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January 12, 2010

Most nonprofits, including a majority of the Clark Foundation’s grantees, do not yet have convincing quantitative evidence of their programs’ effectiveness and lack the organizational capacity to muster it. That is why we invest heavily in helping grantees build their organizational capacity—including developing the infrastructure they need to track and improve their performance.
When an organization implements a program, it’s important that it collect data documenting that participants in the program benefit from it. Developing an internal performance measurement system requires investing in information technology to collect the data systematically and in skilled personnel to analyze it. At the Clark Foundation, we call this High-Level Apparent Effectiveness.
While internally collected evidence can help demonstrate a program’s promise, independent, third-party research can marshal more persuasive evidence by systematically collecting and comparing data on outcomes for program participants and outcomes achieved by people the program does not serve. Once an organization can track internally a program’s performance, sees positive apparent results, and feels confident in the program model and its implementation, then it may be ready for an external comparison group evaluation. Reaching this level of evidence, which we call Demonstrated Effectiveness, requires additional investment in infrastructure.
Finally, an organization can build its performance-tracking capacity to the point where it can undertake a rigorous external evaluation that scientifically confirms a program’s impact on participants. This is what the Clark Foundation terms Proven Effectiveness.
We strongly believe that the ability to build a strong evidence base is inextricably linked to an organization’s overall capacity—and that both are prerequisites for achieving long-term sustainability.
Monday’s post: Evidence and Evaluation: Getting from Promise to Proof.
Tomorrow: Must every program be held to a single standard of evidence?

Nancy Roob