Can Program Evaluation Improve Your Fundraising Success? Yes It Can!

improve funding success | Knowledge Advisory GroupIn the nearly twenty years that I’ve been an evaluator, there’s one reason I hear over and over again for why some nonprofits (and other organizations) shy away from program evaluation:

“Oh, we don’t need to do an evaluation. We know we’re doing great things!”

My reply is always the same:

“I’m sure you are doing lots of great things…but can you prove it? And do you know what you need to do to make more great things happen?”

One of the benefits of conducting an evaluation is the positive impact it can have on fundraising success. An evaluation acts as an accountability tool for those who might potentially give money to the organization, showing how and where the organization is most successful.

By creating an understanding of what works and doesn’t work, employees and volunteers for the organization can continually improve the services they offer.

Let’s use this example:
Fictional nonprofit, Water Everywhere, raises funds to help communities in developing countries have access to clean water. They do this in a variety of ways, from airlifting crates of water bottles to installing filters on spigots and building wells in these communities.

When Water Everywhere has an evaluation conducted, they learn the effectiveness of each of their initiatives, essentially coming to understand how many people are helped per dollar of funding used.

If Water Everywhere finds that installing wells is the most cost-effective way of helping individuals long-term, they might then choose to focus more of their funding on that particular initiative and adjusting other efforts.

For instance, they may decide to airlift bottled water only in short-term crisis situations or selectively install filters on water spigots in areas prior to building wells. Water Everywhere can further pass on the information they learned during the evaluation process, and how they adapted delivery using that information, to potential donors.

These potential financial supporters not only gain an understanding of exactly how monies are used, but also learn that Water Everywhere can grow and adapt, using their funds for maximum positive impact.

What do you think of this example? Does it help bring to life the benefits of evaluation?


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  1. I think your example is great. I have to tell you Trina, I always feel a bit lost here because I don’t know anything about the type of business you run. This is so out of my league! 🙂 However, if my books ever do really well, I would LOVE to set up a non-profit. When that day comes perhaps you can help me do that! <3

  2. Great article Trina! Evaluations are important in any kind of company, not just non-profits, to make sure the company is still on track and running efficiently.

  3. Trina, this is a great example to illustrate the importance of evaluation. You might even consider a “part two” to this post — someone seeking to fund Water Water Everywhere and reviewing the evaluation.

    While our lines of business are different, some of the principles are the same. I urge my clients in the health/fitness business to evaluate their own programs and what gives them the most bang for the buck. They’re in it for profit, but most are small/startup so they need to be careful about what to spend and where, so your tips are very helpful!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Jessica and the application to other genres. I do work with corporate and government clients as well – the principles do apply across sectors indeed. Nonprofits, in particular, frequently don’t have the internal capacity to keep evaluation on their radar, so they often need external assistance. Your discipline has great potential to use tangible, quantitative measures to demonstrate results, but also qualitative assessments of how health and wellness programs have improved quality of life, concentration, and self-esteem. (I’ve actually worked on some health/wellness projects before – its’ a really interesting field!)

  4. Yes, evaluation is so important. People want to know where the money is going and when they do, they are more likely to support the organization!

  5. I think it is a great example, without water we cannot survive and if we are losing it then there will be significant consequences. It’s the same in business; if we don’t understand what works and what does not then we won’t be in business for very long.

  6. Great example Trina… I worked for a non-profit for years and I would bet serious money on the fact that they never bothered to evaluate how the foundation was functioning. It would have made a HUGE difference for employees as well as those whom we served.

  7. This is so interesting! The example definitely demonstrated the benefits of evaluation, and I think it can be applied to any business–seeing where you’re spending your time, energy, money and other resources to see if that’s the best option. No matter what type of work or project, it’s wonderfully helpful to have someone from the outside come in and give their perspective. 🙂

  8. Interesting article…I am not involved in this type of work now, though years ago I was on the board at a women’s shelter. I can definitely see the benefits of evaluations.

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