What Does It Mean for a Nonprofit to Have an Evaluation?

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An evaluation helps a nonprofit assess how effectively it is reaching its goals—for example, how well it is implementing its programs according to their design, or whether (and to what extent) these programs create their desired outcomes. An evaluation can be done once, to provide an overview of the organization’s performance, or it can be periodic. It can also examine different facets of the organization—for example, programs or internal processes.

Ideally, evaluations will help organizations understand their programs’ impact on participants compared to individuals who do not receive the intervention. For instance, a charter school might ask an outside firm to perform an evaluation to determine whether its students—chosen by lottery to attend—are more likely to graduate from high school than the students who also entered the lottery (and are thus a comparable group) but did not gain admission. Alternatively, the charter school organization could commission an evaluation to understand whether the different schools in its network create the same outcomes for students.

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