Helping the nonprofit sector think differently about evaluation

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How the Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region is connecting “evaluation” and “learning” in the minds of their members

 
 

Frustrated with the current perception that evaluation is scary or only about numbers, the Association is taking an active role in changing that perception so the nonprofit sector as a whole can make a bigger difference in our communities. Learn more about the steps we are taking together to make this happen.

 
 

 
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Introducing Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region

The Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region is a membership organization that is passionate about creating a vibrant community by focusing on nonprofit innovation and excellence. Formerly the Colorado Springs Center for Nonprofit Excellence, they focus on nonprofit capacity building by promoting best practices to increase effectiveness, while also pushing the status quo through innovative ideas.


 

What they did

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Refresh the conversation about evaluation in the Pikes Peak region

Abby Sienkiewicz, Vice President of the Association, is frustrated with all the myths and misunderstandings that get in the way of nonprofits using evaluation to help them do their most effective work. For instance, how complex it “has” to be. They want to be part of changing that, and believe evaluation is critical to nonprofit work. They believe it guides activity to be most effective, letting the team know if something needs to pivot or change to better serve their clients, and ultimately strengthen our communities.

 
When asked what comes to mind when you think about evaluation, we heard members say ‘stomachache,’ ‘uh-oh,’ and ‘not fun.’ That’s the current reality, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
— Abby Sienkiewicz // Vice President, Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region
 

 

How we did it together

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Inspire conference attendees to reimagine evaluation

Pairing impact with evaluation became the common theme for the 2018 Nonprofit Day Conference, which brings 500 nonprofit professionals together each spring. They invited our CEO, Elena, to present about meaningful evaluation at the morning plenary session, which opened minds (and generated a few laughs) about these key ideas:

  • Evaluation is a means to an end, not an end itself. Evaluation is a thinking process to get from questions to learnings that help us do our jobs better. It is not a report that sits on a desk or a rubber stamp to say, “See we evaluated.”

  • People are at the core of evaluation, not data. It’s about understanding the experience of people, so we can improve our programs to serve them better. It’s not about numbers and accountability.

  • Shared ownership of evaluation transforms organizations. Let’s redefine nonprofit staff roles to include evaluation—not the technical piece, but instead being part of defining the questions and learning from the answers.

  • Start with what you want to learn, not which method to use. For many, “evaluation” equals “survey.” However, often a survey won’t get at what you need to know. Avoid frustration by beginning with the questions you have, then picking the best method to gather the insights you need.

 
The Vantage team is changing the conversation around the complex issue of evaluation. It’s going to be incredibly helpful to the nonprofit sector.
— Abby Sienkiewicz // Vice President, Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region
 

 

Making evaluation feel more approachable for development professionals

The Association hosts roundtables each month to share best practices. They invited our team to speak at one of the Fundraising Roundtables, which lead to engaging conversation between roughly 30 fundraising professionals around these key ideas:

  • Evaluation doesn’t have to be as complicated as it feels.

    Forget about the jargon funders use in their evaluation requirements. Instead, focus on how you can use evaluation to demonstrate that you are a strategic, intentional organization.

  • Practical ideas for how to break down walls between departments.

    Evaluation is a team sport. Think about those from programs, development, and leadership who need to be at the table as you think about evaluation.

  • A fresh way to think about the questions we ask in evaluation.

    If you’re not willing to change something about your program, don’t ask about it. Focus instead on that which you are willing to move the needle.

 
Together, we are debunking some evaluation myths and making evaluation a little easier to digest by breaking down some big pieces of this huge topic.
— Abby Sienkiewicz // Vice President, Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region
 

 

The Results

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Movement in the right direction

Evolving the way people think about and use evaluation will take consistent effort over a long period of time. We are excited to have strong partners like the Association in this effort, and encouraged that together, with others like the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, the tide is already beginning to turn in the Pikes Peak region.

 
We are encouraged that at the end of the conference, we already saw a shift with members using words like ‘excited,’ ‘energized,’ and ‘yaaassss!’ when asked about their feelings towards evaluation.
— Abby Sienkiewicz // Vice President, Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region
 

Check out Elena’s opening plenary presentation from the conference

 
 

 

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