Evaluating A New Nonprofit Program

How to conduct a nonprofit program evaluation

What Is Program Evaluation?

As new nonprofit organizations grow and thrive it is important to make sure the actions of the organization are matching the original intentions of the entity. A program evaluation is an organized study of a not-for-profit entity’s projects and community programs. The evaluation checks that all financial and human resources are contributing to the mission of the nonprofit. However, creating an effective program evaluation can be a challenge. This nonprofit program evaluation template can help simplify the process. Use it as a starting point, and customize it to fit your specific needs.

To evaluate an organization’s programs, an industry expert follows a predetermined procedure to measure, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the effectiveness of a specific project or program, or multiple programs. One goal of a program evaluation is to determine if the outcome of the nonprofit’s work is worth the effort and resources that make it possible. 

Program evaluations are not usually done internally, like performance measurements, where the focus is to study and improve processes within the program. A nonprofit program evaluation is performed by a third-party independent professional in the field. There are two main types of nonprofit program evaluations:

  • Impact studies – Determine if a program is generating the intended results and may include random control groups and trials.
  • Implementation studies – Determine whether a program is being executed the way it was intended to work. 

When a proper nonprofit program evaluation is completed, the results will provide answers about the effectiveness of the organization for board members, investors, staff members, volunteers, donors, and other supporters. The evaluations can show:

  • If a program is generating a positive outcome
  • Which groups of people benefit most from the programs
  • Which parts of a program are not essential or cost-effective
  • If the programs are being carried out consistently
  • Calculations of the cost per participant 
  • The return on investment as it translates to the targeted community

How To Successfully Evaluate A New Nonprofit Program

It is clear program evaluations can be very beneficial to a new nonprofit program because it answers critical questions that may have been asked by internal members or external parties, like supporters. Since a nonprofit program evaluation takes the shape of a formal audit, there are steps to take to successfully put together a program evaluation. 

Utilize Existing Data

For new nonprofits, a program evaluation is not an ideal first look at the success of programs that are already up and running. Prior to deciding to have a formal evaluation done, an organization should make use of the results and data already available, including:

  • Program participation numbers
  • Program completion (successful) statistics
  • Demographics of participants and programs
  • Cost of programs
  • The outcome of programs – This is a great area to reinforce why and how the program is working towards the mission. 

Organizational leaders should continuously track the results of each nonprofit program, either through software or through a designated staff member or volunteer. The numbers can be used to make changes to current procedures when necessary and preliminarily determine the effectiveness of a program. 

Outline Key Questions

Since the internal analysis of the organization and programs should be ongoing, the first step of a successful program evaluation is to determine which specific questions need to be answered about the organization as a whole or individual programs and projects. The questions will act as an outline to the design of the evaluation. Some key questions to answer include:

  • How is each program related to the mission?
  • Who benefits from the organization’s purpose?
  • What is the cost per participant of the program?
  • Will there be a control group in the study?
  • How will the control group compare to actual community members?

The program evaluator or third-party nonprofit expert will be able to provide further insight as to which questions will need to be answered with the evaluation.

Outline The Evaluation

When designing the study to prove effectiveness or answer questions about the programs, the goal is to create an effective evaluation that will not negatively impact the budget of the nonprofit. Create an outline for an evaluation that can accomplish its purpose without causing financial hardship. Once some key questions and a budget are determined, the evaluation can be designed.

Complete The Evaluation

The evaluator will conduct the evaluation according to the outline determined and agreed to by both parties. Depending on the description and outline of the evaluation, the nonprofit’s staff members may help collect necessary data or the evaluator may work alone. 

Utilize Results

The data collected by the evaluator should answer all questions that were outlined in the planning phase. The results can be provided to approved users and used internally to improve internal processes and the success of the organization.

For positive evaluation results:

  • Expand or repeat programs that are working well and deliver desired results
  • Use successful projects or programs as examples to recreate the successful aspects in new programs.
  • Release the results of the evaluation to strengthen relationships with new and existing supporters and funding programs.

For negative conclusions or unclear results:

  • Schedule discussions to examine causes and solutions to results.
  • Discuss the design of evaluation and consider reevaluation
  • Brainstorm potential changes to programs to improve results.

Bottom Line

A nonprofit program evaluation can answer the critical questions of board members, funders, governing agencies, and employees. An evaluation will show the effectiveness of specific programs and help prove that the organization is making a positive impact on the community. There are great frameworks and nonprofit program evaluation templates available to help nonprofit organizations coordinate a successful evaluation with the evaluator. Contact JFW Accounting Services today to get started preparing for your first program evaluation.


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