For most not-for-profits, receiving a grant from a trust or foundation is like that first flush of being in love. But that feeling of euphoria early in a relationship can soon dissipate if one partner feels the other isn’t delivering on expectations.
To ensure your relationship with your funder is long-term, it is essential to have effective evaluation mechanisms in place. This way, you can communicate the impact your organisation is having and ensure your funder’s observations of your organisation match or surpass their expectations.
An evaluation process will allow your organisation to quantify and qualify a project’s impact. It also allows you to adjust the project’s delivery – if required – to ensure it achieves the benefits a funder has invested in you to deliver.
In our experience, many organisations are daunted by evaluation.
But it is vital to remember that effective evaluation doesn’t need to be complex.
We find that in practice, most organisations are already taking steps to measure the impact of their projects – it’s just that they don’t recognise their actions as being related to evaluation.
For example, it’s not uncommon for us to hear from organisations that they don’t have evaluation methods in place and therefore not a lot of data to present in funding applications. But then, when discussing their organisation’s work in more detail, they are often able to identify anecdotal examples of the positive effect their projects have on their beneficiaries’ lives, and can go back and count case files to get quantitative data on how many have been thus affected.
To evaluate any given project, you need to understand your beneficiaries and your intended outcomes, and then define what success will look like and how to measure it.
The data you require to determine the impact of your project will vary according to the type of project being delivered, but this data may be qualitative or quantitative, or a mix of both.
For detailed information about evaluation design, view the Strategic Grants webinar on the topic at https://www.strategicgrants.com.au/au/training/advanced-webinars.
Quantitative measures might include recording the number of people being assisted, distance travelled over a certain period to deliver a service, number of visitors to your facilities, number of scholarships distributed, number of meals delivered, the average time it takes for your organisation to respond to a call for help, or number of phone-calls made to those in need.
Qualitative measures might require you to survey or interview project benefactors to understand how your project has improved their circumstances.
This is where you get to channel your inner journalist to ask those “who, what, when, where, how and why” questions to measure their experiences.
For example, a qualitative measure might tell you how a scholarship has enabled a person to access higher education; or why a project relieved stress, or improved a person’s life quality. Remember, that project delivery staff and volunteers are also fantastic sources for qualitative data – ask them to observe and record their experiences through a journal, or get them to describe how the project improved their efficiency and/or capacity to help.
It is also important to recognise that a funder’s expectation of your measurement methodologies may vary according to the income or size of your organisation.
And of course, you need to ensure that the evaluation and performance management techniques that you employ, match the expectations of the donors that you are targeting in your overall Fundraising Strategy.
If you are in an organisation where project delivery is removed from your grant-writing or acquittal function, it will be essential for you to put mechanisms in place to ensure project information flows to the person managing the relationship with the funder.
This may be facilitated by regular meetings, or by setting up a central Dropbox to allow all stakeholders to access project data.
Such strategies will enable your organisation to keep funders informed of progress, and ensure the project team is aware of any adjustments to project delivery that need to be made to maximise project success.
Like Romeo serenading Juliet, you need to be creative about the ways you demonstrate love to your funder.
Unless strict reporting processes have been dictated by a funder, don’t think that you must provide a 30 page report on project outcomes to effectively communicate your project’s progress or impact.
Likewise, don’t assume that funders without formal funding reporting processes don’t want to hear from you.
The importance of thanking a funder and communicating how their investment has made a difference should never be underestimated.
Ensure you help them feel the love, even when they don’t stipulate formal reporting requirements or funding acquittals.
Take the time to check with them about how they would prefer to hear about project outcomes and impact.
Then - serenade them.
Tell them how their funds have helped you create change. Even if the outcome isn’t quite what you expected, tell them what you have learned, and how you might change project delivery next time to maximise success.
For example, philanthropist Alan English dislikes lengthy reports with detailed data. He wants a video, taken on your phone, of one of the children who has participated in the program for which he provided funding. He wants to hear from a couple of them what that program has meant for them. Then he wants the CEO or Program Manager to tell him how many other children had similar outcomes.
Alan, like many funders, understands enough about the areas in which he is investing to translate the short-outcomes into long-term impact.
Family Foundations in particular, are moving away from a requirement for documented reports, and many now prefer round table reporting to provide a more holistic picture of project impact.
In the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is the beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success”.
Jo Garner is the Director of Strategic Grants and a founding member of Queensland's first women's giving circle, Women & Change. Strategic Grants works with non-profits across New Zealand and Australia to build effective grant seeking strategies and has worked on successful philanthropic grants and government tenders ranging from $5000 to $50M.
Jo has been a professional fundraiser since 1994 and started providing professional grant services to charities in 2002.
Over the years, Jo has identified key areas where non-profits need assistance and advice when establishing, reviewing and building an effective grants program. Jo is also a regular conference presenter on the grant-seeking process at conferences and facilitates regular workshops for individual charities as well as the sector at large.
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