MNEA Week: Reid Zimmerman on Working with Non-Profits
I’m Reid Zimmerman, a thirty-year veteran of the nonprofit sector in Minnesota and a member of the faculty at Hamline and Capella Universities where I teach intro to research and evaluation courses in graduate nonprofit programs.
Even though my PhD is in Organizational Development and Effectiveness, I am often called, as a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), to assist an organization with raising money; a challenging task that is made exponentially more difficult because many nonprofits do not evaluate the work they do and have no basis in fact upon which to make their request for philanthropic support. Because nonprofit staff are so wrapped up in doing good work, many have never bothered to develop a theory of change, define or measure outcomes, or indicate the impact they have on the community. The sole basis for their work rests on counting activities and outputs .
Evaluation for most nonprofit leaders is a frightening endeavor.
- Direct service Program personnel are afraid that you are going to find something wrong with the work they do and they will be disciplined or lose their jobs.
- Executive Directors are afraid to demand that staff evaluate their programming. EDs say they want to evaluate but are not necessarily willing to call the question and make sure data is collected regularly. They are also fearful that their ability to analyze data will be demonstrated as lacking. Often they think like program staff because that is where they began their careers.
- Accounting and Admin staff is afraid that evaluation is too expensive, that the money would be better used for programming.
- Fundraising staff want the evaluation results to be exceptional, but are afraid that they will only be average or worse…demonstrate that improvement is necessary.
- Boards of Directors are afraid that they are overstepping their position to ask for or expect program evaluation, and they don’t know what it is that they want to see with an evaluation.
- Clients are often afraid that answering evaluation questions honestly may get them tossed out of the program
- Foundation staffs that support these programs with funding are afraid to demand evaluation because then they would have to read and use the evaluation reports and that will add another layer of work.
So, move slowly and with lots of reassurance. Assuage nonprofit fears that evaluation is about finding fault and help them to realize it is about getting better. Those assurances will be needed.
To hear and discuss a case study of a derailed evaluation at a small NP, meet us at the AEA conference.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Minnesota Evaluation Association (MN EA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the MNEA AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MNEA members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.