Why Non-Profits Should Engage in Research and Program Evaluations

By Ilene Hyman

Until recently, I mostly worked as a researcher and evaluator for government and academic agencies who had the resources to engage professional researchers and evaluators to conduct needs assessments, program evaluation and performance reviews. Since then I joined as a volunteer on the Evaluations team at Endeavour Volunteer, a consulting organization for non-profits. This is where I realized the importance of engaging in research and program evaluations even for non-profit organizations such as Endeavour Volunteer. In this blog I will be using examples of Endeavour Volunteer’s evaluation process and my experience on the team to highlight the importance of program evaluations for non-profits.

Here are my top 3 reasons why non-profit organizations should engage in program evaluations:

  1. Enhanced ability to assess programs, services, and products to ensure objectives are being met;
  2. Better able to examine whether programs and services are being delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible;
  3. More tangible results and evaluations to share with stakeholders (clients, volunteers, corporate sponsors and partners) as well as providing increased transparency (Hall, 2003).

Endeavour provides management consulting services to non-profit organizations to help improve their organizational capacity and community impact. Endeavour recognizes the importance of evaluation, and employs a number of methods to ensure it is producing the most value for its clients, corporate partners and volunteers. Below is a detailed example of how Endeavour Volunteer performs evaluations.

As a member of Endeavour’s volunteer evaluation team, I have been involved in evaluating Endeavour’s Scope-a-thon workshop series, which brought together Capital One’s staff, volunteers and Endeavour representatives to help non-profits scope out pre-selected pro-bono consulting projects.  At the end of each event session, we surveyed the nonprofit clients, corporate partnership team and the volunteers.  The surveys explored various aspects of the event, such as:

  • Increased ability to engage effectively in pro bono,
  • Proven team building and personal development exercises,
  • Overall satisfaction with the workshop, resources, teams and outcomes.

Endeavour also assesses the long-term effectiveness of its client consultations, by interviewing a selection of past clients.   As part of the interview process, I asked clients about:

  • Types of professional services provided by Endeavour,
  • Key recommendations that were provided by Endeavour,
  • Client commitment or next step planning to implementation  Endeavour’s recommendations,
  • Changes that occurred as a direct result of the final deliverable,
  • Tangible results or expected next steps in implementing the recommendations and beyond the final recommendations,
  • And other benefits and positive experiences that resulted from the Endeavour engagement.

The exercise of gathering this important information provides the insight to help Endeavour achieve their mission.  For example, the volunteers who worked with Camp Amici, (a charity that sends children from financially challenged family to partner summer camps) were happy to find out that the strategic plan they developed for Amici that helped them exceed their goals to serve more children.   Knowing the impact of their efforts encourages our volunteers to continue to engage in skills-based volunteering.

Our evaluation findings are also being used by Endeavour for tracking accountability, improving Endeavour’s services, and for client and volunteer recruitment. Evaluations include important feedback such as testimonials, personal and professional experiences and how Endeavour has made a difference in non-profit organizations. As a volunteer on the evaluations team, I have learned a lot about the structure, challenges and impressive work results for our non-profit clients and I’ve been able to fine-tune my interviewing, presentation and technical skills.


References:
Michael H. Hall, Susan D. Phillips, Claudia Meillat, Donna Pickering (2003). Assessing Performance: Evaluation Practices & Perspectives in Canada’s Voluntary Sector. Canadian Centre for Philanthropy (CCP) and the Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development (CVSRD), Carleton University.

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