ISSUE NUMBER 3   |   APRIL 7, 2014 
Oops, I Forgot to Evaluate! 3 Easy Steps for Retrospectively Evaluating Your Funding Initiative

It's year five of your five-year funding initiative, and you need to report progress to your board. You're thinking, "Darn, I wish I had included evaluation planning when we developed this initiative. Now I'd have a better way to show our results."

Sound familiar? Don't worry; you aren't alone. Many funders don't fund or even think about evaluation at the outset. However, there are three things you can do retrospectively to learn from the past and inform your future. I recommend enlisting the help of an external evaluation consultant, who will be more objective, will be able to devote the time needed, and will be more likely to elicit honest feedback from grantees and stakeholders.

Conducting a retrospective evaluation is as simple as look, listen, and learn.

  1. Look at reported accomplishments and compare them to objectives. Your grantees identified their project goals and objectives in their proposals, and hopefully they reported on their progress in their annual grant reports. You can review these documents to determine which objectives were met (or exceeded) and which weren't.

  2. Listen to your grantees. Interview them to learn what they see as major accomplishments, barriers, current needs, and opportunities for further investment.

  3. Learn from other key stakeholders and experts. The world has changed in the two, five, or ten years since you planned your funding initiative, and so have the needs of your constituents. Review the recent literature or conduct interviews, surveys, or focus groups.

Although including a project-wide evaluation plan from the start of your initiative is always the best approach, it's not too late to create some meaningful lessons and metrics when your project is well underway or even winding to a close. Most retrospective evaluations can be conducted and reported within a matter of weeks.

To learn more about how to effectively evaluate your work, read the full article.

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Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is the president of Putnam Consulting Group, Inc. and author of the Philanthropy411 blog.

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