For the Sake of Your Clients, Collect the Data
Within a year of starting a new program at your non-profit, you’re likely to get the command from above, “Show me success!”
You may be feeling good about the program, but if you haven’t been collecting data you are in for a struggle. Specifically, with no data (or delayed data collection) you could:
1) Lose the opportunity to make a strong case for the impact of the program because you may not be able to compare current performance to performance before the program (baseline measures) or compare people who participated to those who did not (comparison measures).
2) Be less aware of other factors influencing your findings. If your agency is trying to increase local activism rates, think about how a presidential election during the same time might skew your results.
3) Not have time to collect the necessary data, particularly for focus group or interviews.
The solution is to start the evaluation early so you can triangulate data on your program- ideally plan your data collection before the program starts.
You could do this yourself by reviewing the program material to understand the goals and identify outcomes to measure or you could work with an evaluator.
The advantage, in addition to looking great in front of your board when they ask for data, is that you can continually monitor the program’s outcomes and adjust course if necessary. You can use the data to market the program, promote your organization, and most importantly, expand on the things that work well for your clients.