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Making Evaluation Easier – Seven Steps to Better Program Evaluations

By Kate Caldecott

As published by AIGM 26 Aug 2015


Want to make grants evaluation easier?

I talk with a lot of grantmakers and evaluation is one of the most pressing issues.

I’m often asked how to put a better evaluation program in place when one is short on time. How to align the pieces together? How to support community groups so that they can actually do proper evaluation? How do you make evaluation less burdensome and more effective?

Evaluation is a dynamic improvement process. That means it may take a couple of cycles to get the full framework into place.

It is also important to remember the old saying: “horses for courses”. A $500 grant gets less evaluation than a $20,000 grant.

Finally, think about how the information gleaned in the evaluation will be used. It not only measures the impact your program is having in the community, it helps you identify and manage risks, and design better programs into the future.

With so much at stake, the secret to creating a good evaluation process is striking a balance. Too little evaluation and you won’t know the impact of your programs. Too much can become overly cumbersome.

While it’s true that evaluation is not easy, you can make it simpler. Here are seven key steps of to keep in mind:

Step 1: Review your process and make a plan

It all starts with planning. Knowing your purpose allows you to understand what you’re trying to achieve in terms of concrete goals. With those goals in mind, you select the best grantees, who go on to execute the most successful projects.

If evaluation is tacked on as an afterthought, than you run the risk of losing sight of your original purpose – so build in your evaluation framework upfront.

(Image source: AIGM Grantmaking Toolkit , courtesy Barry Smith and Fiona Dempster)

(Image source: AIGM Grantmaking Toolkit , courtesy Barry Smith and Fiona Dempster)



Ask yourself – “What is the purpose of your program?”

Is it aligned with your organizational objectives? What does success look like? Knowing what you’re hoping to see helps you set the framework for the rest of the program.

Step 2: Clarify your goals

Clarifying your goals is more than just writing a few things down on paper. Work out a clear vision: What are the effective interventions that have real potential to make a difference?

You might want to consider using a standardised classification system such as those provided by the Foundation Center and the Australian Institute of Grants Management (AIGM). Once you’ve got goals, objectives and measures down, you can build a strategic framework that drives your program forward.

Step 3: Getting your application right

Make sure you give priority to these questions up front so that you will get the answers you want (or need) later on. Ask yourself:

Get your grant applicants thinking about evaluation. Prompt them with the question even if they call about another matter. Remind them that the program is looking for results.

It may be obvious, but you need to ask the right questions in order to get the right answers.

Step 4: Assessing, selecting and managing the program

On the surface that sounds quite simple, but you need to be pragmatic.

Treat the different categories differently based on the dollars allocated, the risk of successful evaluation and the significance of the project benefits. Once you do that, it gives you a better chance of actually collecting the data effectively.

Clarity about what you need to collect allows you to guide your grantees as to which evaluation tools to use – observations, surveys, interviews, focus groups etc.

A good time to do this is when you award the contracts. This is the time to set expectations and build in the evaluation process in order to build skills and capacity.

Step 5: Making acquittals work for you

The big burning questions with acquittal are:

You only know if you ask.

Ask what activities were completed, whether there were any project changes, what the actual outcomes were, what their levels of success were and what lessons were learned.

Most importantly, you need to capture the data in an organised way. That means you have to be assessing each acquittal in the same systematic way that you assessed the application forms.

Step 6: Find out if the program made a difference

The only way you can have a chance of answering that question is by looking at each project and working upwards. Identify the results each project made and then compile and analyse that information to see the overall impact of your program.

Consider aspects like:

Step 7: – Learn, tell, review and build into the next cycle

Finally, you learn, you tell and you review because you may not have gotten everything right the first time.

Take the lessons learned and build them into the next round. Make adjustments each time you start a new program. That way you’re constantly improving your organisation, your programs and the impact you have the community.



See how your grant program stacks up. Together we'll review your grant program, how SmartyGrants can benefit your organisation, and how your program is performing.



Learn the 7 steps to build a stronger and better program evaluation. In this special Guide Kate Caldecott takes you step-by-step through the process to ensure that your Program Evaluation hits the mark.



  • Kate Caldecott worked with me on Australia Post’s Our Neighbourhood Community Grants program. She assisted with the grant process design and SmartyGrants grant management implementation.

    In working with Kate, I would describe her as being: passionate, knowledgeable, dedicated to community with a willingness to going the extra mile, above and beyond. It is always a pleasure to work with Kate.

    - Erin McKenzie, Community Events and Partnerships Advisor, Community Relations Australia Post
  • This is the perfect opportunity for me to thank you, in particular, ….. for the outstanding customer service you have all provided. You have not only helped us use SG effectively, but kept the panic at bay. There is lots more to learn about what SG can do and I’m sure we will be in regular contact …….

    Thanks to you all – you are fabulous!

    - Debra Slater-Lee, Programs Manager State NRM Office (WA)
  • Being a complete newbie on all aspects of Smartygrants I was daunted by the task of being completely responsible for the outcome of a major grant funding round at the Shire. I did the training and it still did not make much sense to me until I had my first session with Kate. The way in which Kate was able to clarify, explain and help me understand the rationale and functions of the system was brilliant, her manner always patient and professional, and her willingness to transfer knowledge and information commendable. Thanks to Kate I am now a confident user of Smartygrants

    - Marilyn A Gippsland VIC
  • Kate’s involvement in the final stages of the major review of two of Sunshine Coast Council’s funding programs added significant value to our work. As well as identifying additional sources of information for analysis, and suggesting enhancements to data presentation, Kate provided a professional critique of the review, validating our analysis of the review findings and the options identified in our report to Council.

    - Margaret Cattanach Team Leader Community Connections Community Services Sunshine Coast Council