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Look to trusted sources for detailed guidance on outcomes evaluation

MissionBox articles on outcomes evaluation introduce you to key concepts and best practices. If you want more detailed guidance, there's plenty available from trusted sources. Consider the following examples.

EvalWise

EvalWise is sponsored by Social Solutions Global, developer of Efforts to Outcome (ETO) and Apricot Software. These are widely embraced applications for case management, donor management, volunteer tracking and outcomes management. Jim Adams-Berger, Ph.D., guided the creation of EvalWise based on his 25 years of experience with nonprofit evaluation.

EvalWise includes an active blog with articles on service delivery and program evaluation as well as a resource library — a collection of webinars, case studies, reports and software demos.

PerformWell

PerformWell was founded by Urban Institute, Child Trends and Social Solutions. Here you'll find:

  • Surveys and assessments for collecting data about your programs and services
  • Sample outcomes and performance indicators
  • Tools for measuring and managing service delivery

Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact (TRASI)

TRASI is a database of methods for assessing social impact, launched in 2010 by the Foundation Center. Major sections of the site include:

  • Ready-to-use tools that you can browse or search with keywords
  • An online community where you can connect with peers engaged in assessment
  • A link to McKinsey & Co.'s Learning for Social Impact site

Idealware

The aim of Idealware is to help nonprofit leaders make smart decisions about technology. This site offers articles, webinars, software reviews and original reports. Resources about evaluation include:

  • Understanding software for program evaluation
  • Nonprofit performance management: using data to measure and improve programs
  • Guide to case management systems

The Impact Foundry

Originally developed to support nonprofits in northern California, the Impact Foundry now offers an extensive library of evaluation tools such as:

  • The data playbook: guidance for choosing what data to collect, analyzing it, and reporting it to stakeholders
  • The human needs index: information on the effects of poverty, based on data from 7,500 Salvation Army locations across the United States
  • Top online survey tools for nonprofits, including Wufoo, SurveyGizmo and Google Forms

Choosing where to start

As you explore this content, remember that nonprofits look at their effectiveness through many lenses. According to logic models for evaluation, you may consider any of the following:

  • Inputs: your organization's human, financial and physical resources
  • Activities: the programs and services you offer to clients and participants
  • Outputs: the frequency of your programs and services, and the number of people who participate
  • Outcomes: the direct and measurable effects of your activities
  • Impacts: the durable effects on the community as a result of your programs and services

Although many nonprofits find themselves scrambling to collect data due to funding or donor requirements, founder and former executive director of Idealware Laura Quinn advises small nonprofits to "walk" before they try to "fly." That is, start by collecting data that's relatively simple to analyze and report — inputs, activities and outputs. Move on to outcomes evaluation only after your organization has enough capacity to justify gathering this information and use it in a meaningful way. Also remember that impact measurement is usually the province of large nonprofits that can afford to hire professional researchers and conduct rigorous, long-term scientific studies.

The bottom line: as you choose among evaluation options, focus on what your funders want to know — and what's most useful for your organization right now.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Writer and editor fascinated by knowledge management, behavior change and technology for nonprofits