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Program Evaluation: Nonprofits’ Needs Versus Donor’s Requests, Part 1

One Dollar Bill Notes

Why do you evaluate your programs? To provide accountability to your donors? To measure what you’re doing right or wrong? To gain access to more funding? Well, if you work for a nonprofit organization, you probably identified with several of these goals. However, your reasons for conducting a program evaluation may differ dramatically from that of your funders!


Program Evaluation: Nonprofits versus Donors
Often, nonprofits and their donors have very different views about the best way to go about evaluation (York, 2005; Zinn, 2017). In fact, they often have conflicting motives.

Blog_Table_070218As you can see, nonprofits are not always enthusiastic about conducting program evaluations that are expected by donors. Furthermore, nonprofits tend to focus more on short-term outputs (e.g., what they do), rather than measuring the long-term outcomes (i.e. what happens because of what they do) that are requested by donors (York, 2005). For example, a homeless shelter may measure success in terms of how many meals and beds they provide, whereas a donor may want them to measure the extent to which people become self-sufficient because of the program. Also, nonprofits tend to prefer less-rigorous evaluations conducted in-house, but the donor may expect a rigorous study conducted by an independent evaluator. Both organizations use evaluation to measure effectiveness and make future decisions. However, funders tend to expect to learn more from evaluation and how it impacts nonprofit organizations.

And yet there is a much better approach to nonprofit evaluation; one that satisfies both the donors’ requests while also helping the nonprofit grow and succeed. The key lies in viewing program evaluation as a learning opportunity rather than an accountability measure (Saul, 2011). Part 2 of this blog post will explore this approach further and offer five tips to bridge the gap in a way that makes both nonprofits and their funders happy.

If you have any specific follow-up questions to this blog post, or any other research and evaluation needs, please feel free to contact Dr. Annette Shtivelband (annette@researchevaluationconsulting.com).

Special thanks to Anne Marie Runnels for writing this blog post!


Saul, J. (2011). The end of fundraising: Raise more money by selling your impact. John Wiley & Sons.

York, P. (2005). A funder’s guide to evaluation: Leveraging evaluation to improve nonprofit effectiveness. Fieldstone Alliance.

Zinn, P. (2017). Exploring the tensions between nonprofits and foundations about evaluation. American Evaluation Association 365 Blog. https://aea365.org/blog/exploring-the-tensions-between-nonprofits-and-foundations-about-evaluation-by-prentice-zinn/