The Mighty Blog

The Evaluation Options Pros Never Tell You About

Gary Romano
Posted by Gary Romano on Jul 24, 2018 1:52:42 PM

And it wont' blow your budget...

When I am speaking to nonprofit professionals, the conversation usually turns to the mission of their organization and the impact it has on the community.  The big question is not how can an organization measure their impact and communicate it to private foundations, government agencies and the community, but on how can they afford not to?  An independent evaluation has benefits that cannot be ignored, it can prove the program is meeting its mission, demonstrate that the benefits of the nonprofit are being effectively received, and quantify the impact of resources. 

Evaluations have long been considered an arduous and costly investment.  The price tag on an evaluation in it’s traditional format can trap nonprofit leaders into avoiding contracting an evaluation and collecting essential data.  Evaluation results can be fundamental to a nonprofit; however, the cost can be an insurmountable barrier.  Quantifying your impact on your stakeholders is priceless to any organization.  Nonprofit CEO’s and Executive Directors can be unaware that there are alternative options to that costly summative or formative evaluation in the form of a rapid feedback evaluation.

The rapid feedback evaluation is emerging as an invaluable tool for nonprofits.  A rapid feedback evaluation is a focused, independent, actionable evaluation that can be completed on a shorter timeline.  It is a tool that can be essential to a nonprofit.  When it comes to measuring impact, it is time to stop avoiding the evaluation and seek manageable affordable options.

What you need to know about a Rapid Feedback Evaluation and why every nonprofit should consider how to execute one.

Focused by Design – A rapid feedback evaluation concentrates on a small number of specific items that the nonprofit is seeking to measure or gain insight into, not a comprehensive large scope evaluation.

Independent – A rapid feedback evaluation holds its integrity when an independent party produces the report outside of the organization.  It will be a credible resource to use with both institutional and individual funders, community resources, consumers, and staff.  An individual with specialized knowledge regarding the answer your seeking from the rapid feedback evaluation can lend insight to the result. bigstock-Evaluation-Concept-Chart-With-227632906 (1)

Readily Available Data – Data collection can be one of the costliest parts of an evaluation.  Nonprofits already have data on hand that can be utilized to analyze and review for the rapid feedback evaluation. A rapid feedback evaluation is going to be able to leverage existing data and resources, reducing the expense for the evaluation while still giving a valuable perspective to use on many fronts.  A rapid feedback evaluation recognizes there is a limited scope to the data used as a foundation.  There is an understanding that the data being utilized is not the same caliber of a more in-depth traditional evaluation, yet still valuable to the evaluation.

There are two kinds of data considered for a rapid evaluation:

  • Quantitative data - Numbers such as data on population growth from the US census or your client waitlist for the past five years. Quantitative data can be very informative and helpful. The drawback to quantitative data is that it is a lagging indicator, usually this will be data that already happened. It is an indicator of the past.  It is not data that is going to give you the “why”.
  • Qualitative data - Data that is not numbers but rather opinions and perspectives. This data can help fill in the “why” and give you a sense of the future (for example, when you ask a policy-maker where she sees budget policy heading in the next three years). The challenge with qualitative data is that it is difficult to replicate and may represent a bias of who you reached out to. The qualitative data will be limited to a small survey, focus group or one on one interviews.   Nonprofits can be honest about the source of the data; the independent rapid evaluator lends integrity to the internally collected data.

Actionable – A rapid feedback evaluation is going to provide the nonprofit with actionable information.  It is going allow the nonprofit to seek insight on how they are doing, where they are falling short and what they are doing well, answering the questions that are part of the limited scope of the rapid evaluation.  The outcome will have recommendations that can be used to better serve their stakeholders.

Affordable - A nonprofit can commission a rapid evaluation for $3K-$5K, while still a considerable expense for any organization it is much less than a traditional formative or summative evaluation that can begin at $50K and climb in price.  The value of the rapid evaluation is to have focused, independent, actionable information and insight to review the impact of the mission of the organization.  A rapid evaluation utilizes data that is limited in scope, yet it can still show to outside parties that you are willing to be independently reviewed and critiqued to find ways to improve your mission.

Why is data and a rapid evaluation so important to a nonprofit?

  • Funders – Current funders and prospective funders can be assured an outside party has reviewed an aspect of your organization and was able to give feedback about the impact the nonprofit is having on the community both internally and externally based on the scope of the rapid evaluation.
  • Consumers – Opportunity through qualitive data to give feedback and input on the effectiveness of resources and the impact the nonprofit is having on the community it serves.
  • Executive Director/CEO – Measurable data and information to look to internally improve and/or confirm that mission milestones are being met. A rapid evaluation can also bring to the forefront concerns that may not have been anticipated.

An added benefit of a rapid evaluation is that the nonprofit can use it to show the validity of their approach.  It is a tool that can be used to address a specific concern with large funders, showing the impact of their contribution to secure additional long-term funding for the organization or it can used to improve programs it provides to the community it serves. 

Nonprofits need to consider the more data that they have to offer about their organization can only help them in all aspects.  Data can used in a variety of ways including to improve programs, community impact and funding opportunities.  Costly all-encompassing evaluations are not always feasible, and nonprofits need to consider alternatives so that they can improve how they serve the community.   The outcome of a rapid evaluation can also lead to your nonprofit to reviewing it strategy and gaining insight on long term goals or give you a focused plan for larger scoped evaluation.  A rapid evaluation allows you to gain momentum in the data arena and the reduces the barrier of lack of funds and reduces the excuse of not having data.

If you are considering what kind of evaluation your organization may need, be it a full-blown impact evaluation or for a smaller budget a rapid evaluation there are specific questions you should be thinking about. Reach out anytime, I would be happy to help. Book a free consultation.


Topics: nonprofit, What every CEO and ED should know, rapid evaluation, evaluation

Gary Romano

Written by Gary Romano

Gary Romano is an award-winning strategist, author, and advisor for nonprofit leaders and entrepreneurs whose work has helped grow national and regional organizations, move startups to stable state, and bring new ideas to market. He is the published author of two books, Small But Mighty, which is helping entrepreneurs to launch and grow nonprofit consultancies, and Lean Recruitment, an innovative system to cost-effectively recruit talent. Gary is a SHRM Certified Senior Professional and has a Master’s in Urban Affairs and Planning and a Bachelor’s in Political Science. Gary is a history buff with multiple published magazine articles on ancient strategy and an ever-growing collection of Greek and Roman coins.

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