Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, BA
Director of Development and Evaluation, Turnaround Life, Inc.
Many nonprofit organizations want to grow their mission-centered services and ability to serve individuals and families in need. Yet, the question for smaller nonprofit organizations is how to grow smartly without jeopardizing your human resources, community relationships or the integrity of your nonprofit organization.
One solution may be to conduct an internal assessment measuring your nonprofit organization’s ability to provide evaluation and performance assessment. When conducting your internal assessment some of your first questions should be:
- Does my nonprofit organization seek and use data and feedback from individuals we serve to improve our outcomes and continuously improve our services?
- Is my nonprofit organization collecting all the data needed to effectively tell and share our story of how we are turning lives around?
- Do we share our data with our community stakeholders?
- Do we share our success stories and positive outcomes with our clients and our staff?
Evaluation and performance assessment skills ensure your nonprofit’s ability to collect and report timely data used to inform your workforce, strategic planning, future decision making and your effectiveness in pursuing future funding. Evaluation and performance assessment also allows you to showcase the impact your nonprofit is making in the community, otherwise known as Evaluation Capacity Building (ECB), further strengthening your nonprofit’s collaborative relationships and sustainability.
Evaluation Capacity Building involves building a process within your nonprofit to capture your organizational learning, continuously improve upon its results and track your progress toward achieving your mission-related outcomes. Nonprofit organizations that can capture lessons learned as they implement programs and services within the community are able to learn from mistakes, make timely adjustments as they face future challenges and quickly build solutions to overcome barriers.
Evaluation Capacity Building strengthens internal systems producing standardized program manuals, policies and procedures, and job descriptions, aligned with service delivery. Evaluation capacity building can be used to:
- Improve the knowledge and skills of staff members understanding the basic evaluation approaches;
- Strengthen your organization’s ability to collect data, manage data and use the data collected to improve programs, and/or service delivery; and
- Build Logic Models/Theories of Change to inform successful program implementation.
The first step in building evaluation strategies within your nonprofit is to change the culture of your nonprofit to a learning organization. Designate a staff person that can assist you in creating this change within your organization. As a nonprofit leader, or Board of Director for a nonprofit, you can start evolving to a learning organization with the simple desire to know what your clients and community stakeholders think about the services you offer. Schedule a simple focus group, or listening session to collect the responses from participants. Publish your results and provide feedback to the individuals who participated in the focus group. Let them know firsthand that you value their opinions and you are following their recommendations. Schedule focus groups with your employees to find out how your staff members work together. What are emerging challenges and/or possible solutions?
If you do not have an evaluation and performance assessment department in your nonprofit organization, carve out your ability to build one. Your first step is to get started, taking one step at a time. There are many program evaluators that can assist you in facilitating your nonprofit’s internal assessment and capacity to begin evaluation and performance assessment. Many nonprofit organizations can partner with area community colleges and universities or vocational schools to involve interns that can assist your nonprofit in building evaluation and performance assessment processes within your nonprofit organization.
This requires trust-building and an openness to doing things that may not immediately familiar. Yet, it’s worth it. The most successful non-profit organizations always find solutions and a way to share their success publishing evaluation reports and effective media and marketing messages.
Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, M.S., serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation, and performance assessment. Ms. Griffin manages the overall operations and resources of the company and works to enhance and sustain customer relationships and capacity building with stakeholders. She has worked to secure more than $69 million in government grants and expanding systems of care and behavioral health treatment in Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans, Maine and Virginia. Of that total, $22 million was awarded in the past three years in partnership with Turnaround Life and Turnar ound Achievement Network, LLC. Ms. Griffin is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus. Ms. Griffin has taught graduate and undergraduate students as an adjunct faculty member for Springfield College Tampa Bay campus and currently serves as the president of its Community Advisory Board. Ms. Griffin founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building.