What Is Nonprofit Program Evaluation?

April 3, 2018

People gathered around looking at reportsA nonprofit should engage in organizational evaluation to ensure that all financial resources and human capital are being used toward fulfilling its mission.

Defined, cost-effective procedures must be used for evaluating, both qualitatively and quantitatively, programs and projects in relation to 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.

Evaluations should include input from program participants and should monitor the satisfaction of participants. They should be candid and should be used by leadership to strengthen the organization’s effectiveness, and, when necessary, be used to make programmatic changes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define program evaluation as “the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs to make judgments about the program, improve program effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future program development.”

Program evaluation provides answers the critical questions that your board, staff, volunteers, funders, and supporters have about your organization and its work.

These questions include:

  • How are your programs helping to fulfill your mission?
  • How well are your programs meeting the needs of your constituents and the community?
  • What impact are you having?
  • Are you making a difference?
  • Where are you succeeding?
  • What else needs to be done?

In addition to gaining and sustaining external support for your organization, program evaluation also provides the data, analysis, and strategies for your leadership, managers, teams, and staff to use in real time to improve, refine, expand, reduce, or create the programs and services you offer. It lets your board and staff know whether goals are being met and how to improve to do even better.

Program evaluation, when done well, can guide decision making about your budgeting, staffing, fundraising, and strategic planning. Concrete, factual data offer evidence and advance the case for making programmatic changes. For example, evaluation data may show the trends of growth or decline in participation in a program; it may demonstrate unmet needs among your

or it may reveal that a program is too costly and has

impact on your constituents.

The great challenge regarding program evaluation is that many nonprofits do not have a strong grasp on how to effectively

their programs. Neither have they allocated staff or financial resources to do so. Some program evaluation methods can be complex and they can be intimating, but not all program evaluations need be either complex or intimating. The Standards for Excellence® code does not require a specific type of program evaluation nor its level of detail nor complexity. What is important for the Standards for Excellence code is that some comprehensive form of program evaluation is incorporated as part of an organization’s regular activities for each of the organization’s programs.

Program evaluation needs to be an integral component of the organization’s planning systems – both strategic/long-term and operational/short-term – as well clearly aligned with the budget process, categories, and reporting.

Our Program Evaluation educational resource packet explains why program evaluation is important, where evaluation fits

in to
the program

and various approaches to evaluation. A list of resources at the end leads you to more in-depth information for designing and completing your own evaluations and/or for working with professional evaluators. 

For access to our Program Evaluation Educational Resource Packet and other resources, join Maryland Nonprofits today!  

From the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. The Standards for Excellence code, developed by the Standards for Excellence Institute, includes specific benchmarks and measures that provide a structured approach to building capacity, accountability, and sustainability in your nonprofit organization. The code identifies 6 major areas of nonprofit governance and management: Mission, Strategy, and Evaluation; Leadership: Board, Staff, and Volunteers; Legal Compliance and Ethics; Finance and Operations; Resource Development and Fundraising; and Public Awareness, Engagement


The Standards for Excellence® Institute, a program of Maryland Nonprofits, provides the best possible resources to nonprofits nationwide, helping build their capacity to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of their communities. Members of Maryland Nonprofits gain access to an online community with an expansive library of resources and customizable templates. Membership with Maryland Nonprofits is designed to help you raise more money, develop your board, build relationships, learn, save on the things you need to run your organization, and amplify your voice in Annapolis. Join today.