Can I Be Frank?

Sitting down to write this post, ideas were swirling around my head, colliding into each other. I had just read several recent reports and blog posts set aside in a “food for thought” email folder. There was Open Road Alliance’s startling—but not surprising—research finding that “Funder-created Obstacles” were the most common type of roadblock mission-driven … Read more

Empathy and Social Justice

A couple weeks before the year-end holidays, I fell down and injured my knee and wrist. While not the first time I’ve had serious injuries, it was the first time an injury caused me serious mobility challenges. For over a week, I could barely walk and didn’t go out much. The experience was humbling. When … Read more

Do Your Meetings Get Stuck in the ‘Groan Zone’?

I recently took a 3-day facilitation skills training at Community At Work in San Francisco. If you aren’t familiar with CAW, you might wish to get better acquainted with this terrific, 31-year-old consulting, training and organization development think tank organization. Taught by masterful trainer/facilitator Sarah Fisk, a long-time senior consultant there, the Group Facilitation Skills: … Read more

Examining Cultural Bias in Evaluation

Over the past few years, I’ve been called to examine the ways my cultural, racial and socio-economic background influences the work I do with nonprofit staff and boards, especially in program evaluation projects. I’d like to share a few insights I’ve gained from this exploration of what is now often called “white privilege”. My middle … Read more

Start Where You Are: Using Program Data to Learn, Manage & Report

Editor’s note: My colleague Deb Stephenson, an advisor to nonprofits on the design and implementation of information systems and a genius at diagnosing and solving technology problems, and I co-authored this post. With all the talk about nonprofits needing to prove their impact and stories about “big data”, pressure to keep up is prompting some … Read more

Talking About “What Works”

How do you answer questions about the difference you are making in the world? Do you and others in your nonprofit talk about program outcomes or program impact? In what ways do you describe the changes in your clients after they’ve been through your program? Do you compare their knowledge, attitudes or behavior after your … Read more

Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: Tips for Practical Performance Measurement Using Pre/Post Surveys

My firm has worked with a number of small nonprofit organizations that wanted help figuring out how to collect and analyze program outcomes data. They seek answers to such questions as: “Are our programs really working?” and “Are participants being helped in the ways we intend?” Most request help “creating a survey”, which, on the … Read more

Making Program Evaluation More Accessible to Nonprofits

I just finished teaching a 2-evening Program Evaluation course at California State University East Bay. This month, I engaged students in a quasi-debate fueled by a 2-part SSIR essay arguing that nonprofit service providers should NOT evaluate their own program outcomes. Because they lack social science research expertise and face conflicts of interest in reporting … Read more

July 2015 Newsletter

I recently came across a powerful metaphor linking evaluation and storytelling. The source of the metaphor, grantmaker John Bare of the Arthur M. Blank Foundation, says that when he first meets nonprofit staff, he asks them what they–not their funders or donors–need to know about a program they’re implementing to learn which parts work and … Read more

April 2015 Newsletter

Most institutional funders these days expect grantees to document and report their programs’ progress. They expect organizations to regularly monitor their own performance to better understand what’s working and to employ these lessons to improve program outcomes for clients and achieve greater social impact. A new Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) report describes what foundations … Read more