Don’t wait: evaluate

You don't have to brag like a pro wrestler! (rmwhittaker1012000/flickr under CC license)

I haven’t fallen off the grid, but I’ve been very busy helping organizations wrap up their holiday campaigns, take stock and prepare to improve their marketing, fundraising and communications programs in 2010*.

Even if the executive director or Board isn’t asking for it, everyone who leads one or all of these functions for a non-profit should document their evaluation of their 2009 program.  (Look for a suggested evaluation process outline in tomorrow’s post.)

Here are some comments I’ve received when I suggest doing such an evaluation:

  • I don’t have time
  • They’re not asking for it
  • Wouldn’t that be bragging if I’m a department of one?

I’ll come back to comment #1 and #2 in a moment, but I thought I’d share with you my response to #3, which I received by email on Friday from a capable staffer who is about a year into a new position with a small but thriving non-profit:

Don’t be sheepish about reporting how you did on performance metrics that were visible to the board.  You are evaluating the function, or, alternatively, the plan.  Even if you are a department of one, it’s important to show the Board that you are a good steward of the organization’s limited resources.  It shows that the function continues to learn and adapt.

Internally, it’s important for the chief executive to scrutinize and evaluate every major aspect of the operation.  Especially when a function is relatively new, it’s important to shape the conversation about how it should be evaluated.  Start with the details and work backwards to the information that is “board worthy” in your situation.  For example, your one or two page executive summary for the Board should report results for metrics that rise to the level of a dashboard, key measures that are directly related to the organization’s health.  But it’s also wise to capture major conclusions from new things that you tried this year.

Your executive summary is an opportunity to continue to educate the Board – bring them along with what you’re learning.  Although you don’t seem to face this challenge, it’s pretty common for Board members to ask management to “do an ad” or implement some kind of marketing tactic that is not well founded in strategy (at best) or harebrained (at worst).  Finally, if the Board had a responsibility for implementing some of the tactics, it’s also good to hold the mirror up so that they can have a conversation about their own follow through.

As for comment #1, make time.  An evaluation helps you figure out where time and money are being wasted.

And as for comment #2, that’s code for “if they can’t pin me down, I can’t look bad.”  Two of the main drivers of any non-profit’s success are fundraising and communications/image.  Begin to lead the dialogue about how the Board should keep its finger on the pulse.

*Of the three organizations that I’ve been intensely involved with this year, two raised 20% more than year prior and one came out about even, which isn’t bad for a difficult year.  Woo hoo!


Filed under Planning and evaluation, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Don’t wait: evaluate

  1. Hey,
    Glad to read you’ve had a “Woo hoo” year!!!

    I’m afraid you’re in the minority though – don’t know if you had time to read my post “Two-Third fall off in large donations”, the summary version of which is that the recession is biting big time, at least with regard to the upper levels of charitable giving.

  2. The national trend in charitable donations was definitely negative. I published the “woo hoo” comment in part because I think it’s important to document the fact that some organizations did well. The two organizations that were substantially ahead were in the “poverty” space and it may be that there was an upsurge of compassionate response to people whose incomes had been cut and/or were homeless. In this market, however, I know organizations who address hunger and homelessness that also released information in late December that they were substantially behind. So what’s the difference? Both of these organizations had done a good job of telling their story throughout the year, which included a steady drumbeat of public relations efforts. Both had made improvements to their websites and presented cogent cases for supporting their organizations. One of them realized that a cutback in grants was going to result in a shortfall of as nearly 20% of their budget; although they were reluctant to use such a direct approach, they “packaged” their need as a campaign and had a huge outpouring of support from past donors and supporters. So I guess the moral of the story is that it IS possible to succeed in such a difficult environment, but you have to constantly improve what you’re doing with respect to marketing and communications efforts.