How do we know our work is having an impact? This should be a frequently asked question at nonprofits—by staff, by board, by donors and by the community. Examining your program work, and in a transparent manner, is a best practice for all nonprofits. The how, the when, the what of program evaluation differs widely from organization to organization and from program to program.

Why evaluate your programs? Program evaluation informs your work, leads to improvements and, ultimately, better serves your constituents or clients. There are to five important reasons to evaluate your programs.

Programs proven effective attract funding.

Quality programming leads to more community partners.

Evaluation activity creates a positive organizational culture.

Program evaluations bring about better outcomes and creates an efficient delivery system.

Positive evaluations give your organization the opportunity to replicate and/or scale up successful programs.

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased focus on program evaluation—driven by funders from the public and private sectors. Private donors want to know if their contribution is making a difference. Public funding sources must report to tax-payers about the impact of the government grants and contracts being awarded to nonprofits.

Most funders now require evaluation information be a part of your application. Some government grants provide specific outcomes, which means your nonprofit is the entity that must determine how to report progress toward those outcomes—evaluation work.

An early question in developing evaluation processes is whether to use an independent evaluator or to have staff perform evaluation work. There is no right or wrong answer to this question—it depends on your nonprofits circumstances and programmatic details.

We will continue exploring program evaluation for the next few weeks, offering tips and resources for developing best practices in evaluating your nonprofit’s programs.

Here are several links with additional information and resources.

Internal versus external evaluators.

Evaluation toolkit from the Colorado Nonprofit Association.

Outcome measures from the Council of Nonprofits.

Top five reasons to evaluate