evaluationA significant amount of my professional work has focused on helping small non-profits achieve their individual missions as well as take that next step in their administrative evolution. Among these groups, the top concern of board members continues to be funding. Not many realize, however, that one of the most important tools in the fundraising toolbox is an ongoing, structured system of data collection and program evaluation.  This article is part one of this conversation focusing on the importance of statistics and evaluation.  Part two will address some simple ideas for starting the evaluation process.

Let’s use local youth sports clubs as our example. Many clubs rely on player dues or registration fees supplemented by the occasional small business sponsor of a season or tournament to fund programming each year. However, to grow a program, increase training opportunities, expand travel opportunities, and solidify a funding base, clubs must expand fundraising efforts to annual funds, corporate and private grants, and other campaigns that continue for the life of the organization.

While the one-time contributor may be interested in reaching a target audience through sponsorship exposure, the funders you hope to attract for long-term organizational support will be more interested in your impact on the community.

With just a quick glance at a few sport club mission statements from across the country, I found phrases such as:

  • To encourage the education and development of high school students.
  • To promote physical fitness and health in high school students.
  • To enhance maturity, foster leadership, instill self-esteem, encourage sportsmanship, and create self-discipline.
  • To foster important lifetime virtues and character assets that contribute to the positive development of youth including sportsmanship, teamwork, and academic, social and personal achievement

A Google search resulted in a long list of clubs launching programs using the catch phrases of “inner-city” or “at-risk” youth.

The first thing that prospective donors should consider is your proven success in satisfying your mission through your past programs to judge your potential success using their funding. Are you ready and able to answer their questions? Do you have statistical information about program participants or before and after case studies to prove your success? Donors must recognize you as a worthwhile investment of their funding and that cannot be done without documentation.

For each component of your program, it is important to identify program goals along with measureable objectives and methods for evaluating your success. Most coaches and parents I have met are educators or business people who are comfortable with the concept of goals and objectives. It is designing the evaluation method at the front end of a program or project where I see most people drop the ball.

At this point, allow me to state an observation that shocks some people when I say it:  Fundraising (especially grant writing and program evaluation) is one of the most politically incorrect functions I have ever seen.  Let’s say it, let’s deal with it, and let’s move on.  Everything that is impolite to discuss at a party or illegal to ask in a job interview—these are the details I want to know for fundraising purposes. Over the past 20 years, I have received and managed funding based on constituents’ age, gender, economic level, race, cultural background, religion, native language, education, medical condition, drug use, incarceration, immigration status, and sexual orientation.  As uncomfortable as your board may be in collecting data on your program participants, I believe that a few of these details are important in requesting private and corporate funding and non-negotiable in requesting public funding (for grants from school districts and community sources, or city/county/federal grants). As a person, I wish to live in a world that does not judge any other person based on these things.  As a fundraiser, I notice, record, categorize, and evaluate everything I can about the individuals that make up any constituency base to see how I can use that information for funding requests.

If you are not currently involved in program evaluation, take some time to think about the demographics of your program participants, what information you have already documented or can easily document, and the comfort level of your board and constituents to address this subject.  In part two of this topic, we’ll look at some simple methods for building an evaluation system, and how program evaluation can be used in fundraising.