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Overview of Evaluation from a Funder's Perspective

Ah, summer is here. The last thing most want to think about is program evaluation. But, get excited, we are going to do just that! We'll do so at an overview level today.

Funders are different on what they want to see. My strongest piece of advice is to talk to the funder. In this case, ask the funder what they are looking for as far as evaluation, and have them walk you through what reporting is necessary and how they use the information. Interim reports can be used to spot challenges the program is having, and likely a funder will want to help, if they can, to alleviate roadblocks. If they are looking at complex evaluation, they may have tools or items for assistance.

What does evaluation look like?
At the backbone of forming a strong evaluation is looking at a logic model for the program (if you're needing to develop a logic model, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation has great resources: While logic models are challenging, it is beneficial to have one when writing multiple grants for the program.

Prevention programs are where the most questions can pop up, “How do we know three hours a week with a mentor increases high school graduation?” Whereas emergency food programs are easier, food is the antidote to hunger. The further away the program is from basic needs, the more challenging evaluation can be. Different variables have to be accounted for when testing out if the prevention program actually works.

Evaluation can be simple to complex. As well as cheap to expensive. An emergency hot meal program may count the number of plates as their evaluation, while a preventative health program may have different tools administered to the client to gather data. The latter evaluation may need outside help beyond the capacity of the organization. Look closely to see if evaluation is at an impasse with how much the program can do internally—it may be time to look at hiring someone to evaluate the program.

If the program has no current evaluation, consider a pre-test and post-test for the clients, this can either be for satisfaction or on knowledge. From there it can be easier to start to look at other forms of evaluation that are a better fit. Think of dating, it may take more than one shot to find the right one and with each try you know more of what you want, and more about what you don't want.

What if data isn't your forte?
First, know you're not alone. As a writer you have a great skill set, and numbers may not come as natural as words. It can be frustrating too because the number in the final report may not match what a program person gives you. This can be because a different data set had to be utilized to find the number requested in the application. This is where program people can appear picky about what numbers are represented in the grant. If possible, ask someone at the program to talk through how they are collecting data, and have them help guide you in this process to make sure the numbers you give the funder are correct the first time around. Nobody likes to call a funder and explain you gave them the wrong numbers.