My husband is a former swimmer who swam year-round in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona. The winners of each race were determined exclusively by time—whoever touched the wall first. Success is easy to define when using time as the unit of measurement. However, what happens when there are multiple variables that define success, as in grant writing? When variables such as time are not fixed and include people, external factors, changing organizational structure, and supplies and materials, the evaluation of success becomes more difficult to manage, and grant professionals are stuck in the crosshairs.
As I have posted previously, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has become more stringent in how grant funds are awarded, and tracking each dollar is now a federal priority, as well as a priority for many private funders. Many unfamiliar with grants and program evaluation would likely equate programmatic success with correct expenditure of funds based on the financial information outlined in a grantee’s budget. This is not so cut and dry, because a grant budget includes a number of items that are variable, and may change over the course of a grant period, especially if this is a multi-year grant. In the end, grant professionals must figure out how best to evaluate success of the program being funded so that it meets the needs of funders, the organization itself, and those served by the program.
Why Is Evaluation Important?
Evaluation, outcomes measurement, baselines, etc. are terms that are used interchangeably. But what does it all mean? In the end, everyone wants the same outcomes, but evaluation means more than that, and we should dive a little deeper into why it is so important. Evaluation does the following:
- Provides essential information to track how the projected outputs/outcomes outlined within a grant application align with actual outputs/outcomes
- Provides a standardized, quantitative measurement to determine success of a program by using qualitative information as inputs
- Determines if grant funds are being used judiciously and if the funds are used in a manner consistent with the intent and purpose of the grant
- Allows organizations to track and maintain information, which can be used by grantees and grantors for quality control purposes
- Identifies gaps, issues and challenges, and allows for troubleshooting prior to the end of the grant period
How Is Evaluation Used Within the Grants Community?
- Review logic models to ensure alignment of goals and activities to outputs and outcomes (short, mid- and long-term)
- Determine if grantees have the capacity to implement and manage a grant
- Gather information through programmatic progress reports and financial reports to determine if the grantee if actually meeting the requirements stated in the notice of award
- Refer to the evaluation measures to identify issues potentially impacting the successful implementation of an award
- Determine future funding
- Create/update a system or process to adequately measure programmatic success—are there additional resources or tools needed?
- Develop/update a logic model
- Determine the individuals responsible for managing the evaluation process, and being consistent with tracking information on regular intervals
- Execute the terms of the notice of award
- Ensure that all individuals paid for by the grant are involved in the evaluation process, and understand all of the measures being tracked
- Conduct tracking using quantitative measures identified in the grant on a regular basis
- Provide the grantor with required reports throughout the duration of the grant period
Evaluation has, and will continue to be, an important topic in the grants community. There are many tools and resources available to help both grantors and grantees work together and track information in a consistent and appropriate manner. The more preparation and planning, the less time spent on administrative work to track success rather than achieving it on the frontlines.
About the Author
Rachel Werner’s career has spanned the corporate, nonprofit, and public sectors, and follows a brief stint as a first grade teacher. The founder of RBW Strategy, Ms. Werner spent nearly seven years as a dedicated fundraiser and grant writer for nonprofit organizations and freelance clients. She has served as a dedicated fundraiser and grant writer for nonprofit organizations and as a grants management specialist implementing a compliance system for large U.S. Department of Education No Child Left Behind funds within charter schools across the U.S. In addition to being a skilled project manager, she has strong subject matter expertise pertaining to the grants lifecycle. She can be reached at Rachel@rbwstrategy.com.
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