July 2015 Newsletter

What is your “Sacred Bundle”?

What is your “Sacred Bundle”?

Image courtesy of panuruangjan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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 where modifications are needed.

“In the process of figuring out what information they need to track to manage their effectiveness, nonprofit staff realize that the same information will fuel their own stories,” he wrote for the Harvard Family Research Project (Summer 2005). Read more...

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To Evaluate or Not to Evaluate: That Is The Question

My October 2014 post, "What Does Evidence Really Mean?” (the most popular since I started blogging a couple years ago) clarifies the distinctions between Performance Measurement--which all nonprofits should be doing--and Impact Evaluation--which requires formal training and experience and should not be attempted lightly.

A helpful article in Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Measuring Impact Isn’t For Everyone,” describes the two cases when organizations should NOT bother to seek evidence of their programs’ impact:

• When the evidence already exists; and
• When generating evidence on impact is simply impossible to do well.

Authors Mary Kay Gugerty & Dean Karlan, professors and evaluators with Innovations for Poverty Action, argue that because rigorous, external impact evaluation is so costly and hard to do, it should only be undertaken when the study will narrow a gap in existing knowledge.

Instead, they recommend that all organizations operating social programs build strong data systems according to four “CART principles”. The data they collect should be Credible, Actionable, Responsible and Transportable.


The Impact Genome Project is akin to a credit score. It is a systematic way to codify and quantify the factors that drive social outcomes, allowing funders, researchers and practitioners to consistently measure program performance.

How Grantmakers Are Using Evidence-based Data to Improve Outcomes, pdf of April 2015 webinar slides featuring Algorhythm CEO and a grantmaker about “predictive analytics” and new tools to predict which grantees will achieve their target outcomes.

Becoming Evidence-Based: A Step by Step Approach is an archived webinar from Social Solutions/PerformWell. It presents the steps your program must go through to reach the point at which independent evaluations can be done to assess whether it works. Focus is on child- and youth-serving organizations.