How to Maximize Funding by Tapping into Hidden Potential: Program Evaluation

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    Is Your Program “Stuck” Due to Inadequate Funding? Consider Program Evaluation

    Recently our car would not start. You guessed it– it was the battery. A mechanically-inclined friend made a casual comment about the worth of car batteries, which can provide insight into maximizing funding for your programs. The friend said something to the effect of, “Batteries have all that potential energy stored up in them. They have all that energy to get your car going. But once you get your car started, you technically don’t really need that battery anymore. You could drive around for hours without a battery.” He does not recommend practicing this, however. But the point was made. There is an incredible amount of energy hidden in a car battery just waiting to be converted. And I never appreciated that powerhouse of energy until we got stuck. Is your program “stuck” due to inadequate funding?

    Evaluating a program may be the tool you need to unlock the hidden potential “stored up” in your program. What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think of evaluation? A thick, dusty binder full of barely comprehensible information that no one ever uses? The good news is that evaluation standards have changed. One of the benchmarks that characterizes a good evaluation is utility. A successful evaluation is useful, practical and down-to-earth.

    How Program Evaluation Can Help

    It is a grim reality that funding opportunities have dwindled in the present economic climate. In their book “The Only Grant-writing Book You’ll Ever Need,” grant writing experts Ellen Karsh and Arlen Sue Fox note, however, that funding opportunities still exist but the competition is more intense. Applicants must prove that they are “high-functioning organizations” capable of effectively producing the outcomes that funders expect. Program evaluations help to move your organization towards that goal. Or if you are already high-functioning, a program evaluation can help prove your capabilities.

    Here are 4 ways that evaluations can help you do so: 1) Evaluations monitor that activities are conducted as planned 2) Evaluations establish program logic- that is, how activities work together to produce desired outcomes. 3) Evaluations identify effective and healthy program components– those that are able to produce the desired outcomes. 4) Evaluations reveal ways to heal ailing components. Putting one or more of these evaluation functions to good use helps demonstrate that your program is organized and effective in producing specified outcomes.

    Even if you decide not to focus on grant applications, the useful evidence that program evaluations yield can help you win the support of private donors. Evaluation data can help set your organization apart and get the attention of donors. It can help convince them that your program will give them the most for their money.

    Evaluations can help you tap into your program’s hidden potential by generating practical information that can powerfully launch your program onward.

    What has your experience been? What do you like/dislike/loathe about program evaluations? What concerns do you have about them?

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    For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.

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    Priya Small has extensive experience in collaborative evaluation planning, instrument design, data collection, grant writing and facilitation. Contact her at priyasusansmall@gmail.com. Visit her website at http://www.priyasmall.wordpress.com. See her profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/priyasmall/