What if instead of talking about evaluation, the conversation shifted to a discussion about learning? I think the negative taste of evaluation that we hold is akin to being graded in school or on our performance evaluation at work … something others do to us rather than for or with us. What nonprofit can afford to risk a failing program? But if learning were tied deeply and honestly to a true desire to do better for the people or community you serve, might your organization be more interested in exploring what impact it was having so that you could do better with the resources you have?
What leads to success in getting help from others? A well-defined question or set of questions, a spirit of sharing, careful planning so time is well-spent, an interesting group that also benefits from coming together, commitment to listening and learning, a focus on improvement, reciprocating and appreciating the extraordinary gift you’ve received. Oh yes, you also have to ask.
Given that any evaluation often takes the back burner at many nonprofit boards, it isn’t so surprising that executive director reviews, especially in smaller nonprofits, might also fall victim to lack of board knowledge, time or interest.
Yes, completing your performance review is your board’s responsibility.
But do you have to keep waiting forever for your reluctant board members to organize your review? If you consider this feedback an essential element of your personal leadership development, couldn’t you engineer the process yourself?
So let me say I was cheering when I read the three principles that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says guide their approach to measurement: “1. Measurement should inform specific decisions and/or actions. 2. We do not measure everything, but we do strive to measure what matters most. 3. The data we gather help us learn and adapt our initiatives and strategies.”
Ready to be rated on your nonprofit’s results?
There is a snowball gathering momentum and mass on its way down the hill in the USA and your board needs to pay attention to it now.
That snowball is the growing movement by independent intermediaries to develop simple rating systems for the very complex world of nonprofit performance and social impact. The goal of these intermediaries, spurred on by funders, is to provide accessible, online rating systems to steer philanthropic dollars to the “best performing” nonprofits.
Thanks to The Nonprofit Quarterly for using its national platform to continue to remind the top of the nonprofit support infrastructure that this is a complicated world and that the contributions of the little guys can’t be dismissed or ignored.
While I believe in the power of nonprofits to change lives, I also know that our institutions are a small part of the picture. The easily measured usually serve as band aids or incubators. It’s a lot harder to measure the efforts of the advocates or catalysts for widescale change.
I’d hate to see philanthropy distracted from enabling big system societal changes. Let’s not invest excessive amounts of energy in measuring and evaluating individual nonprofits in isolation, and miss the bigger systems that need our attention.
Sitting in the file cabinets of most foundations are hundreds of thousands of final reports from grantees on projects funded by those foundations.
For some time I’ve been thinking that it is a shame that all that great learning is locked away, inaccessible from others who might put those lessons to good use.
You’ll find new tools for evaluation, program planning, and strategic planning in the Toolbox section of our website. Also, Gayle’s latest article for Contributions Magazine, “Do Sweat the Small Stuff When It Comes to Your Donors,” is available in the Articles Section of our site, along many more articles on boards, fundraising and communications.