Why Do Nonprofits Need Program Evaluation?

why evaluation | Knowledge Advisory GroupNonprofit organizations, in the ongoing effort to achieve their missions, typically undertake program evaluations to serve one or more of these three general purposes:


  • Accountability – measuring the results of programs and accounting for the use of resources


  • Knowledge Generation – creating new understanding of what works and what doesn’t


  • Program Planning or Improvement – supporting clear, well-designed, feasible, and measureable grant-making programs which thereby promote overall organizational effectiveness



Let’s absorb that for a minute.  Evaluation not only allows you to see where your program is but offers tangible room for growth and enhancement.  Who would object to that, right?


A good evaluation will entail a reasonable amount of involvement by the program staff and leadership. If you use an external evaluator, it’s important for the program team to be involved in the selection process. Someone within the organization should also serve as a liaison for the evaluator while the effort continues, to ensure effective awareness and communication. By staying involved, you are better able to understand the evaluation’s findings and implement the final recommendations.


Keep in mind that conducting an evaluation is not about control or discovering wrongdoing – it is not an audit. Evaluation addresses what you as an organization want to know about your program, uncovering what is and isn’t working and why some program elements may be successful while others are not. These findings position your nonprofit for continuous improvement that supports organizational sustainability.


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  1. I was once the National Chair of a non-profit and going through an evaluation process allowed us to make some really pivotal decisions during my term that positioned the entire organization for sustainable growth. It’s wise to evaluate what’s working and what’s not from a place of objectivity and an outside evaluator is a great option to bring fresh eyes and new ways of thinking in that may not otherwise be available within the organization! Nice post Trina!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Amethyst! It’s always great to hear perspectives on evaluation from those who have experienced value from it in the sector. Every organization has room for improvement, right?

  2. I’m not familiar with how a non-profit runs but it would seem evaluation would be a win-win to help the organization to move ahead in the most efficient manner. As someone that contributes to non-profits for animals, one often wonders how well the organization is run. How much integrity is there with in it, etc. It would seem evaluation of these organizations would bring a higher level of confidence to those that contribute their time or money. Thanks Trina!

    • Belinda – great point. You’re not alone in those questions about how your funds are being used. Donors often look at things like the amount of overhead that a organization uses from each contribution without considering the outcomes that are achieved. It’s important to think about the bigger picture of both things in context. Nonprofits that neglect both efficiency and effectiveness often struggle to survive, often for good reasons.

  3. “Keep in mind that conducting an evaluation is not about control or discovering wrongdoing – it is not an audit. Evaluation addresses what you as an organization want to know about your program, uncovering what is and isn’t working and why some program elements may be successful while others are not.”

    This is sound advice for any organization, even small/startup businesses like so many of my clients (who are providers of fitness/active classes). Understanding that evaluation does not equal audit takes the emotion and defensiveness out of it to get an accurate picture of what’s going on.

    • Jessica – it’s true, evaluation can sometimes feel very emotional and even threatening to staff. It’s important for organizations to consider that they can’t really figure out where to go unless they know where they are. Furthermore, evaluation can have a tremendous impact on the area that staff are most passionate about: helping more clients, more efficiently and effectively.

  4. Hi Trina- I can see that haviing regular evaulations for non-profits can increase their changes of success and able to stick around for the long term with programs that are actually working while spending funds more effectively. thx Trina

    • Yes, Dana! The availability of effective programs that the community can depend on is so really critical to serving needs better.

  5. It’s always a good idea to sit down with your team (or Board) and evaluate your efforts. If certain things work well, then good to know that and keep implementing. If certain things didn’t work quite as expected, best to re-evaluate and see where possible changes can be made for improvement.


  6. Evaluation is not only good for non-profits – it’s for everything else that we do. It’s an important part of creating a buisnes sand life that totally rocks!

    I always tell my clients to follow the three E’s- Explore, Experiment and Evaluate. That’s the really way to take what seems like a great idea on paper and see if it works for us.

    This is true for organizations and individual people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people living lives or implementing ideas that look great on paper but they feel horrible in real life and don’t get the results that you looking for.

    I love the idea of having an impartial person evaluating the effectiveness of the non-profits programs because it’s so easy to get attached to outcomes as the people running the programs.

  7. Sometimes it can be so painful to be evaluated, no one likes to be told that the way they do their work is not actually efficient or very good, but it is really the only way to move forward! Both work and personally. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Interesting article & good point well made. I know from having been involved in some non profit organisations myself that they don’t succeed because there are too many egos involved, and people who want to be the big I AM. I have no doubt that they would benefit hugely from this type of external approach … if they were to listen to it’s findings!

  9. I agree that you want to get a program evaluation service for your nonprofit because it shows accountability. It would be good to find someone who is qualified to provide these services as well. In addition to this, you may want to know what nonprofits a program evaluation service has worked on in the past.

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