Welcome to "evaluation nerds" - CNM new consultants

April 13, 2017

Welcome to
CNM is thrilled to announce the addition of three new consultants to our team: Amy Campbell, Jessica Benton, and Hannah Wohltjen (right to left in the above photo) of Elevate Consulting. Amy, Jessica, and Hannah are evaluation experts who share more about what they do and why they believe it is important to nonprofits in the Q&A with CNM below:

1.  What draws the three of you to the nonprofit sector specifically?

We are in this to do the most good, and for us, supporting the nonprofits who have poured so much energy into doing what they do well is the space that we see ourselves doing the most good. Nonprofit organizations are often where “the rubber hits the road” and they are tasked with filling the gaps between what society has and what it needs, which is an enormous task.
In today’s economic climate, the resources they have to do that are getting smaller and more competitive, and nonprofits have to adapt and communicate their impact to their funders and supporters in meaningful ways. By supporting the organization to offer the most effective, best services to their clients and to tell that story to funders through meaningful evaluation, we think we can move elevate the state of practice and service for all of our clients, and in turn, all of their clients. 

2.  What is your working definition of “evaluation”? And what is not evaluation – are there any common misconceptions?

Evaluation is strategically collecting, organizing, and sharing information to inform decision making. It is something that can be done with organizations of any size and projects/programs of any scale, and it can be designed in a way that anyone can participate. High quality evaluation answers questions that decision-makers have about their program, rather than just reporting the number of program participants. Unless the data you collect is driving organizational decision making and service improvements, it’s just bean counting.


3.  What are some of your favorite tools to use in the evaluation process?

Hannah: I am a HUGE fan of data visualization mastermind, Stephanie Evergreen. Her blog is full of useful information about how to present data in a clear and meaningful way for a variety of audiences.
Jessica: I find rubrics to be really actionable, tangible, and a very straightforward way to synthesize a lot of information and immediately communicate how a program is doing both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Amy: I actually really love logic models (but more about that in the next question)! My second favorite evaluation tools are ones that can be used in a participatory way. Evaluation can be done by everyone (including folks served by nonprofits), and it can be a very empowering and uplifting process for everyone involved. Really any evaluation method can be done with a participatory way, but some of the best ones include qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups, etc.) and creative methods like Photovoice and Dotmocracy (which we’ll be sharing more about at the Bridge to Excellence conference). Click here to learn more about all Bridge to Excellence breakout sessions, including the session led by the Elevate Consulting team - Creative Engagement: Beyond Questionnaires & Surveys.


4.  “Logic models” can be a scary-sounding concept. But how are they useful?

Logic models are, at their core, a roadmap. It is a visual representation of what your program is doing and what change you want to see as a result of that. They can also be excellent tools to encourage communication between stakeholders to uncover assumptions about why we think X is going to create Y impact, and that conversation allows you to really think your program through.
They aren’t final, “set-in-stone” documents – they’re meant to help folks understand how things are working and can change based on new information. They can seem a little overwhelming at first, but at the end of the day, they provide a really clear picture of how things are supposed to work and are super helpful in explaining that to stakeholders (hello, funders!). 


5.  Sometimes evaluation has a negative reputation because it is viewed as an unwelcome task. How would you encourage nonprofits to shift their mindsets?

We think of two root causes of this. First, evaluation often comes as a top-down requirement from funders and can feel arbitrary or like it doesn’t actually provide meaningful information. We really want to shift the entire conversation about evaluation to center on meeting the needs of the organization or program, so they can learn and improve. This requires that evaluations are designed to fit in the workflow and to provide actionable information, which we are all about.
Second, we think that sometimes evaluation feels scary, and that there is a fear around pulling back the curtain and seeing what might be hiding behind it. The wonderful thing, though, is that evaluation can really help nonprofits manage their scarce resources strategically and make improvements in a very intentional way, and improve on the strong foundation that so many nonprofits have spent so long building. Engaging with evaluation to improve your organization lets you and your stakeholders see behind the curtain, which can be a key strength and make your organization more competitive in terms of funding.

6.  What are some types of consulting projects that you could help nonprofits with?

If it has to do with understanding your program better and communicating what you learn, we can help you do it! We are evaluation generalists and have experience working on diverse projects that span the evaluation “life cycle” – from planning and implementation to analysis and reporting. We can help develop logic models, design evaluation plans, identify data collection strategies that align with organizational workflows, select or develop instruments, conduct interviews and focus groups, analyze qualitative and quantitative data, or just turn your data into stunning reports.
We evaluate more than just programs as well. If you have questions about your donor base, volunteer engagement, organization as a whole  you name it  we can design an evaluation to answer those questions. 

7.  Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our approach is to meet clients where they are in their evaluation journey, to value their expertise and experience, and to enable them to better serve their community. We are all truly passionate about this work and so excited to be a part of this nonprofit community. Let us turn you and your organization into evaluation nerds too!
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