Ron Dickson on The Same, But Different: transferring evaluation expertise from the world of business to nonprofit clients

Hello. I’m Ron Dickson. After 23 years in a global business with more than 100K employees around the globe, I recently retired and joined a local nonprofit with fewer than 20 employees. While my role in each organization was similar (measurement and evaluation), I’ve already noticed some key differences. My experiences may help my evaluation colleagues in the nonprofit sector understand how better to work with their corporate partners.

Lesson Learned: It’s about the client’s needs, not your brilliance.

You may have gotten your degree exploring the differences among measurement, evaluation, and assessment but the more you talk about them the less progress you’ll make. That doesn’t mean you have to use a term in a way that appears wrong— And never, ever correct a client in public. Instead, use the terms properly and consistently while you talk about what matters: the impact of the work and the results you need to achieve. Once they believe that you’re on the same side, those who are curious will ask for your help. (I had a similar experience with how to pronounce Rensis Likert’s surname. You can learn more about that issue here: )

Lesson Learned: Don’t assume nobody cares about results.

Although many corporate employees may only have experienced the nonprofit world from the perspective of labor, don’t presume they aren’t eager to understand the bigger picture. If you join the conversation ready to draw a clear line from the time, money, or equipment being requested and the goals of (and the evidence that will be used to prove that link), a prospective corporate donor will be far more likely to work with you. They may be interested in sending their employees to help pack food boxes but knowing what are you doing to reduce food insecurity in your community could lead to a more enduring engagement.

Lesson Learned: Be the expert in your area.

Businesses stress accountability, both of their own employees and the organizations they work with. You should present yourself and your nonprofit like the business partner you hope to be: know the basic facts about the community you support, how you compare to others doing similar work, how your impact has grown over time, what may lie ahead, and how you will continue to evaluate the work you do. Your corporate colleague is more likely to trust you with their time, money, or equipment once you’ve demonstrated that those resources will be in capable hands.

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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Ron Dickson on The Same, But Different: transferring evaluation expertise from the world of business to nonprofit clients”

  1. I work for an NGO that partners with the public and private sectors for corporate pro bono. These tips are real and relevant to our work, especially the final point about being the expert in your area. Thanks!

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