Moving Beyond Mission: Program Evaluation

March 16, 2015

By Sawida Kamara, Staff Consultant, Maryland Nonprofits 

Program evaluations are an essential tool and best practice for nonprofits to use to collect key information needed to explore whether their operational practices, programs and services, and financial resources are well-aligned with their mission. Beyond mission, program evaluations also provide nonprofits with the data needed to measure and demonstrate how their efforts address society’s biggest challenges and improve the quality of life for those in the communities in which they serve.

According to the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, it is important for nonprofits to have defined, cost-effective procedures for evaluating, both qualitatively and quantitatively, their programs and projects in relation to their mission. These procedures should address programmatic efficiency and effectiveness, outcomes for program participants, and the relationship of these outcomes to the cost of achieving them.

Program evaluations can range from basic to complex, and can serve to examine and strengthen an organization’s impact, and when necessary, also serve as the basis for making operational and programmatic changes. The newly updated Standards for Excellence Educational Resource Packet on Program Evaluation outlines steps for organizations to integrate program evaluations into their planning systems and program/project cycles. This educational packet provides details on how to clearly define benchmarks and outcomes, an overview of quantitative and qualitative evaluation approaches and related data collection techniques, as well as suggestions on how to use the data collected across the operational/programmatic and strategic levels of an organization.

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