​Instilling a culture of evaluation in your new nonprofit is probably one of the most important things you can do at the beginning of your organization’s life. I know this sounds pretty 101, but it is a very important concept to ensure you have integrated into your organization. That and I have worked with organizations where the importance of evaluation was not made clear in the beginning and it takes a lot more effort to help those organizations later on. Evaluating everything from staff to the way you work with beneficiaries allows you to make your organization better. It allows you to refine what you do so that you can save money and know that your intervention is effective. This is especially important in the beginning years of the organization when there usually isn’t that much money floating around.

Evaluation is important to foster as an organizational hallmark when your organization is still young because, the longer you wait, the harder it will be to implement when you do get around to it. Plus having all of this information available will make things way easier for you when you start applying for grants and start writing fundraising appeals.


Here are 3 of the best ways to foster a strong culture of evaluation in your organization early on

1) Include a section on the importance of organizational evaluation and your commitment to it into your bylaws

Luckily, it is easy to make the case that evaluation is incredibly important to an organizations ability to function. Because of this, when you are writing your organizational bylaws, there should be no resistance from your board to putting a section on the importance of evaluation and how you plan to implement evaluation into your organization in.Putting this section into your bylaws does the following:

  • Shows that evaluation is an important aspect to your organization BEFORE board members and staff join your organization. That way, board members and staff know what they are getting into
  • It requires that there always be an element of evaluation (SMART goals and objectives) built into all programs, staffing, procedures and policies, and governance (i.e. objectives for programs, yearly staff reviews, effectiveness of current technology, and improving the board “experience”
  • Gives you the ability to refer to that section when resolving a problem with a staff or board member who is reluctant to honestly evaluate their program or committee out of fear or ego
  • If absolutely necessary, you can point to that section (with evidence) as grounds for disciplinary action or even removal of certain board members or employees

​If you would like help writing a section on the importance of evaluation in your organization for your bylaws, contact me here and I would be happy to chat more with you.


2) Lead By Example

If you are a board chair, ask questions like “how will we evaluate this activity?” If you are an executive director, ask “how can we show the impact of this program?”  Don’t wait for others to come up with the answers to those questions unprompted. Ask them. The more that you continue to press for specifics on how effective an intervention will be, the more your board or staff will see that it is a priority to you. You can also use SMART goal and objective (brace yourself, we are going to talk about them!) formats when you are reporting to stakeholders or run workshops or give out templates to train staff and board members on how to use them.


3) Using SMART Goals Objectives

Okay, so hear me out. I know that most people have heard of the acronym SMART (standing for Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, and Time-Based, or something similar) and they have heard it usually paired with the word goal. But I think what people really mean when they say “SMART goal” is actually “SMART objective.”

According to my computers dictionary (The New Oxford American Dictionary) this is the definition of “goal”;

​Notice the underlined section “the destination of a journey.” It is where you want to go. It does not say how you are going to get there. The destination can be a location or an outcome that you want to achieve within your organization like increasing the number of attendees to a program. In my opinion, the objective is how you achieve that outcome and that outline is what should be SMART.  You can’t reach your destination without knowing how to get there, just like you can’t achieve an outcome without clearly defining all of its parts.

It is important to note that goals and objectives complement each other. Could you incorporate all of the objective information into a goal statement? Sure, but it would be a very large statement that would take up too much space on promotional materials. Similarly, if you only used objectives, describing how you help serve your beneficiaries would look more like a cold and calculated checklist rather than the feel good happy destination you want to show. Listing your goals as the “big picture” destination and your objectives as the checklist is great because it allows you to tailor your messaging to different audiences. If you are looking to get a big donation, use goals primarily to show how they can help the organization reach the goal and use objectives as they come up. Applying for a grant? They want to know exactly how you plan on reaching your goals so include the goals and objectives. Doing evaluation, break down the cold hard facts into a spreadsheet and check off if you achieved your objectives.

Here are two great examples of how to easily use SMART objectives in conjunction with a strong goal to be used for evaluation metrics:

Goal: To provide the local YMCA with a variety of means to benefit from the presence of teens in the facility including new members, new employees, and impact stories.

  1. Objective: At least 15% of participants without memberships will sign up as new members by the end of the 10-week program.
  2. Objective: At least two participants will apply for an open position at the YMCA by the end of the 10-week program.
  3. Objective: Two participants will be included in promotional material for the program as well as for the Annual Fundraising Campaign at the end of the 10-week program.

Goal: To prepare program participants for running a 5K at the end of the 10-week program

  1. Objective: 90% of participants will follow the running program provided by the instructor including long runs, fartlek training, and trail running.
  2. Objective: 100% of program participants will register for and complete a 5K run of their choice within 30 days of the programs conclusion.
  3. Objective: 90% of participants will reduce their current 5K times by 10% or will improve their running endurance enough to finish a 5K.
  4. Objective: 90% of participants will be able to describe and demonstrate proper running form.

By drafting and using the SMART objectives process, you clearly and easily outline all aspects of how you will get from where you are now to reaching the goals of the organization.

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.

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