How can a nonprofit organization avoid useless information?
We already collect a lot of information for our funders that is not helpful to us.
At some time or another, most nonprofit executives have been involved in collecting data required by their funders that they feel don’t benefit the program or its clients. While the nonprofit sector will likely never be completely free of onerous data collection requirements, an evaluation plan can help you to build on what’s required in a way that is beneficial to your mission.
For example, let’s say you run a mentoring program and your funder requires demographic data regarding your beneficiaries. This will most certainly involve some kind of standard data collection method, such as an intake form. Now let’s assume that you’re more interested in knowing whether your beneficiaries are performing better in school. You might modify the intake form to gather baseline information about student performance and then do an annual survey to track changes. (Note: This is a cursory example to demonstrate how a data collection requirement might be modified. In this example, and most others, a lot of other factors would need to be addressed – such as a control group, in this example – to generate reliable data.)
You might also find that engaging your funder(s) in evaluation planning yields valuable insights (program officers at large foundations often have experience in evaluation), builds the relationship, and presents an opportunity to identify evaluation questions that serve the funder and the program. For example, elsewhere in this section we talk about measurement of outputs and outcomes. Outputs are often required by funders, while outcomes address the meaningful change that has occurred. By engaging your funders in a dialogue on outcomes, you’re opening up the lines of communication to establish a system that benefits everyone.