In September 2012, I decided to go back to school part-time and do the Public Relations Program at Macewan University. I will complete my program later this year and I can’t speak highly enough about the program, the instructors and the content. It was also an opportunity for me to explore the for-profit world from an interesting standpoint: my entire post post-secondary work experience has been in the nonprofit sector. I started my professional career here at VA and going back to school (in this particular program) has taught me that while there are many similarities between the sectors, the nonprofit sector can be very different.
The courses in my program have been quite varied but several concepts and principles run throughout the program. One in particular that hit close to home was the RACE formula: research, analyze, communicate, evaluate. After learning how crucial the research phase is to a communications plan, I realized how often we aren’t able to do that in the nonprofit sector. As we carefully craft funding proposals and consider the logistics of program operations, we don’t always have the time to research to validate that this new program/initiative/project is required in the sector or in our community. We hope for the best and if that project doesn’t quite meet targets, we wonder why. Was it something we did? Did we miss something? Did the logo or font not appeal to people?
It’s not for lack of trying. When a funding approval letter comes in the mail months after the project’s projected start date it creates a sense of urgency. Sometimes there simply isn’t time to research, because from day one it’s already behind and the tendency is to head right to program planning.
Evaluation is also an aspect that can also be inadvertently neglected. We complete the funding report templates, but will we relate those results back to our strategic plan or our mission and values? Once we give the funder the information they require, how can we turn it into something tangible to demonstrate impact and perhaps produce better results next year?
Research should be built into project timelines and budget, with ample time for focus groups, surveying or literature review. Evaluation needs to be an accurate reflection of the success of the project for an organization, not just the return on investment for funders.
We might even find that thorough evaluation will recommend research.
Check out these resources on research & evaluation:
VARC Learning Resource Guides on Program Evaluation
Pillar Nonprofit Network – Sector Research
Or, search VARC for research and evaluation resources
Lisa Michetti, Member Engagement Manager