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How to Create a Dynamic Strategy for Every Single Donor: A Step-by-Step Process

Monday, September 9th, 2013

By Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels

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The look on her face said it all.  “You want me to create a strategy for every single one of the donors on my caseload?  Are you kidding me?”

This is usually the reaction our team at Veritus Group gets when we tell MGOs that this will be one of the first things they need to do if they want to become successful with us.

After the initial shock wears off and denial turns to acceptance, we get to work.  We don’t skirt the enormity of the task.  It is HARD work.  We realize that.  I mean, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.  But they are not.  And this is one of the reasons that MGOs, and ultimately non-profits, struggle with their major gift programs… they don’t have a plan.

Today, I’m going to go over a step-by-step process on how to put together a strategic plan for each donor.  This is the same process we use with our clients to help them overcome what they think is insurmountable.

Once MGOs start working on this process, they realize that not only is it possible, but it’s necessary for them to stay on task and become successful.
Before outlining the steps, I’m going to make three very big assumptions:  1) that you have qualified the donors on your caseload, 2) that you have a revenue goal and have cash flowed those goals by the month you think that revenue is coming in, and 3) that you have your donors tiered A, B and C levels.  Now, a note about tiering: the higher you tier the donor, the more personal the strategy.  Just keep that in mind as you work on strategies for each donor.

So, where do you create your strategy so it’s useful to you?  Good question.  We, at Veritus Group like to first see if the client’s donor database or moves management system has the ability to enter goals and strategy.  This would be the best place.  However, many non-profits either don’t have a good system for this, or they have nothing at all.
This is why we have created the Marketing Impact Chart.  It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet that, when you picture it, has all of the donors on the left-hand column, one by one, and all of the months of the year in a row at the top of the spreadsheet, starting with the first month of the fiscal year.  We can send you a sample template for you to use – click here to request it.

Now, here is the process you should follow in order:

  1. Write in all the mass communication pieces throughout the year-Take a look at your mail schedule: appeals, newsletters, annual reports, etc. Plug those into the months they are scheduled to drop. For “A” level donors you are going to want to create personal notes with some of these, so be aware of that when you figure out your weekly schedule. You can easily copy and paste this into your spreadsheet for every one of your donors.
  2. Review the month each donor’s revenue is expected to come in-then work three months backwards. For example, if you know that you are projecting revenue for Mrs. Smith in November, you need to put the high-level strategy starting three months prior to set up that solicitation. So, in August, you are starting to set up the meeting for November, then in September, sending a report on what her last gift did, and finally in October you send a formal proposal or prospectus to set up your face to face ask in November. Make sense?
  3. At least quarterly send “you made a difference” (YMAD) pieces to everyone on your caseload – plug those in for every donor. Your “A” and “B” level donors could be monthly touches that are highly personalized by you.
  4. Twice a year you want to report on specific programs your donors are funding with a report from the field – Those will be sent at different times depending on when donors gave their gifts. Populate your plan accordingly.
  5. Bi-yearly thank you calls – These are calls you make in addition to thanking any donor on your caseload file who gave a gift. Randomly thanking donors during the course of the year will endear them to your organization. You may consider up to four of these for “A” and “B” level donors.
  6. Bi-yearly “I know you” communications – These are notes or e-mail links or even cut-out magazine or newspaper articles your donors have an interest in. Especially for your “A” level donors, this is something to let them know YOU know them and are taking the time to recognize that.
  7. Cultivation face-to-face visits – Not every face-to-face visit should involve a solicitation. Some visits are meant to report back to donors how they made a difference and/or find out their passions and interests so you can get to know these good people and develop a relationship with them.
  8. Event invites and donor-view trips to see your programs in action – You should consider at least once per year inviting your caseload donor to see your programs in action. It could mean inviting them to your location just minutes from them or taking them to Uganda to see a water project they helped fund. This is a great cultivation and reporting back tool.

Okay, these are the main overall strategies that you need to create over a 12-month period for your caseload. Once you have these loaded into your system or spreadsheet, you’ll have moves associated with each strategy. If you are smart (and I know you are), you will enter those tactics or moves into either your moves management system OR simply into your calendar.

This will automatically give you your “to-do’s” for each day you come into the office. For example, a few moves that come from a strategy would look something like this: Let’s say in February you are going to send a bi-yearly project report to one of your donors. Okay, so one move would be to alert the program team in December to start putting together that report. Another move would be to let your communications team know that they have to create the piece from the information that program gives them, etc., etc.

Or, if you are a one-person shop, they would all be reminders to yourself that you need to get this completed in order for you to get it out in February. All these moves should be entered into either your moves-management system (like Salesforce, for instance) or your own calendar.

So, you still may be asking yourself, “Is this worth it?” My answer is a resounding, “YES!!” In almost every case where MGOs initially complain to us about having to go through this process, they come back and tell us this is the greatest tool for them to stay on track and ultimately be successful.

And actually, those who still complain about it don’t last very long as MGOs. This is a fact.

The beauty of this process is that YOU can start it right now. It’s doesn’t matter where you are in the year. Get going on it. It will be the best tool you have ever created for yourself.

The Best Places to Find New Grant Opportunities Online

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

By Sumac Research

Introducing… Prospect Research

img 1

Here are a few of the things you’ll learn about institutional donors through prospect research:

  • Does this institution give to non-profits that do what you do?
  • How much money does this funder usually give?
  • Does this funder give in your geographic area?
  • What does this funder expect of your organization in terms of personnel, size and type of project, level of evaluation, financial                          management and reporting?
  • What are the funder’s guidelines?
  • Who have they supported in the past, and at what giving level?
  • Who do you know (on your board or in your member base) who has contacts with this funder?

Anyone can conduct prospect research, though of course it requires an ability to dig into guidelines, explore the internet, and ask questions. Sometimes, professional prospect researchers are hired, who have access to a wide range of resources and databases. More often, fundraising staff include prospect research among their duties. In some non-profits, volunteers and interns do prospect research.

Prospect Research Online

Grant information is largely available online, and in some cases you can find all the information you need on free websites. Bear in mind, though, that you will almost certainly have to
img 2follow up a simple online search with more in-depth digging. Possible ways to supplement your free-site research include a call to the prospective funder to gather more information and request an annual report; a search of the funder’s tax records to see where the money went; or a Google search of the funder’s name to find out how they think about themselves.

There are few really useful, free online sources. Some, however, are literally worth their weight in gold.

Subscription-based databases provide much more in-depth information about grant making institutions. If you expect to do significant amounts of prospect research, you should certainly consider sources like the Foundation Center which will provide you with a wealth of online detail about each prospect in their extensive database. Most online grant databases require a subscription fee. Some of the top databases include:

As you review the guidelines for each grant prospect, you’ll want to review their limitations, giving procedures and deadlines.img 3Often, a foundation that looks like an ideal prospect at first glance turns out to give only in six states – and not in yours. It may also be that a funder is ideal for your organization, but that its deadline for grant submission has already passed.

Once you’ve eliminated prospects that are clearly wrong for your organization, you’ll want to carefully review guidelines to be certain you’re truly eligible for a grant. For example, you’ll want to double-check that the foundation’s grant making limitations don’t apply to you: if you have a religious focus, for example, you should be very careful about reading the guidelines. You’ll also want to be sure that you have all the documentation required; for example, some foundations ask for audited financials; others need to see proof of non-profit status.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to be sure you can describe your project in enough detail to be credible to this prospective funder. You can find help with this in Top 10 Tips for Writing Grant Proposals. Often, funders want to see expert advisors involved a full evaluation plan, or other rather technical elements. If you don’t have these in place, this donor may not be a good prospect for you.

*This article was condensed and brought to you from Sumac Research. For the full article go to: http://sumac.com/the-best-places-to-find-new-grant-opportunities-online

How to Increase Google Page Rank – 10 Best Ways

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Like many of you, most of my new business is driven by people searching Google for a fundraising professional, so I’m always curious what the best and most current ways are to increase your Google ranking. I recently came across Chiranjeev Kumar’s blog who explained it in a manner that I understood; which means he kept is simple/stupid. This is a bit of what Chiranjeev shared:
1. Write Quality Content:
As you know “Content is King” in Blogging because your chances are higher to get a link back.
2. Write Guest Post:
Guest Posting always comes first when we talk about how to build back links. Guest posting is the best way to get back links for free. Find a blog/website with a high Google Page rank which accepts guest posts. Make sure the blog you’ve selected for guest posting is relevant to your blog niche.
3. Article Submission
Submitting your blog article to various social bookmarking sites like Google plus, Facebook, Twitter etc. is a great way to get back links for your articles. Just use social bookmarking buttons on your blog and start submitting your posts to these sites yourself or your readers can submit.
4. Submit Blog to Directories
As you know high quality back links are useful for a good Google Page rank. Submitting your blog/website to various Blog directories is the best way to get back links from PR sites. So this is a good practice to get high qualify back links by submitting your blog to the best blog directories.
5. Use No follow Links effectively
For a good Google page rank you must maintain all outgoing links from your blog by using “No follow” tags wisely.
6. Update Your Site Regular
Google likes websites that updated regularly. A regularly updated blog has more a greater chance to get a high page rank.
7. Interlinking Your Webpage
Many blogs interlink their webpage in each blog post. Even You should also interlink your current blog with other blog posts.
8. Submit Website on RSS Directory
Submitting your website to various RSS directories helps increase your blog’s Google Page Rank. Alltop, Blloggs, Myblog, Blog.com are some of the best RSS Directories
9. Comment on Dofollow Blogs
Commenting on Dofollow blogs is quick and easiest way to get Dofollow backlinks for your Blog or website. You just need to find some dofollow blogs relevant to your niche and start commenting.

10. Post links on Forums
As you know Forums are updated most frequently. Posting on various forums helps you to increase Google Page Rank for your blog. Getting a backlink from these forums is the best way to increase your Google Page rank. I recommend you to join various high PR forums and start posting links from your site.

Keeping it all straight: 8 tips for getting grant-organized

Monday, February 4th, 2013

By Patty Hasselbring

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” – A. A. Milne

You got the grant. You thanked the funder. You notified all the involved parties. You and your team celebrated. You are ready to roll. Next comes the action – starting the project or activities that were funded!

Setting up your record-keeping system doesn’t sound quite as exciting, but it’s also important for many reasons. For example, it will help you find important information quickly, and you’ll be able to oversee the fulfillment of grant obligations.

Here are eight tips to help you get – and keep – it all straight.
1. Start your record-keeping system right away.
2. Scan copies of all paper documents and keep them in your computer files.
3. Electronic folders and subfolders will become your primary filing system. I usually suggest structuring the folders in six or seven major categories:
 o Grant Proposal – the original proposal, amendments, etc.
 o Budget Information – the original budget, any budget amendments, and budget      worksheets and notes
 o Financial Reports, including documentation of required matching funds
 o Correspondence, including relevant emails
 o Progress Reports
 o Evaluation Information – statistical information, reports, analysis
 o Collaboration Documents (if the grant is for a collaboration with other             organizations) – agreements with the collaborators and relevant information          about them and their programs

4. Use a unique name and date for each electronic document. So, rather than simply calling a document “report,” name it “Monthly Report June 2013.” Then you can tell what is in each document by looking at the name, rather than having to open every document to see what it contains.
5. Back up your computer files regularly. Don’t forget. Back up your files. Regularly.
6. Consider keeping copies of each grant file on its own flash drive for portability when needed.
7. Start a file in your email software for this grant. Sub-files may also be helpful. Keep copies of emails relating to the grant and grant program.
8. Maintain a paper file. Yes. A paper file. Organize all paper relating to the grant in one file. When you meet with the funder or others who are involved with the grant program, bring the folder with you so you can quickly access the information you need. You can use a partition folder, a heavy pressboard file that use two-hole punches at the top of each sheet, or a heavy-duty three-ring notebook. While your electronic files may contain much more information, this hard-copy file will include the basic and relevant information.

What was trending in Fundraising this month: November 2012

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Monitoring fundraising/philanthropy blogs and articles this past month, here is what’s trending:
1.Give to the Max, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday , #GivingTuesday,: November was the month to be thankful for online fundraising marketing trends! The benefits go well past direct support of your charity or business of choice – it reaches everyone by closing the ‘comfort level gap’ in buying and donating on-line. Cheers to that!

2.Direct-Mail Fundraising: While the ‘trend’ is on-line
fundraising – Direct-Mail remains the go to year-end fundraising tactic. November was flooded with hints and tips on how to move your direct mail from good to great. Top articles and blogs included: Best Direct Mail Teasers, Direct Mail Follow Up, Personalize Your Audience, and If You Want People to Read Your Appeals Remember This…

3. Creating your Fundraising Plan for 2013: Headline leaders include: Preventing Donor Attrition, Mobile Giving – What is it? How to Use it?, and One Thing you can do to Raise Money in the New Year.

4. The Fiscal Cliff!: According to the Non Profit Times and every major news network, we are abundantly aware of the looming “fiscal cliff”. Prepare for the fall or fall-out in January. The Non Profit Times writes, “charities are wary of not only losing direct federal funding for some programs but also fear being overwhelmed to make up the difference in potentially lost services.” More to come on the imminent back-lash in January.

5. Crowd Funding: Crowd Funding takes the prize for what was trending in 2012. From what I can tell, the term went viral when the Obama Administration began using it. I believe it’s best defined by what Fundly, Kickstarter and indiegogo are doing to raise money for small to large non or for profit organizations.

What was trending in Fundraising this month: October 2012

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Monitoring fundraising/philanthropy blogs and articles this past month, here is what’s trending:

1. Lance: The saga of cyclist Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace continues to grace the news this October as he steps down from his LiveStrong Foundation now that he’s been found guilty of doping by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and stripped of his seven Tour de France victories. He’s also facing a lifetime ban and the foundation has experienced a dip in donations.

2. #GivingTuesday: The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, November 27, 2012 has been dubbed and branded as Giving Tuesday and widely marketed throughout the month. The campaign encourages giving which supports your preferred nonprofit organizations.

3. Sandy’s Wrath and Aftermath: The outpouring of support for Sandy’s devastation had been the promotion of the celebrity-filled and widely promoted live one-hour special on Friday, November 2 in response to the disaster caused by the storm. Hosted by NBC “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, the broadcast was presented from the New York studios of NBC at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and raised a very worthy $23 million.

4. Breast Cancer Awareness Month: In my humble opinion, it’s simply the preeminent branding success story in the US perhaps the world.

5. Holiday Fundraising: Check out donationpage.org. You will find the clever “pre-holiday on-line work out” which includes: ‘warming up’ your landing page, ‘strength’ training for your story, social media ‘cardio’, ‘stretch’ to keep your fundraising limber, and an analytical ‘cool’ down.

What was Trending in Fundraising this September 2012

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Monitoring fundraising/philanthropy blogs and articles this past month, here is what’s trending in fundraising this past month:

1. How to Raise Money via Facebook: We’ve got the “21 things you should know about facebook” type of articles, how nonprofits can use facebook ads effectively, and my favorite, separating your personal facebook page from your non profit page; sounds simple – not necessarily so….

2. Year-end Fundraising: Just yoga’d the Autumnal Equinox and simultaneously my in-box is over-loading with solicitations to prepare for year end. It’s reminiscent of school supplies showing up in Target the day after the 4th of July. What was out there in September: how to do it, start it now, get your board to help, hire someone to do it for you now!, help your donor’s say ‘yes’, and year-end mistakes to avoid. It’s some good stuff; read up on it NOW!

3. The Iphone 5: Not so much fundraising, but certainly trending and with that there are new fundraising apps and fundraising-use chatter. For example: “think face to face – think mobile”. Or this new app: Shoparoo has partnered with Proctor & Gamble and Unilever, who produce brands like Dove, Suave, Ragu and Skippy, to raise money for schools. Consumers essentially donate (report) their purchasing habits. You use the app to submit receipts from super-centers, groceries, clubs, pet stores, dollar stores, convenience stores and drug stores- a portion of the proceeds arrive at your designated school; but beware OR prepare for coupons galore filling your in-box.

4. Saying “Thanks”: Clearly this September trend is securely attached to many nonprofit’s rounding the corner to their fiscal year-end. From the “art of saying thank you” to “anyone can say thank you – just have someone do it”.

5. Political Fundraising: This could very well remain on the ‘what’s trending’ short list long after November 4th. A couple new ones to be mindful of: The Chronicle added, “Where the 2012 Presidential Candidates Stand on Key Nonprofit Issues” by Suzanne Perry. The Non Profit Times included, “With Election Around The Corner, Charities Must Tread Carefully” by Janice Ryan & Ronald Jacobs. I encourage you to read both if you haven’t already.

If you want to contribute to ‘what’s trending in fundraising’, give me a holla at
marcie@wagnerfundraising.com.

Fundraising: What’s Trending this Month

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Monitoring fundraising/philanthropy blogs and articles this past month, here’ what’s trending in fundraising:

1. Political Fundraising: Shocker! More specifically, campaign volunteers giving first before asking. Does celebrity endorsement/giving hurt or help? Secret, non-traceable data-mining for the perfect prospective donor.

2. Livestrong: Hum. Good guy or Bad guy? Drops the doping fight (admission of guilt?) and bolsters Livestrong charities (again!). Two things are certain, this guy has a steadfast core group of donors and he made silicon bracelets must-have bling.

3. Should Non Profits Jump on the Social Media Train? Gosh, this is topic trending for 2012 for sure. Current or on-going discussion: small non profits are missing out by not utilizing social media, what social media increases google rankings (kinda varies but pretty much: Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn), How to use Social Media to raise money and so on….

4. Women are more Generous than Men – so pay attention to us! Not certain why this came up so much this month, could be driven by the Chronicles’ recent blog on the topic – those trendsetters!

5. Design: Website, Colors, Image, Slogan, Name….lot’s of branding chatter to increase your nonprofit chatter.

Start Your NonProfit for Sustainability: Part Two Fundraising

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Finally, you are now in business and we can start fundraising for your organization in earnest.  Nonprofits, like most start up businesses, begin with the founder personally (and perhaps your board members) funding the organization until it can be funded with outside sources.  If you have to fund the organization yourself at the beginning, be sure to keep meticulous records of what you have put into the organization and be clear about its intent. For example, whether your funding is a gift or a loan to the organization. Here are some creative, fun and traditional ways to fund a nonprofit organization:

  1. Sell Something.  Collect and sell items on Ebay or Craigslist to raise your start-up capital.
  2. Borrow Against Life Insurance Policies.  If you have a life insurance policy, check to see if it has cash value. Most policies start accumulating cash value after a certain period of time.  When you borrow against your life insurance policy, your policy stays intact as long as you continue paying the premiums when due.  If you die while there’s an outstanding loan against your policy then the face amount is reduced by the loan amount. The nice thing about borrowing against your life insurance policy is that there’s no credit check, or income verification like most other loans. All you have to do is call you insurance company and let them know you want to borrow the cash value.
  3. Borrow from Family and Friends.  Your friends and family are a good source of capital fundraising. This might be one of the most cost effective ways to fundraise for your business—that’s if your friends or family members are not asking for interest on the loan.  You can also protect the spirit of the transaction by putting your agreement in writing and making small payments as soon as you can.
  4. Grants.  Depending on what your business is there are a number of small and large corporations that give away money in the form of grants.  Grants are usually competitive in nature, but once you receive the money repayment is not required or expected.  Grant amounts vary and some may have conditions. Once your grant period is complete, you should mail the grantor a final report clearly indicating what was accomplished with the grant money. This should be done whether or not it is required.
  5. Fundraising Registry Sites.  There are many fundraising sites that are geared toward nonprofits.  Most fundraising sites have fees or a percentage that you are required to pay based on the amount of money you raise.  The fees the site owner may charge could include a monthly user fee, or credit card fee and other nominal charges.  You should check before you start using the site.  Once you’ve set up your fundraising idea on the registry then it is up to your efforts to send your site link to everyone you know and request a donation.  Let them know how their contribution will help you and this will motivate donors. This is a fun way to raise money through your own creativity and watch your money grow on your site. Don’t forget to say “thank you”. Some fundraising registry sites to research are Network for Good and Razoo.
  6. Place a Donate Button on Website.  More and more nonprofits have a “donate” button on their websites.  If your ultimate goal is to fundraise then you need to consider a “donate” button on every page of your website. The internet technology today makes it easier for individuals to donate anytime without leaving the comfort of their home.

If you find a couple or even just one of the above idea’s to make sense and feel it will give your new organization enough cushion to seed your program – I would recommend that you also give some thought to investing in a part-time fundraising professional. Oftentimes the first investment in a fundraising professional is a consultant; which is smart as it most likely will bring in more money sooner rather than later. It is important to note that it may be more beneficial to your organization in the long run to have them on staff. Whichever direction you take, give thoughtful consideration to the level of importance those donor relationships are to offer your organization sustainability over the long-haul.

Five Simple Steps to Evaluating Your Program

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

By Jenelle Montoya and contributing author Marcie L. Wagner

January 2012

For a startup nonprofit, the idea of “program evaluation” can be overwhelming, and yet funders are increasingly asking grantees to provide not only numbers served, but demographic information and outcomes-based information. As more nonprofits compete for a reduced funding pool, it’s important that they know and understand the difference their investment made in your ability to carry out the organizational mission. Let’s say your mission is to provide a safe place for youth.  Sure, you may have given Jim a place to sleep for the night, but how did that positively impact his life and his future? What did you do for Jim to prevent him from having to use your services in the future? How many “Jim’s” did you help in 2011? How many did you turn away? What are their ages? Where did they come from? Why did they come? How many are high school drop outs? How many have their GED? How many are immigrants? And so on….

The secret to getting started is to keep program evaluation simple and include board members, staff, and anyone else involved in data collection and use. It’s easy to end up with “analysis paralysis” if you try to do too much too soon. Realize that program evaluation is a process, not an event. It can take many months to implement, and years to refine. What’s important is that you get started now. If you receive grant funding, you really have no choice. We are here to help!

STEP ONE: Decide What You Will Measure. First you need to know what outcomes your funders want at year’s end. Second, you must track the information your organization’s leadership needs in order to make knowledgeable decisions that either impact the course of your organization’s future or ensure your organization is tracking with your strategic plan (if you have one). This process can be as simple as reviewing different reports required by existing funders and the grant guidelines of your prospects. Sit down with your board president or create an ad-hoc Program Evaluation committee to take on the task. There are several levels of knowledge you might need when it comes to collecting program data:

  • ·         Data including age, residence, income, race, ethnicity (demographics)
  • ·         Numbers served, goods distributed, or other units of service you define (outputs)
  • ·         The impact of your services on the lives of your clients (outcomes)

Demographic data is easy to collect. It can be as simple as handing each client a form to fill out. If confidentiality is important, your form doesn’t require a name.  In order to count numbers served or units of service, staff must be trained to record the people they serve each day and the specific activities they engage in with the client.

Measuring the impact your services make on clients is a bit difficult, but it can be the most valuable and rewarding data you collect.  If you decide to measure impact, it will benefit you to explore creating a logic model. A logic model illustrates the relationships between inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and goals that create the structure and flow of your organization. Briefly, inputs are the resources that go into making your program activities possible, such as technology, training, people and funding. The activities you undertake as part of your program are what you will do to accomplish your goals. Outputs are the product of your program, as in the number of people served or the number of items distributed or made. Finally, outcomes are the impact of your work on those you serve, or the change affected in their lives. Logic models are a complex topic and there are many different approaches that can be taken to developing one for your program. Resources are available for assistance in creating a logic model, including the United Way of America’s book “Measuring Program Outcomes,” which is available at www.unitedwaystore.com for a mere $5. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has also created a more complex logic model guide which can be downloaded free from their Knowledge Center at www.wkkf.org.

Finally, set quantitative goals around the items you’ve decided to measure. If you exclusively measure demographics, create a goal that 80% of clients served are classified homeless by federal definition, which helps you measure the impact of organizational outreach, or marketing and advocacy work. If you measure numbers served or other units of service, your goal could be to provide 1,000 children with shoes in a 12-month period, or provide 800 hours of community outreach to areas with high youth crime rates. An example of an outcome to measure impact would be that 75% of clients are able to provide for their food and shelter needs upon exit from your program, or that 60% of individuals receiving parenting education report a greater sense of harmony and wellbeing in their households after they complete a course.

STEP TWO: Determine the Tools You Will Need. Assess your current evaluation tools, such as client intake forms or reporting already required by current funders, refining what you’re already doing and preventing duplication. The tools you need and the cost of collecting data depends on what you’ve decided to measure and the complexity of your plan. If you’ve decided to collect demographic data, you can use current intake forms by including questions which add depth. If you collect numbers served or units of service involve your staff in deciding how to do it efficiently. Use simple ticker sheets compiled by hand, or use electronic spreadsheets with embedded formulas to automatically tabulate numbers. Google Docs offers a free way to create electronic forms in an online database which allows you to distribute to a number of users via email. The software automatically compiles the numbers submitted on the forms into a single spreadsheet which you can use for reporting. A more costly option is to purchase database management software.  There are several companies offering tailor-made solutions.

When collecting outcome-based data to measure impact, it can be difficult to determine the best method. Let’s go back to Jim. After providing Jim with a place to sleep for the night, your outcome is to link him with community resources and increase his knowledge and utilization of such services, and to ensure he follows through and uses your referrals. In order to accurately measure the outcome, you could provide him with an exit survey allowing him to rate your services and the likelihood that he will follow through with the referrals on a numerical scale. Let’s say Jim does return; during the intake rate his level of improvement on a scale from 1 to 5 since his last visit. At year-end calculate how many clients returned once, twice, or never. If you come up with a logical way of quantifying this data, you can easily record it in a database and tabulate it. Remember that you are the expert when it comes to your work and the data collection methods most applicable and reasonable for your particular service(s).

STEP THREE: Assign Responsibility. When possible, put this responsibility in the appropriate staff person(s) job description. When you designate a person to manage the data collection process, including compilation and reporting, you are 90% on your way to success. Make sure you choose someone who has the skills and understands the value in evaluation, and then provide them with the tools and training. In our hypothetical “safe place for youth” scenario, it makes sense to designate staff in charge of client intake and discharge to collect and manage data collection. If data collection is new to your organization and the responsibility was not in a job description upon hire, you may encounter resistance from program staff to take on additional tasks.  We suggest you don’t act flip about adding to their already long list of responsibilities Instead, introduce data collection in the form of a PowerPoint presentation to the entire staff. Begin with your logic model, as it will best convey that program evaluation requires everyone’s full support and assistance. It will also clearly explain who is best positioned to collect the data: program staff. Place a quantitative value on the importance of data collection and how it will directly and positively impact their job and their work with clients by, for instance, sharing the amount of support received from funders who require the data. Well done evaluation opens the door to new and increased funding; it gathers emotional and financial support from your community as you tell your story through qualified and quantified data which proves you’re making a difference.  

STEP FOUR: Implement. You’re ready to implement the project evaluation plan once you’ve decided what to measure, obtained and prepared the necessary tools, and determined who is responsible. Implementation should begin by creating a clear and concise procedure manual. This manual will define those responsible, the timing and frequency of data collection, and when and how often reports are produced and reviewed. It will also serve as an invaluable resource for training new staff. Your designated data manager(s) must be vigilant in the beginning, checking in on staff to ensure they follow the procedure. In an effort to make your oversight seem less invasive, solicit suggestions on how the system is working and whether there are ways to improve the system and make it more efficient. Ask all staff responsible to track the amount of time data collection is requiring and watch closely to see if the time allotted begins to wane as they grow accustomed to the process. When you secure new funding, double check your current data collection to ensure your existing system will provide the evaluation data they require; if not, implement their unique specifications as seamlessly as possible and update the staff, forms and procedure manual.

STEP FIVE: Utilize your Data. This is the step where many nonprofits tend to fall short; conversely it can be where the process of collecting data and evaluating comes full circle via new, renewed or upgraded gifts.  

Most likely your organization has a strategic plan. Every decision your board makes should relate directly to that plan. A strategic plan primarily takes into account all things related to successfully and sustainably carrying out your mission over the long haul.  This information boils down to finance and program impact to make certain your organization or program is carrying out its mission. You feed your board this information as a result of successful data collection. If your data reveals problems or issues, leadership can make informed decisions and act accordingly. If your data reflects positive results, send out a press release and publicize your successful outcomes in your newsletter(s), annual report, and website.

All donors (whether corporate, foundation or individual) want and need to know their return on investment. Their return on investment can be given qualitatively through client testimonials, and quantitatively by showing impact in numbers. For example, maybe you’ve helped 1,000 people increase their knowledge of how to gain employment by 80%. That’s something to celebrate!

A program evaluation system is beneficial to nonprofits on many levels.  Developing the system requires organizational investment, but it doesn’t have to be cumbersome or costly. Some orga­nizations may feel they can’t afford to spare any amount of time for such a project. We say organizations can’t afford to ignore such a project. If nonprofits want to survive and thrive, they must acknowledge their duty to supporters and clients by measuring the impact (or lack of impact) of their mission.