Taking stock – UNCG center targets evaluation

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Helping funders and nonprofits assess the impact of charitable programs is the focus of a new initiative being launched by a nearly four-year-old center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro devoted to connecting the university and the community.

“We’re interested in working with funders to create a better market for evaluation services so the supply of evaluation services is of higher quality and meets the needs of consumers, and so you have more informed consumers of evaluation,” says Doug Easterling, director of the new division for community-based evaluation at UNC-G’s Center for the Study of Social Issues.

In recent years, funders increasingly have required that nonprofits receiving grants evaluate their impact and report back to the funders.

The emerging field of evaluation, however, faces big challenges, says Easterling, former director of research and evaluation at the $350 million-asset Colorado Trust.

“Most nonprofits see evaluation only as a means of documenting what they’re already doing,” he says. “They’re trying to gather evidence to get more money to keep doing what they’re already doing.”

He hopes, however, to bring about a shift in the way nonprofits think about evaluation.

“If you see evaluation as new knowledge to inform an organizational process, to improve your programs, then evaluation is an investment,” he says. “It’s like bringing in a venture capitalist to put some money in to raise the quality of the products and services of the organization.”

The goals of the new division are to perform evaluations for funders and nonprofits; to provide evaluation training for nonprofits, funders, university researchers and private research consultants; and to improve the field of evaluation through research and by bringing together the various groups that use evaluation.     

The evaluation division is one of two new programs at the center. A second new division aims to prevent violence by youngsters.

“We see the center as a mechanism for bringing together the expertise of faculty and community partners who otherwise might not work together in addressing social issues through research and training and service,” says Carol McKinnon-Lewis, the center’s director.

McKinnon-Lewis, a professor in UNC-G’s department of human development and family studies, created the center in the summer of 1996 as a response to what she saw as community needs for assistance in evaluating nonprofit programs and in raising grant money, and for training and basic research.

The main focus of the center so far has been on issues involving individuals and families, and community development.

The center, for example, has teamed up with local groups to deliver community-based services to youngsters with serious emotional problems. It also has helped create a statewide program for placing adopted children with families.

The center also has helped secure three federal grants totaling about $800,000 to help revive the inner-city neighborhood of West Macedonia in High Point.

The center recently named two directors for its new division for the prevention of youth violence and prevention – Jacquelyn White, a professor in UNC-G’s department of psychology, and High Point Police Chief Louis Quijas.

For information, call 336-334-4423.

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