Tracy Turner, Chief Philanthropy Officer,
Community Foundation of Western Nevada –
In March 2014 a group of nonprofit CEOs came around the Community Foundation conference table to talk about applying for SIF (Social Innovation Fund) dollars. This same group—United Way, Join Together Northern Nevada, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Food Bank, Community Foundation—worked together to submit a collaborative grant request in 2010; we weren’t successful with that request, in part, because we couldn’t document that we were using Evidence-Based Practices. Four years later—in a similar discussion, the group realized it was no closer to being able to write a successful grant request for the same reason. An interesting shift occurred: we could let four more years go by and still be unprepared—or we could spend a very productive year together learning about EBP. The consensus was to learn.
What is evidence-based practice (EBP)? At its core EBP is evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of programs and services to a) know what works and what doesn’t and b) know what’s changing—for better and for worse. Only with evidence is an organization able to determine what is actually making a difference toward achieving the goal. Lots of money is put into programs and services that appear to fulfill a need. The questions to be answered are: do they really? In what specific, measurable ways? Is that benefitting our community? How? Prove it.
When you think about EBP, think about medical product testing. First the product is created and then it is tested to see if it produces the desired results. If it does, it goes to market. If it doesn’t, it’s modified and retested; or it’s scrapped. The goal of EBP is to give organizations proof about the impact of their programs. With this proof, organizations can modify those programs to improve their effectiveness. More effective programs lead to greater impact toward accomplishing the mission of the organization.
Our learning experience has several goals:
a) understand all that EBP entails,
b) understand where to start in evaluating effectiveness of our programs and services,
c) help our community start collecting outcomes that measure the impact of programs/services provided,
d) discover whether our northern Nevada community is delivering programs that might be worth replicating elsewhere
e) be ready to position ourselves as a testing ground for innovative programming and future SIF dollars and other funding that requires measurable outcome reporting.
Over the last month, we’ve met with experts on evaluation to help us understand what EBP is and how it can be implemented. We’ve acknowledged that if we don’t start now, we’ll remain unprepared to seek funding that could bolster the services offered in our community. But what has kept some nonprofits from implementing EBP prior to now?
Evaluating program effectiveness is expensive. Many nonprofits are unaware of EBP; others are aware of EBP but can’t afford to start implementing it. Some of the larger nonprofits have been doing EBP for years and recognize the value of having all nonprofits doing EBP. Other nonprofits are carving money out of their operating budgets to develop EBP—because they know that over the long haul they will be in a better position to request funding when they can prove the effectiveness of their programs. But they aren’t just doing EBP to chase funding. They are doing it because they want to know that their programs work.
Brave nonprofit leaders attending these meetings—those already doing evidence-based programs and those ready to implement what it takes to measure their effectiveness—are ready to transform the DNA of our community; they know we can’t wait any longer to get started with these steps. They know that funders at all levels are eager to see the proof of their dollars’ impact.
I love that the Community Foundation has since its inception made over $70 million in grants—much of that staying right here in northern Nevada. Many of our fundholders have close ties with the charities they support and know exactly how their dollars are improving the work of those charities. With evidence-based practices embraced by our community’s nonprofits, we’ll able to tell the story of the collective impact of how grantmaking is supporting northern Nevada. We’ll be able to assess the results in quantifiable ways, fund effective programs and services that have a verifiable impact, and watch our charity partners improve their programs based on evidence and increase their impact. Donors already have a high degree of confidence that their donated dollars are supporting needed programs, but with EBP in place they will be able to see measurable outcomes.