Monday, July 16, 2007

Information Gold Mine

If you owned a business and you had some great performance numbers—revenues, total sales, annual profits, or whatever—would you list them in a financial report? Certainly. You would also use those numbers in a variety of other ways—perhaps to congratulate and motivate your staff, or to publicize the success of your business to attract more customers or investors. As a smart businessperson you would try to promote success in any way that makes sense.

What about nonprofits? Do we make the most of our performance information? Many of us sit on a treasure trove of evaluation information without realizing its potential. Some organizations, however, have discovered ways to creatively use such information to effectively demonstrate their impact. I and my co-authors wrote our book, Information Gold Mine: Innovative Uses of Evaluation, to uncover and share some of the best examples of creative uses of evaluation. We wanted to showcase program managers who could talk to their peers about what they had done and the benefits it produced for them.

Our book highlights organizations who use their evaluation findings to improve their services, to raise funds, or to influence policy and legislation. For example, PACE, an organization in Florida that serves adolescent girls, uses its evaluation findings to inform the general public and donors about its work, to provide training and technical assistance to other organizations, and to influence legislation. In 2004, it influenced the passage of a bill that mandated gender-specific services for adolescents.

Another example is YouthZone, in Colorado, who used their evaluation to push for excellent programming based on sound data. They made real changes—dropping parts of their model and changing others—to get genuine results. Debbie Wilde, executive director, says it has also given her and her board “more confidence in talking with people who have financial resources, in doing public relations, and in being assertive in asking for referrals.”

Information Gold Mind is available from Fieldstone Alliance, (It will also be available at libraries soon.) You might also want to take a look at Wilder’s series of program evaluation tip sheets prepared by Cheryl Holm-Hansen highlighted on the first page of this Sampler. On the same topic, The Manager’s Guide to Program Evaluation, offers a framework for program managers to plan, contract, and manage useful evaluations. It is also available through Fieldstone.

We all strive to improve our effectiveness. Credible, clear data can empower us to continually adapt to our rapidly-changing environment, form good strategies, take control and be proactive in service delivery, alliance building, fundraising, marketing, and whatever else it takes to get our jobs done.

Perhaps you have some thoughts on this topic. Please let me know. Also, if you have an interest in more information about this book, or want to obtain it, visit the Fieldstone Alliance website.