Giving Compass' Take:

• Writing for Philanthropy News Digest, McCormick Foundation's Rebekah Levin talks about what makes a good evaluation in the nonprofit world: Keep things detailed!

• Are we good at making self-assessments and applying lessons beyond the initial scope of a given project? If not, the more practice doing evaluations, the better.

• Here's why racial equity impact assessments are a must.

I believe strongly in the power of excellent evaluations to inform, guide, support, and assess programs, strategies, initiatives, organizations, and movements. I have directed programs that were redesigned to increase their effectiveness, their cultural appropriateness, and their impact based on evaluation data; helped to design and implement evaluation initiatives here at the McCormick Foundation that changed the way we understand and do our work; and have worked with many foundation colleagues and nonprofits to find ways to make evaluation serve their needs for greater understanding and improvement.

One of the best examples I've seen of excellent evaluation within philanthropy came with a child abuse prevention and treatment project. The initiative was so successful that the participating nonprofits decided to continue to work together beyond the initial scope of the project to improve their own programs and better support the children and families they serve.

But what does it take for an evaluation report to be worth my time?

  • It has to be an evaluation and not a PR piece. If I don't see critical concerns/problems/caveats identified, I tend to assume that I'm not getting the whole story and the report's value to me drops precipitously.
  • It has to provide relevant context. This significantly improves the possibility that the knowledge is transferable to other settings.
  • It has to be clear and detailed about the populations being served. Too often, I read evaluations that leave out critical information about who was targeted, participated, or served.
  • The evaluation's methodology must be described with sufficient detail. This is so I have confidence that its design and implementation, as well as the analysis of the data, were skillful and appropriate.
  • Must be easy to find.

When the above conditions are met, the answer to the question, "Are evaluations worth reading?" is an unequivocal "YES!"

Read the full article about evaluations worth reading by Rebekah Levin at Philanthropy News Digest.