Greetings! I’m Kate Bathon Shufeldt, MSW, MPA, CEO of Thrive Nonprofit Solutions in Indianapolis, IN. I am a member of the Indiana Evaluation Association and currently serve as the Board President. In addition to evaluation work, I utilize my social work and nonprofit background as a grant writer for a variety of clients. Having both the programming and evaluation experience, I know firsthand the importance of including an evaluator in the grant writing process.
In recent years, a lot of the funders of nonprofit social services and youth programming in Indiana have started requiring evaluation reports and even the use of external evaluators of their grantees to show the impact of their funds. Many of these grant applications have to include performance measures and fairly detailed data collection and evaluation plans. Depending on the funder, these sections could potentially impact whether a proposal is awarded.
Over the years, I have collected some Lessons Learned from both the evaluation and programming side of things.
- SMART Goals are smart for a reason. While many social service programs work towards their clients eventually not needing them, no program is going to have a 100% success rate every year. Of the SMART characteristics, Attainable and Realistic are often ones that I must stress with my clients. Setting realistic expectations of growth and success not only reduces the chances of failure but also conveys to funders that the organization knows there is always room for improvement.
- The Evaluator can be seen as a killjoy. As Evaluators, we are tasked with the responsibility of asking questions like “But how are you going to measure that?” and “Do you have time to collect and enter X, Y, Z?” With some of these lofty goals, logistics of data collection can be forgotten if someone if not asking about it. Sometimes that can be a little deflating for grant writing and program team.
- People don’t know what they don’t know. Service providers are the experts at working with their clients. Evaluators are the experts on evaluation. As someone who bewilders my clients by telling them I love spreadsheets and numbers, the skills and knowledge base between programming and evaluation do not often overlap. If you have concerns about data entry timelines or know of a better data collection tool, the Evaluator should speak up. With that, it is also on the Evaluator to research evaluation trends in the topic/subject field for their client.
- Evaluators can and should review proposal sections beyond the evaluation plan. While our expertise is highlighted in the development of the evaluation plan, Evaluators can be quite useful as reviewers of the entire proposal before submission. Since we should have been in discussions regarding the ins and outs of programming, we can be another sounding board for the narratives regarding the targeted populations, need for the program, and descriptions of services.
I’ve utilized the Community Toolbox’s A Framework for Program Evaluation section when talking with organizations new to evaluating their programs. I found it very straightforward and low in jargon, which is beneficial for non-evaluators. It also highlights and provides resources on what to look for in evaluators and how to use us.
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