Hello! I’m Dana Powell Russell, Ed.D., a planning and evaluation consultant supporting nonprofits in the arts, museum, and K-12 sectors. I’m here to promote the value of engaging funders together with other stakeholders in making meaning of program evaluation results.
When interpreting data, I facilitate gatherings I call “Interpretation Workshops.” The purpose is to:
- Create shared understanding of the results among stakeholders;
- Ground conclusions in the data and in stakeholder wisdom;
- Identify realistic recommendations; and
- Generate buy-in and motivation around program improvement strategies.
Understand the existing client/funder relationship.
The invited funders can fall anywhere on the spectrum from prospective funders to longtime allies. It’s important to understand the client/funder backstory in advance in order to engage the funder effectively in the conversation.
Ensure that everyone has reviewed the data.
Send out a data preview report well in advance and open the workshop with a refresher on the data. The data preview report does not propose conclusions or recommendations—the group will generate these during the workshop.
Clarify the process and intent of the conversation, then let it unfold.
Keep everyone’s eyes on the prize, and understand that this group may rarely (if ever) have engaged face-to-face. They will undoubtedly hit on a mother lode topic that requires a time-consuming mining expedition; a spacious agenda allows complex conversations to play out.
Reframe the conversation.
Inviting the funder to the table can broaden the conversation. Funders often have multiple grantees in the same space and actively follow trends in the field. As such, they can offer insights and solutions from a bird’s eye view.
Redefine a funder’s idea of program success.
The more a funder understands the inner workings of a program, the less likely they are to over-value indirect or generic measures (e.g., test scores or participation numbers). The workshop can help funders grasp the importance of program-specific indicators that chart a course to program growth and improvement.
Recommit and refocus a funder’s support.
An Interpretation Workshop helped the CMA Foundation shift its focus from musical instruments to teacher professional development in Metro Nashville Public Schools. CMA CEO Sarah Trahern told the Tennessean, “All of our dialogue kept coming back to the importance of music teachers,” she said. “You can put an instrument in a school, but if nobody knows how to play it, it goes quiet.” (Read the full story)
- There are many approaches to group facilitation and meeting design; I use Technology of Participation methods created by the Institute of Cultural Affairs.
- Want more details on what an Interpretation Workshop looks like? Download an overview.
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