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Nonprofits and Foundations Evaluation TIG Week: Using Storytelling to Get Nonprofits Excited About Evaluation by Ann Price

Hi everyone, I am Ann Price. President and Founder of Community Evaluation Solutions. I partner with community coalitions and nonprofit organizations to design and evaluate effective change strategies to create thriving and equitable communities.

As evaluators, we have our process and that probably looks similar no matter what sector you work in. The process often ends with a report of some kind. The story of the project.

But resistance to evaluation is real, right? As you know, there are lots of reasons for resistance. In this post I want to share one way that I have found to get nonprofits and coalitions excited about their evaluation, data, and telling their story.

I have found the most effective strategy to help my clients overcome evaluation anxiety is to begin with the end in mind. I help my clients imagine how using their data will engage their community, help them be more strategic, and share their story in creative ways.

Here are some things you might try:

Hot Tips:

  1. Tell Stories. Whether the nonprofit’s story is their annual report or an article in their newsletter, tell a story. Start with a great title, be descriptive, include great characters, and use a compelling plot that pulls the reader in. We base all our evaluation reports on the “big bucket” evaluation questions and use those to tell their evaluation story.
  2. Success Stories. Success stories are a great way to speak to non-technical audiences and can and should be used throughout the life of a program. Your nonprofit client may need your help in designing a process for collecting them.
  3. Data Briefs. Unlike success stories, Data Briefs are written for a more technical audience. Like most success stories, data briefs are 1 page and highlight one, maybe two, great data viz to really make the point.
  4. Infographics. Infographics show a series of related data visualizations that together tell a compelling story. The most effective infographics use minimal words and engaging visuals. Get your nonprofit involved in designing the infographics. My community-based nonprofits love to channel their inner-kindergartner to design their infographic story.
  5. Dashboards. Unlike an infographic, a data dashboard walks the viewer through specific data points and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about the data story.

Rad Resources:

  • Two books that inspired my thinking about storytelling are E. Jane Davidson’s Evaluation Basics and Kindra Hall’s Stories that Stick. Davidson’s book is short and written on a level that most non-evaluators with some basic understanding of evaluation can understand. Hall’s book is geared to business owners, entrepreneurs, and organizations.
  • Several years ago, I co-wrote this free Success Story workbook with Rene Lavinghouze while on a project at the CDC. It includes some great tips about writing success stories across the lifespan of a program.
  • See Ann K Emery’s website, blog, and YouTube Channel, for dashboard tips.

There are many other participatory ways to collect and share data. Whatever storytelling method you and your nonprofit client choose, make sure you help them think through the data story they want to share. You and your client will be excited by the stories you co-create!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our NPFTIG 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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