Donors are increasingly asking nonprofits to share their metrics and evaluation strategies. And with good reason.
Whether we’re donors, volunteers, board members or staff, we all want to know our contributions are making a difference.
Yet most nonprofits are already stretched thin simply delivering programs and services. Evaluation strategies become an afterthought. Grant writers and program staff scramble to pull metrics together for proposal deadlines, only revisiting those metrics when it’s time to report back on progress.
Which means we all too often think of metrics as donor-driven requirements.
But at Funding for Good, we’ve seen how building evaluation strategies into your nonprofit’s programming from the start brings incredible benefits. Particularly when coupled with a strategic planning process.
More effective programs. Easier donor communications. Increased fundraising.
What nonprofit leader could say no to that?
Why It’s Important to Set Ambitious Yet Realistic Expectations
Imagine your nonprofit is preparing to launch a major new initiative. You’ve sold donors on the incredible impact you’re going to have. Everyone is excited and committed, eager to come together and make a difference. What could possibly go wrong?
One common yet underestimated risk is mismatched expectations.
Take the example of 5G networks for cellular data.
Back in January 2022, 5G rolled out in the U.S. after years of hype. Consumers were promised lightning fast data on our smartphones. At the last minute, just before the roll out, the FAA raised concerns about flight disruptions and airlines warned of potential cancellations. But with some quick-thinking and adaptations, 5G eventually launched seemingly without a hitch. And most of us promptly forgot anything had changed.
Turns out, new research shows that for most smartphone users, not much did change. Reporting on a new consumer survey about 5G, Bloomberg reveals that: “one in six mobile users felt the power of technology had been overstated and less than half said they had seen noticeable speed or reliability improvements since upgrading.”
Ouch. Talk about reality not meeting expectations.
Unfortunately, in the nonprofit world this scenario is more common than we’d like to admit. We sell our programs with bold, ambitious visions—because that’s what we believe and because that’s what it takes to motivate donors. Sometimes our organizations achieve our visions on time and on budget. But more often than not we encounter challenges. We adapt our strategies. We reassess our timelines. And then we worry about how to tell our donors about these changes.
The antidote is seemingly simple. Proactively embed evaluation strategies into your program planning, while also setting ambitious yet realistic expectations for impact.
But creating the time and space to do this can feel impossible. Especially when we’re already pulled in too many directions. That’s where strategic planning comes in.
Smart Evaluation Strategies Start with Strategic Planning
One of the unique benefits of strategic planning is that it gives nonprofit board and staff leaders the opportunity to take a fresh look at their own organization. The strategic planning process generally includes a retreat where staff and board are able to step away from the daily grind and focus on the big picture.
- What is your organization trying to accomplish?
- How are you planning to accomplish it?
- How will you know when you’ve succeeded?
This is the foundation of both a compelling pitch to donors and effective evaluation strategies.
The strategic planning process empowers leaders to proactively define what success looks like. It could be the number of people served, local policy changes won, or press coverage of key issues. The important part is that the vision for success and how to evaluate it will become part of your organization’s strategies, work plans, and daily operations.
A good strategic planning consultant can also advise on implementation strategies, including digging deeper into how you can proactively embed different evaluation methods into your program and project designs.
Knowing what success looks like—and being able to articulate that vision in a compelling yet realistic way—is invaluable. Keeping donors updated and engaged will become easier than ever. And you’ll be able to stop scrambling to create metrics and start using metrics to make your programs shine.
Your donors and your development team alike will thank you!
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