Is “Evaluation” a dirty word for nonprofits?

Recently I attended a conference at the University of Denver, hosted by students of the Research Methods and Statistics program. The conference was informative, to say the least. One thing that stood out to me:

“Nonprofits are reluctant to engage in program evaluation because the term ‘evaluation’ has a stigma associated with it.”

Nonprofit leaders see “evaluation” as someone checking up on your work, having to “prove” your success, etc. But is this really the reason that some nonprofits do not engage in this important process?

Now, nonprofits do conduct their own evaluations. A 2016 national study showed that:

  • 92% of nonprofits conducted evaluations in 2016.
  • 92% of nonprofits were funded to conduct evaluations.
  • 85% agree that evaluation is necessary for ensuring that programs are working.

However, when it came to working with an evaluation consultant/coach, the numbers were much lower:

  • Only 27% of nonprofit organizations worked with an external evaluator. (Of these, more than 74% said that those evaluators conducted a high-quality evaluation and they would hire an evaluator for future projects).
  • Small nonprofits were much less likely to use an external evaluator. Only 14% of small nonprofits indicated that they had done so.

So, what is really the issue? Do nonprofits really shy away from the word evaluation? Or do they just lack the capacity to conduct evaluations (e.g., people or money)? Or maybe they don’t see the need?

What do you think?





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