Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

Evaluation of Capital Projects

Jenna-NZ Author: Jenna Ash

What is the long term impact of that printer?

My recent conversations with grant-seekers have left me feeling pretty confident that organisations understand the increasing importance of evaluating their social impact, and are able to report to their funders on the ongoing impact of their programmes. In the Grant Seeker Workshop we ran in Auckland recently, nearly 100% of the participants said they were evaluating the outcomes and impact of their programmes – well done!

For ongoing projects or programmes, evaluation is a no-brainer. As much as you need to evaluate your projects so that you know you are actually making a difference, ongoing funding also relies on your ability to demonstrate the change you are creating.

What then, is the situation with one-off capital projects, where ongoing funding is not necessarily needed, and the project is not your organisation’s ordinary business?

What we are seeing is that often well planned, robust strategy is not being translating over into capital projects. It is not uncommon for us hear that organisations don’t have evaluation methods in place for capital projects, and that they are not given as much priority internally.

As accustomed as we are becoming to highlighting the outcomes and impact of our programmes in our communities, it is not often that one discusses the outcomes of the purchase of a new printer (as an example of a small scale capital project). Even the outcomes of the building of a new office (as an example of a large capital project) are not often talked about.But the result of ignoring evaluations of capital funding is that, come reporting time Funding Managers are having to scramble to pull together whatever information is available to prove to the funders that the intended outcome was achieved. The information is often neither planned, robust, fit-for-purpose, or even useful.

Funders want to know that the money they have provided to fund capital projects, has, in turn, created change.This is just as true for a printer as a new building; it is simply the level of evaluation or information that will change.

We need to remember that funders have to measure their impact too. They also need to be able to tell their stakeholders about the impact that their funding is having (especially Government funders). Unfit-for-purpose information not only makes that task difficult for them, but may irk them enough to red-flag your next funding request (it may be months or even years away, but never say never), or, possibly even worse, talk to other funders about it! (Yes, they all talk together about which organisations are being naughty or nice!).

So, what is best practice when it comes to evaluation of capital projects?

Educate

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Educate your project leaders, board, and other colleagues. Those involved in capital projects within your organisation must be made aware of the role of funding in the project, the importance of the funder as a partner to the project, the importance of evaluation to the funder, and the funder’s information requirements.

That way, you are working alongside a team that understands what is needed, and will provide you with timely, useful information for your reporting.

Evaluate (plan it and do it)

It is crucial that evaluation is built into the project at the planning stage, just as you would with ongoing programmes. Think about the outputs, outcomes, and longer term impacts that the capital project is intended to achieve, and design an evaluation methodology around this (the process of doing this is much more than can be described in a blog post, let alone a paragraph, see our article over at FINZ.org.nz for more tips).

It is also important to think about the donors you are targeting, and the information that they will need to see. This should be relevant to the size of your organisation andthe size of the capital project.

More often than not, you will be asked in the application form about how you intend to measure your outcomes and impact. Your answer to this should be a true description of a well-thought-out and planned evaluation technique that will be undertaken.

Educate and Evaluate. It sounds simple. In practice, it can be. It requires thought and planning to create an evaluation methodology that will provide you, and your funder, with the appropriate level of relevant information. So many organisations are doing evaluations of community programmes so well. If we want to position ourselves as reliable, planned grant seekers, evaluation of capital projects needs to become a no-brainer too.