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Three Tips for Mastering the Evaluation Plan

Authors: Bernadette Wright, PhD and Ladel Lewis, PhD

The quality of your evaluation plan can make or break your chances of getting funding to support your mission and beneficiaries. In some grant opportunities I have seen, the quality of your evaluation plan counts for 20% or more of your proposal's total score.


In our experience as evaluation consultants working with nonprofits on evaluation plans for grants, we have learned three tips that lead to successful evaluation plans. Whether planning a do-it-yourself evaluation or working with an external evaluator, these three tips will help you craft an evaluation plan that impresses funders, benefits your program and the people you serve, and elicits buy-in from stakeholders.
1) “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
Grantseekers may include all the information the grantor requires in their proposals but still reduce their chances for funding when that information is not labeled and not in the funder's format and wording.
To be considered among the top contenders for funding, your evaluation plan (like every section of your proposal) must carefully follow the format specified in the application instructions. Grant instructions often spell out what to include in the evaluation plan, such as sections on evaluation questions, methods, and instruments. Include all the sections the funder asks for—in their order and wording.
Also, browse the funder's website and read all the information they provide on evaluation. Many funders provide grant FAQs, webinar recordings, and publications that elaborate on what they look for in an evaluation plan. Use that information to customize your plan to the funder's preferred language. Include the funder's preferred evaluation methods when practical and appropriate to do so. You can also include your own additional methods to meet your organization's needs.  
2) “Consistency is key.”
Another problem occurs when a nonprofit ends up with an evaluation that does not show their project's true effects because their plan was not based on a solid understanding of the project. To plan an effective evaluation, you need to understand the problem your project intends to solve, how many people will participate, how you will recruit and select participants, and what outcomes you expect the project to have, for whom, when, and how.
Creating a logic model can help to clarify understanding of your project. A logic model diagramming how your program functions gives you—and your reviewers—a clear picture of what you expect your project to achieve and how. This paper by the U.S. Department of Education provides a good guide to constructing a simple logic model: This handout introduces causal knowledge mapping, a useful approach for building and evaluating models of large, complex systems:    
Your evaluation should be more than just a step in the grant process. It should include methods that will get you the information you need to strengthen, sustain, and expand your program. For example, if you want to identify effective practices for getting the project up and running smoothly, you might interview project staff about their challenges and successes. When you want to enhance and grow your project, you might explore what conditions led to success.
3) “Go the extra mile.”
Another problem happens when organizations cannot get stakeholder buy-in to collect data. Including stakeholders in your evaluation planning will make them more likely to fill out your surveys and participate in interviews. Also, when your evaluation considers stakeholders' perspectives of what is important, people are more likely to agree with acting on the evaluation's recommendations for enhancing the program.
With these three tips, you will be well on your way to mastering the evaluation plan! We will expand on this topic in our GPA webinar, “Evaluation Plan Boot Camp,” Thursday, October 5, 2017, 1- 2: pm Central Time. Registration is now open: See you there!
What aspect of evaluation plan writing would you most like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments, so we can focus the webinar on what is most relevant to you.
Dr. Bernadette Wright and Dr. Ladel Lewis are collaborators at Meaningful Evidence, LLC, a consulting firm helping nonprofit organizations to leverage research to shape effective programs, demonstrate value to funders, and increase their social impact.



By: Robyn Gibboney
On: 07/20/2017 09:30:16
When will you present the webinar mentioned in the blog? I would like to participate.
By: Bernadette Wrgiht
On: 07/31/2017 14:32:45
Hi Robyn, The webinar is October 5, from 1pm to 2pm CST. You can register here: i hope to see you there!

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