Evaluation is not about creating knowledge for the sake of it. It’s about finding out how effective your work is so that you can make better decisions about the running of your interventions. It’s about maximising impact for beneficiaries and people at the front line.
Like many of my colleagues at NCVO Charities Evaluation Services, I come from a background in frontline service delivery, and to me evaluation is most satisfying when it makes a difference.
Evaluation is meant to be used
For six years we were the evaluation partner for the Campaign to End Loneliness. Their commitment to evaluation and use of findings was always impressive. They are an excellent example of how a small organisation (when I worked with them they only had four staff) backed by an enthusiastic funder, can do evaluation well. They made good use of its results, using it for planning, communications, service development, and, as described here, for fundraising. As their evaluator I read their funding proposals, and it was incredibly rewarding to see the work of NCVO CES throughout their bids.
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, the director of the Campaign since it started in 2011, has recently written a case study for Knowhow Nonprofit on how they have used evaluation findings for fundraising.
Tailor your evaluation findings
It is important to tailor your reporting to the requirements of funders and not rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. An interesting aspect of Laura’s case study is how cleverly they engaged with the funder relationship. With newer funding relationships, they made efforts to find out the funder’s level of understanding of evaluation, and they tailored their use of evaluation findings accordingly.
The Campaign also sought to find out what their funders valued in terms of evidence, using this to further tailor their communication with funders. They made good use of both external evaluations and monitoring data to present statistics alongside case studies and stories. They also made sure they added their own insights to the external evaluation findings.
Be honest about learning
Funders and commissioners are increasingly adopting approaches that focus on learning. With established funder relationships the Campaign has often found it possible to share warts-and-all findings. When doing so they have also highlighted their learning culture credentials by accompanying these findings with action points as to how evaluation recommendations were going to be learned from and dealt with.
Make the most of your evidence
The Campaign have made the most of their evaluation data to make an excellent case to funders about what they have achieved. If you go to the effort of collecting monitoring and evaluation data, it makes sense to use it to the full. And of course, impressing your current funders with your evaluation now may also help you gain future funding from them.