I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a session sponsored by the Grant Professionals Association National Capital Area Chapter at the Foundation Center in Washington, DC regarding evaluation, or outcomes measurement, for nonprofit organizations. Edie Steele, PhD, led an engaging conversation about the need for nonprofits to accurately develop tools to report to funders on their progress. While this topic is not new to most grant and nonprofit professionals, it does speak to the larger issue of why this topic has become so essential to those who receive government (and private) funding. So, what is important for you to know?
- The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has become more stringent in how grant funds are awarded, as documented in the Uniform Grant Guidance, and tracking each dollar is now a federal priority as well as a priority for many private funders.
- It is false to assume that programmatic success is equated with the accurate expenditure of funds based on the financial information outlined in a grantee’ s budget.
- A recipient’s success can be largely dictated by the success of the subrecipient—how is monitoring factored into this process for measuring success?
Why Is Evaluation Important?
Evaluation, outcomes measurement, baselines, etc. are terms that are used interchangeably. But what does it all mean (besides a lot of word salad)? Let’s consider the following:
How Is Evaluation Used Within the Grants Community?
If you think about evaluation from the perspective of grantors, they are reviewing the logic model or evaluation strategy that a grantee prepares in order to determine if there is a return on their investment. Take the example of two organizations that a grantor is trying to determine to fund:
Organization A is a social service organization that does exceptional work in the community but has scattered information about programmatic accomplishments. Though it uses Excel spreadsheets and manually tracks information on volunteers, tracking is not standardized or aligned with any organizational or programmatic goals. Program staff members are resistant to using a logic model since they do not want to be tied to certain outcomes.
Now, let’s see about Organization B.
Organization B is another successful nonprofit, but is less known in the community than Organization A. However, it just went through a strategic planning process and has created a new logic model and organization-wide tracking system. It also has worked with an evaluation consultant to determine how best to measure progress based on a needs assessment of its target population.
If you are a grantor, and you are trying to figure out whether to fund organization A or B, it becomes clear which seems to be the better organization to which the grantors should align themselves. While it would be great to continually support organizations based on reputation alone, competition is fierce, as is the need for accurate data. Data speaks volumes, and can further strengthen an organization’s argument that it provides exceptional service delivery to the designated target population.
Words of Advice
Invest in evaluation tools, an evaluation specialist, and/or allocate resources within your organization to create and maintain a logic model. Also, be sure to measure programmatic success throughout the year. This can take time, so focus on the low-hanging fruit and work your way up.
What Are Some Monitoring Considerations?
Evaluation and subrecipient monitoring go together like, well, peas and peapods. What I mean is that subrecipient monitoring should be part of your evaluation strategy. For a point of clarification, it is important to categorize these relationships appropriately.
How Is Subrecipient Monitoring Used?
If you look back to the logic model, grantees have a series of activities that they need to implement to meet their stated goals and track outputs and outcomes. If subrecipients are needed to implement some of these activities (per the OMB definition), the data tracking of subrecipient progress is needed as well.
I know that nonprofits vary in size, and some have more resources available to them than others. Subrecipient monitoring can even be as simple as an Excel checklist or questionnaire, and conducted no less than semiannually.
Words of Advice
Make sure you, as the grantee, provide your subrecipient with technical assistance to ensure that it know its roles and responsibilities. This can be provided through such forums as a formal training or webinar or even outlined in the terms and conditions in the subaward agreement. You are responsible for ensuring it has the information needed to serve as your subrecipient. Measure its progress to meet your outcomes.
Rome wasn’t built in a day so do not become overwhelmed with what you are not doing. Focus on your organization’s strengths and build a system for evaluation and monitoring that will work for you, and not against you.