The Afterschool Alliance is pleased to present the second installment of our "Evaluating afterschool" blog series, which turns to program providers in the field to answer some of the common questions asked about program evaluation. Be sure to take a look at the first post of the series, which explores evaluation lessons from Dallas Afterschool.
This post is written by Jason Spector, senior research & evaluation manager for After-School All-Stars, a national afterschool program serving more than 70,000 low-income, at-risk students across 11 states and the District of Columbia.
I recently left a meeting thinking I’m no longer doing the job I was hired to do. But for a professional evaluator of afterschool programs, change is a good thing.
When I joined After-School All-Stars (ASAS) to launch our national evaluation department two and a half years ago, my primary goal was to measure and support ASAS’ outcomes as the organization entered into an expansion phase. While I currently maintain this responsibility, our national evaluation team is now focused on examining program quality as opposed to outcomes measurement. Why the change? Simply put, we realized our top priority was to boost our quality, because when we do, the impact and outcomes will follow.
This type of a shift is not an easy decision for a nonprofit to make. As nonprofits move toward more advanced outcomes measurements to satisfy increasingly savvy funders, leaders everywhere are faced with some critical questions:
These questions carry an assumption that an investment in evaluation is inherently not an investment in your organization’s mission and programs. Furthermore, many program leaders assume that evaluations must yield large positive outcomes in order to attract new funders and compensate for the “cost” of not putting dollars directly into program operations. But this logic fails to consider the many benefits evaluations afford organizations.
Here are a few benefits of program evaluations
More evaluations considerations
In determining whether evaluation is worth the investment, and what type of benefit you will derive from it, nonprofit leaders must first consider their organizational stage of development on several levels. The Corporation for National and Community Service and the Social Innovation Fund have done excellent work in fully laying out many questions to consider. Here's a summary of just a few:
As you examine your organization’s evaluation readiness, you may come to the conclusion that an impact evaluation does not make sense at this time. This doesn’t mean that evaluation can’t help push your organization forward. Consider the potential of evaluation to hone your model, further data-driven programs, and yes, even prompt adjustments based on negative findings!
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