This paper advocates for the creation of an overall evaluation plan— or “evaluation system” — for all nonprofit organization programs. Such an evaluation plan would aim to build the capacity of nonprofit organizations implementing social programs by enabling them to learn from their experience, strengthen partnerships, and promote strategic thinking in their organizations. Through evaluation, organizations implementing social programs can become more effective in their own work, and also present clearer and more persuasive evidence of their effectiveness (“tell their story”) for solving social problems. By embedding evaluation in the work of nonprofit organizations, social programs will become more effective in serving the public, and bringing about social benefits, social empowerment, equity and gender equality, protection of the environment, and other social change goals.
This paper outlines a step-by-step process for designing evaluations that bring value-for-money, ensure that funders are evaluating what matters, clarify desired outcomes of strategies and program designs, and are embedded in social sector organizations.