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Soar to New Heights With Effective Evaluation

As a grant writer and manager, you are the pilot of a program; you are responsible for setting the course in the grant application, navigating it through a turbulent ride in its implementation, and responsible for bringing it to its final destination in reaching its goals. The significant challenge of arriving safely is small compared to the potential for reaching new heights of success.

Like any seasoned pilot, you have an array of available tools to monitor your progress along the way. In grants language, they are called evaluation methods. They should be used throughout the life of your program: not only at the end of the grant term while evaluating whether or not you met your objectives but also while planning, writing the grant, and implementing the program. If you wait until the end, you risk finding out you have a problem without anytime to fix it. Using evaluation tools along the way allows you to make changes to ensure your program gets back on track for success.

There are two types of evaluation: goal-based evaluation and process monitoring. The first, goal-based evaluation is used chiefly to discern whether or not you have met your goals and objectives. It’s like the Welcome to O’Hare sign that lets the pilot know he has arrived in Chicago. The second type, process monitoring, aims to tell you whether or not the work you are doing is effectively moving you towards your goal. To the pilot, this is the radar screen that flashes when she falls off course.

The following six methods of evaluation can be used for either goal-based evaluation or process measurements, depending on when they are applied. For the sake of the examples, lets assume your grant-funded program is a health curriculum aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

  1. Participant Questionnaires: Quite simply, ask participants whether or not they are enjoying a benefit from the program in a written evaluation or questionnaire. Ask them to fill out an evaluation. Administer a behavior survey before their participation and then offer the same survey as the program goes on. Compare the results to see if their behavior has changed. For example, ask students how many minutes of exercise they do each week. Ask them again eight weeks later to see if your program is making a difference.
  2. Data Review: Look at measurable factors – anything that could indicate positive change such as body weight, body mass index, or even grades. (There is data that healthy kids perform better in school.)
  3. Observation: Without letting your participants know, observe them and monitor their behavior. Record how many kids engage in physical activity during recess and watch whether or not this is increasing.
  4. Interviews: Sit down with participants one-on-one and extract as much information from them as you can in an interview. This is different from a written survey because there is the opportunity for the students to offer additional information if prompted. They can also offer constructive criticism about the program and clarify anything that is unclear or confusing to the interviewer.
  5. Focus Groups: Just like interviews, only the participants are in a group and can hear one another’s response. The benefit can be a synergistic effect that causes epiphanies that would not otherwise have reached. On the other hand, it may cause some participants to withhold honest responses, particularly with sensitive or potentially embarrassing topics, like weight among children.
  6. Case study: Following an individual participant and record, in minute detail, the changes in their life that resulted from your program. For example, follow a male student with all odds against him: a history of family obesity, juvenile diabetes, and no understanding of why it is important to make healthy decisions. Imagine what a compelling success story it is when he is a healthy weight, understands healthy choices, and declares that he loves playing sport. While case studies are never a sufficient measure of overall programmatic success, they certainly have a place in persuading grant funders that you are making a difference by changing lives.

When you are writing a grant application, you should describe in detail how you plan on using and or all of the six evaluation and progress monitoring tools listed above. This will show funders that you are committed to periodically checking the course that your program is on and making the necessary adjustments to navigate it towards success.

About Katie

the editor of Find Funding. Her writing about grants & nonprofits has been published in Charity Channel's Grants & Foundation Review and NONPROFIT WORLD.

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