off during the coming year. Holly feels instantly relieved, knowing she’s entrusted critical tasks outside of her skillset to more competent hands. “Now I can get back to the work I do well and enjoy,” she tells her friend with gratitude.

Do any of the above stories resonate with you? If so, please comment below – we’d love to hear your experiences.

This quarter we will explore the evaluation and measurement processes Brighter Strategies uses to help organizations understand where they are, so that they can plan where they want to go. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, we’d love to talk to you about the work we do implementing real, meaningful change in nonprofit agencies like yours. We start with extensive interviews to understand where you are and where you’re going, and, when needed, we’ll use organizational assessments. With the right systems and tools in place, you can do more with less – and do it better. Learn more here.