Utilizing Evaluation to Demonstrate Impact

As a former educator; I am long familiar with the pressure to and necessity of measures of performance and program outcomes. I’ve written many objectives, identified measurements, and collected and reported data designed to measure the success of educational programs. Now, as a VISTA Leader, I’m involved in evaluation from a different perspective.

I’m learning that nonprofits are under increasing pressures to evaluate their programs. As a VISTA I was involved in writing grant reports to document results. As a VISTA leader I’m involved in compiling data from the reports submitted by a variety of Volunteer Centers of Michigan.

I’m impressed by the numbers of registered volunteers and partner agencies being reported in the current grant reports. However, these same reports are demonstrating and documenting the difficulty associated with the collection of qualitative information. All nonprofits deal with the issue of collecting demographic information from volunteers. As I work with VISTAs serving at the volunteer centers; the issue of how or when to collect demographic information is common to all. As demographic information is built into the volunteer registration process there is a common dilemma. When the information is made voluntary; potential volunteers are often skipping the questions about age, sex, and other demographic information. However, when the information is made mandatory; the concern is that many potential volunteers will exit the online registration system rather then supply the information and that volunteer’s services are then lost. Volunteer Centers have the additional problem in that often the center is somewhat outside the loop. Volunteer Centers may not be directly connected to the services provided. As volunteers register with centers, information regarding actual service hours becomes problematic. How does the center know whether or not the volunteer actually served hours with a local nonprofit? How does a center develop and measure outcomes when volunteers are working through other human service providers who have different management systems and approach evaluation from potentially very different perspectives?

As a VISTA Leader; I don’t have answers to these questions. In the process of researching the issue; I’ve found many helpful resources. One resource, Measuring the Difference Volunteers Make: A Guide to Outcome Evaluation for Volunteer Program Managers, offers valuable suggestions and tools such as:
• Importance of conducting Outcomes Evaluation
• Volunteer Centers as potential resource and consultant nonprofits as they establish evaluation programs.

Evaluation is necessary to demonstrate impact. Clear, measureable documentation of program outcomes is a necessary part of obtaining funding whether through grants or donations. Developing effective plans and instruments will continue to be an issue for Volunteer Centers and all nonprofits. How is your organization evaluating impact—qualitative or outcomes-based?

Sandra MillerSubmitted by Sandra Miller, AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader for the Volunteer Centers of Michigan. Prior to joining VCM, Sandra served as a VISTA member in Wisconsin for Habitat for Humanity. Sandra is a retired school teacher and counselor and has a Bachelors in Education and Masters in School Counseling, both from Central Michigan University.

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