Want to Do Your Own Evaluation, and Do it Well?


Top tips for staffing evaluation

Top tips for staffing evaluation

By Elena Harman



Existing Staff

Integration of evaluation into the nonprofit

Lack of focus on and skills for evaluation

Internal Evaluator

Focus and attention on evaluation with integration into the nonprofit

Ill-defined, improperly salaried position leads to frequent turnover

External Evaluator

High-level expertise within budget

Evaluation remains peripheral to the nonprofit’s core functions

Once a nonprofit decides to move forward with evaluation, it has to be someone’s job responsibility or it will not happen. There are three options for staffing evaluation: add evaluation to an existing staff member’s role or distribute it across current staff members, hire an internal evaluator to join your team, or contract with an external evaluator. There are pros and cons to all three approaches, and in this post, I’ll share tips for making whichever option you choose as successful as possible.

Adding Evaluation to an Existing Staff Role

The first approach to staffing evaluation is to assign evaluation responsibilities to one or more existing staff roles. When successful, this approach works well because it can strengthen the alignment between programs and evaluation and ensure that evaluation is built into the fabric of the nonprofit. But the risk is that evaluation will always play second fiddle to the staff member’s other responsibilities and that the staff lack the evaluation skills necessary to implement it well.

If you choose to embed evaluation into an existing staff role, how can you set the transition up for success?

  • Be intentional about where evaluation should be integrated: which functional role makes most sense? Which individual staff member makes most sense?

  • Reallocate other responsibilities and elevate evaluation

  • Invest in capacity building

  • Be patient

Hiring a New Internal Evaluator to Join Your Team

The second approach allows the nonprofit to bring focus and attention to evaluation without making it an additional responsibility at risk of being put on the back burner. The challenge of hiring internally, is that leadership may not be clear on what exactly they are looking for - resulting in both a poor hiring process and a bad fit for the organization.

If you choose to add a new internal evaluation role to your team, how can you set up the new hire for success?

  • Prioritize a subset of evaluation skills rather than a unicorn job description including all the possible roles and responsibilities evaluation might play.

  • Be intentional about placement on the organizational chart

  • Compare salaries to research jobs, not just nonprofit positions

  • Provide ongoing support and connection to the larger field

Contracting with an External Evaluator

The last option for staffing evaluation is to contract with an external evaluator or evaluation firm. The advantage of this is that it allows nonprofits to leverage resources to access a higher level of evaluation expertise than they could afford to hire internally. The risk with contracting is that evaluation may forever remain peripheral to the nonprofit.

If you decide to go the direction of contracting with an external evaluator, the natural question that follows is how to find an external evaluator. I’ll save tips on contracting for another blog post. Just remember that the most important criteria for an effective learning process with an external partner are trust, a strong working relationship, and an ability to handle complexity and uncertainty.

Once you’ve identified a contractor whose perspective and approach align with your needs, how can you set them up for success?

  • Set a reasonable budget

  • Strategically identify a single staff member to shepard the evaluation

  • Allocate time to assist with execution

  • Take ownership over the direction and reflection of the project

  • Engage staff to build buy-in and get input on the evaluation

When Not to Evaluate

I’m sneaking in one last option for staffing evaluation: don’t staff it. Not every nonprofit needs to invest additional resources into evaluation. In fact, there are two primary reasons you might correctly choose not to integrate more evaluation work into your nonprofit.

  • Do not invest in evaluation if there are no circumstances under which you will change your programming based on the evaluation findings.

  • Do not invest in evaluation if you do not have the resources to do it well.

We can help with any of these approaches, and you’ll find more in-depth tips on how to staff evaluation in my new book, The Great Nonprofit Evaluation Reboot: A new approach every staff member can understand.


Elena Harman, PhD | CEO

Elena takes the big-picture view of how Vantage’s work transforms how evaluation is used and perceived. She pushes everyone around her to think bigger about what evaluation can be, and how it can help improve our communities. With an encyclopedic knowledge of research and evaluation methods, Elena supports and advises the evaluation team on all projects. She connects the dots between data sources and projects. Elena has dedicated her life to Colorado and evaluation as a means to improve the lives of state residents. She brings a deep expertise of systems, nonprofits, and foundations in Colorado, as well as how to engage diverse audiences in a productive conversation about evaluation.

Elena Harmaneval tips