In today’s society, as a good steward of charitable dollars, it’s of utmost importance to continually demonstrate the effectiveness of the health and social service programs we fund. Our contributors—and the community—must be assured that their investments to the Heart of Illinois United Way are worthwhile.
Like many charities and foundations, our United Way places high importance on evaluation, particularly in regard to the grant proposals we receive from member agencies. Evaluation is an opportunity to receive, and then share with our contributors, outcome data that helps the community assess the extent of change our local health and social service programs provide. More than 65 volunteers from diverse segments of our community evaluate these programs to ensure contributions to the United Way are being well spent and making the greatest impact possible.
Evaluation efforts must be community-based so they continue to address critical local issues—not only proving a program or service works, but also allowing agencies opportunities for improvement.
The Heart of Illinois United Way uses two sets of criteria for evaluating requests for funding. In the first set, programs must be able to show they’re well managed, have diverse funding sources, seek out opportunities for collaboration, and provide successful client-based outcomes. In addition, and key to United Way’s efforts of community problem solving, programs requesting funds must address one of the issue areas defined by the United Way in response to community needs and conditions; these issue areas include youth, families, self-reliance, and health.
The second set of criteria used in the United Way’s evaluation process provides additional standards to assess a program’s quality and impact. These consider whether or not the program serves at-risk populations, if the program is focused on prevention, if the agency providing the program is fiscally sound, if the agency provides scholarships and sliding-fee scales to address clients’ varying ability to pay for services, and if the agency effectively utilizes volunteers in their programs.
Effective evaluation isn’t a one-time occurrence but, rather, an ongoing process that demonstrates how programs are being managed, how they’re changing clients’ lives, and how they’re impacting the community. Evaluation takes many steps to be effective—from the initial assessment of community needs to connecting those needs to agency programs, and ultimately, providing results to our contributors so they know they’ve made the best investment of their charitable dollars. IBI