¡Milwaukee Evaluation! Week: Capacity building around evaluation practices for non-profits by Dawn Helmrich

Hello! I am Dawn Helmrich, Director of Research and Evaluation at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. I work with over 100 nonprofit programs in a four county area around program evaluation. I train nonprofit organizations on how to create and implement logic models, how to design evaluation plans and what outcomes measures work best for their organization to demonstrate impact, but also to improve program quality and program services provided to the community.

Over the past 10 years the demand for outcomes evaluation has grown at a rapid speed. During the recession in 2008, programs were asked by funders to diversify their funding in an effort to sustain programs. Many funding sources had to pull back money, leaving organization to scrabble for dollars. While this was happening, funders began to seek greater accountability from organizations, while also providing less money and little to no training on how to better provide that accountability.

From 2008 to present day funders don’t always recognize the burden on organizations to provide quality level data and analysis. Funders themselves often don’t take into account that organizations are often being funded by upwards of 5 different funding sources all looking for different things. This problem is two-fold, an organizational capacity issue and a funder’s issue.

Hot Tips:

It is important to recognize capacity as a real and relevant issue for organizations. Oftentimes, evaluation is put on the back burner and/or is being done by someone as an “other duties as assigned” task. There are some very simple things that can be done to rectify this situation.

  • First, encourage your agency to identify whose role will include providing evaluation and add a few sentences to the job description. This alerts the person applying for the job that program evaluation is a component of their job and it helps the agency get the right person in the door.
  • Second, talk to your local Universities and find out what kind of evaluation classes they offer for Human Service disciplines. We know that students majoring in sociology, social work, psychology and other human service disciplines often find themselves seeking work in nonprofits. If these disciplines are provided with the foundations in program evaluation both the student and the hiring organization will have an increased chance to improve capacity.
  • Finally, talk with funders about working with each other to reduce the burden on overlapping funding. If funders can ask for the same accountability measures and/or provide extra training and technical assistance, we can help increase the quality of data and information that is being collected.

Accountability standards and practices are not going away anytime soon. Most evaluation practitioners are concerned about the quality of information being provided. By increasing the capacity of organizations and helping funders understand the need for consistency, we can improve the overall impact nonprofits have on their community.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating ¡Milwaukee Evaluation! Week with our colleagues in the Wisconsin statewide AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our ¡Milwaukee Evaluation! 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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