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December GBEN Roundtable Summary: Budgeting for Evaluation

12/19/2018 10:48 AM | Greater Boston Evaluation Network (Administrator)

On Tuesday, December 4th, GBEN hosted its last roundtable of the year about budgeting for evaluation.  Like all of our roundtables this year, we had great a turnout with 17 members participating.  The roundtable was designed to be an open dialogue focusing on the critical issues evaluators face when budgeting for evaluations. Guiding questions for the discussion included:

  • How do non-profits and other organizations fund evaluation staff, data management systems, and other elements of successful evaluations?
  • Is there a magic "rule of thumb" on how to allocate budget resources to evaluations?
  • Are there funders interested in supporting evaluation capacity building?
  • What are other processes or best practices to consider when budgeting for evaluation?  

Here are some of the key takeaways from the group discussion:

Evaluation staffing and capacity varies across organizations

Some organizations still have little-to-no dedicated evaluation staff on the payroll.  For many organizations, having a dedication evaluator is a new organizational initiative.  For those with dedicated evaluation staff, many are grant-funded, meaning once the grant is over, the position may be reduced or eliminated.

Evaluation budgets can span multiple departments

Many organizations spread evaluation costs and budgets across varying departments and/or programs.  Evaluation budgets can include staff who may not have the word “evaluation” in their job title or job responsibilities, including front-line program staff, data management and/or administrative staff, and/or information technology and systems staff.  For example, an organization may employ a Database Specialist through their IS/IT department who does critical evaluation-related work by using Efforts to Outcomes (ETO) software. 

Commitment from organizational leadership is key

Like all facets of a good evaluation initiative, commitment from senior management within an organization is important for evaluation funding.  Senior leadership and management are often best positioned to seek out, advocate for, and request funding for evaluation from key funding partners. 

Monitoring your evaluation work helps make the case for future or additional evaluation

Evaluation staff may hold the key to the magical data kingdom, but often time we don’t directly experience or see how the evaluation results are used to change or improve programmatic processes.  Be sure to document the collaborative process between the evaluation team and front-line program staff to highlight programmatic improvements that are a result of the evaluation findings. 

Relationships with development staff are key

It is very helpful to have a relationship between the development team and evaluation team, especially for grant writing.  Development staff understand funder needs and wants and can effectively communicate impressive evaluation results.

Assert your evaluation needs!

Most people have no idea what it takes to make an evaluation successful.  Often time it takes more than just a staff person.  Evaluation needs can include certain software, equipment, consultants with specific expertise, and other administrative needs like postage and mailing supplies.  Make a wish list of things you need and share it!

Seek out ways to reduce evaluation costs

While planning and conducting and evaluation, it’s important to always ask the question: “what do we want and what do we already have?”  For example, is there data already being collected or existing data systems that could serve your evaluation project?  Finding ways to lower evaluation costs may make it easier to acquire the necessary budget resources for an evaluation initiative. 

Resources:  (click here to access members-only resources from this roundtable)

  • Budgeting for Evaluation: Key Factors to Consider – a rubric developed by Westat for assessing how much to budget for evaluation
  • Budgeting for Evaluation from the 2014 Americorps Symposium  

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