AaEA Week: Building Evaluation Pro Bono in the Atlanta Community by Charlotte Newman and Lauren Reef

Hi, we are Charlotte Newman and Lauren Reef. We are co-chairs of the Atlanta-area Evaluation Association (AaEA) pro bono committee. AaEA provides free evaluation consulting to local nonprofits through a three-month Evaluation Support Program (ESP). The ESP was created to increase evaluation awareness and capacity across the community by: 1) enabling new and experienced evaluators to expand their skills and 2) engaging nonprofits in meaningful evaluation projects.

Evaluators and nonprofits apply in June, are selected and matched in July, and the program launches in August. Teams of 4-7 volunteer evaluators work alongside their assigned nonprofits for three months to identify needs and create a meaningful evaluation deliverable. Since inception, over 140 evaluators have supported 33 community organizations that provide services such as urban farming, reproductive health, and refugee services.

Through internal evaluation, we identified challenges and made changes to deliver improved services to participating nonprofits. During year one, most teams only managed to create a logic model; last year deliverables included evaluation plans and toolkits, data collection tools, and data analysis and reporting. In 2018 we also launched a training series for nonprofits as a precursor to the ESP. This series runs May to August, and covers developing logic models, evaluation questions, and data collection methods. Our hope is that nonprofits engage in this series first, to begin the ESP with baseline evaluation knowledge that facilitates a more productive experience with their ESP teams.

For affiliates considering a similar program, we’ve compiled some lessons learned from Atlanta:

Hot Tips:

  • Subcommittees make it happen. Both the ESP and Capacity Building Series are run by AaEA’s Pro Bono Committee, which comprises six teams managing various aspects of programming. The committee spends all year planning, implementing, and evaluating the two programs. Outlining clear timelines and promoting skills that can be built through different roles are valuable strategies for recruiting committee volunteers.
  •  Evaluation is critical. We evaluate our program to glean information about successes and opportunities for improvement. Over the last 3 years our evaluation has focused on processes and some outcomes, using surveys to assess participants’ satisfaction and self-reported changes in capacity.
  •  Evaluablility assessment can be part of the application process. Past volunteer surveys indicated that teams had difficulty working with nonprofits who were not quite ready for evaluation or didn’t have time to collaborate with the team. In response, we added more elements to the nonprofit application to assess evaluability and capacity. We also developed a rubric to assess nonprofits’ applications and prioritize applicants for matching.
  • Above all, patience is key! Though the challenges of an extracurricular, volunteer-run program can be many, the results for nonprofits are the ultimate reward. We look forward to continuing to refine our offerings to build upon our successes and spread the good word of evaluation throughout Atlanta!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Atlanta-area Evaluation Association (AaEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the AaEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AaEA Affiliate 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 aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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