The importance of monitoring and evaluation for your nonprofit organization

Monitoring and evaluation (often abbreviated M&E) are two separate, yet related, tools for assessing and understanding program implementation and impact. While evaluation professionals often have college degrees or other advanced education in evaluation, data collection, statistics, or qualitative research methods, there are several things your nonprofit can do to increase your ability to plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices.

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between monitoring and evaluation, their importance to program effectiveness, and key steps your organization can take to increase your ability to develop monitoring and evaluation systems. There are also many great resources from grant makers like the World Bank and the United Nations, as well as textbooks. Please see the list at the end of this article for good sources of additional reading.

What is monitoring and evaluation?

Monitoring and evaluation is necessary to build an evidence base about the needs your programs address and to evaluate the various interventions that are often implemented to address the problem globally. They are tools for identifying and documenting successful programs and approaches and for tracking progress towards common indicators across relevant projects. Monitoring and evaluation forms the basis for understanding the underlying factors and the effectiveness of the response at the service provider, community, national and international levels. [United Nations. 2012]

Monitoring is a systematic and long-term process that collects information regarding the progress of the implemented project. Evaluation is time-bound and is conducted to judge whether the project has reached its objectives and achieved what was expected according to its original plan. [FundsforNGOs. 2013]

Monitoring and evaluation both use social research methods to conduct systematic investigations, helping to answer a common set of questions. Despite these common goals, their roles are different. The focus of monitoring is to track program implementation and progress, including program activities and processes, outputs, and initial results. Monitoring focuses on both what is being done in the program and how it is being done to support management decisions and accountability. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]

Evaluation relies on monitoring and tracking to make judgments about program performance. The analysis carried out as part of the assessment is usually based on the compilation of a body of data, including that gained through observation. Evaluation is concerned with creating a deeper understanding of change. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]

Why is monitoring and evaluation important?

Monitoring and evaluation are important management tools. Non-profit organizations (and = for-profit businesses) use it to track progress and enable informed decision-making. While some donors require some form of monitoring and evaluation, the people your organization works with can be the largest consumers of evaluation. By thoroughly and honestly examining your work, your nonprofit can develop effective and effective programs and activities and a source of powerful change for society.

The need for monitoring and evaluation also arises in the contemporary policy context where management strategies such as RBM (Results Based Management) have affected the expectations placed on organisations. Monitoring and evaluation has become a vital part of making an informed decision about the future of a programme. This is especially important when a program is committed to learning what works for its intended beneficiaries and adjusting its programs based on the results. [Markiewicz & Patrick. 2016]

Monitoring and evaluation should be part of the program planning and management process; It is not just an essential component of a scholarship application. An evaluation plan is something that should be included in the design phase of a project because it lays the foundation for accurately measuring results, engaging the appropriate stakeholders, and identifying changes that need to be made to assign appropriate resources needed to increase social impact. Furthermore, proper monitoring and evaluation provides funders with accurate data that is often used to assess the need for ongoing support.

What does your nonprofit need to get started?

Developing a monitoring and evaluation system is, of course, not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The steps required will depend on the program you are planning for and your organization’s specific needs. When asked “If the nonprofits you work with could do one thing to be ready to work with an appraisal consultant, what would it be?”

Be open minded and ready for change. The responsibility of the assessment consultant is to assess the needs of the target population within the service environment and to develop an actionable plan to meet this need. Of course, managing this plan consists of collecting data and reporting the results, but if your current project does not meet the needs of the target population, what result does your project really produce? Sometimes it needs to change. Although this is not always the case, it is important to be prepared for constructive criticism and to be open to change if necessary.

There are also some general steps that apply to the development of most monitoring and evaluation systems. Below is an outline, adapted from the World Bank, that you may use to ensure that monitoring and evaluation are included in your program planning.

1. Identify stakeholders in each part of program design, implementation and reporting. Ensure that their input is included in monitoring and evaluation plans, as well as in program design.

2. Discuss and define the evaluation’s scope, purpose, intended use, audience, and budget.

3. Determine what you want to learn from program monitoring and evaluation. Develop evaluation questions based on these priorities. See our previous article Tips for Asking the Right Questions to help develop your assessment questions.

4. Identify indicators that provide a clear way to measure responses to the evaluation questions. Indicators can be quantitative or qualitative. A process indicator is information that focuses on how the program will be executed.

5. Find out the best data collection methods for your indicators and budget. Surveys, interviews, administrative and program data, and document reviews are examples of data collection methods.

6. Analyze the information you collect. Look for patterns or trends that you might want to investigate further.

7. Provide feedback and recommendations based on the analysis. Use data analysis to make recommendations about what works and what might need to be modified within your program.

8. Inform stakeholders of your recommendations, including data and how you reached your conclusions. Ask them for feedback on how best to use the results. [World Bank. 2007]

No matter which process you use, it is important that the theory and logic of your program serve as the foundation for your monitoring and evaluation systems. If you do not have a logical model for your program, please see our article on creating useful logical models.

Resources remain one of the biggest barriers for nonprofit organizations that want to increase their monitoring and evaluation activities. According to Innovation Network’s 2016 survey of US-based 501(c)3 organizations, 92% of nonprofits participated in an evaluation in the past year, with the vast majority (92%) receiving evaluation funding from a single organization. At least source. On the other hand, only 12% of the nonprofits surveyed spent 5% or more of their organizations’ budgets on evaluation. Less than one-tenth of nonprofits report having evaluation staff (internal or external). [Innovation Network. 2017]

Without adequate resources, it can be difficult to design and implement monitoring and evaluation systems. On the other hand, the data you collect through monitoring and evaluation activities can help you retain donors. Some nonprofits with successful monitoring and evaluation systems create data “dashboards” on their websites so that donors and other constituents can track the organization’s success. While we often talk about evaluation in relation to grant donors, the results of ongoing monitoring and evaluation can also prove to donors that their money is being properly used and allocated.

In conclusion, using monitoring and evaluation tools to evaluate and understand the implementation and impact of nonprofit programs provides important benefits for your organization. Consider increasing your organization’s ability to plan and implement good monitoring and evaluation practices by participating in a local chapter of the American Evaluation Association, attending a workshop at a nearby university, or talking with a RevGen consultant about simple things you might do that will yield a positive return on investment.

Additional references and readings

American Evaluation Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Funds for NGOs. Why is monitoring and evaluation important for NGOs? 2013

innovation network. The State of Evaluation 2016: Evaluation Capacity and Practice in the Nonprofit Sector. 2017

Markievicz, Anne and Ian Patrick. Develop monitoring and evaluation frameworks. SAGE Publications. 2016

National Center for Maternal and Child Health Education at Georgetown University

United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Why is monitoring and evaluation important? 2012

Urban Institute

world bank. Monitoring and evaluation advice sheet. 2007

Global Health Organization

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