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Blog > What is evaluation, really?

What is evaluation, really?

posted on Jun 23, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

“Evaluation is an important tool that your organization can use to demonstrate its accountability, improve its performance, increase its abilities for obtaining funds or future planning and fulfill the organizational objectives.” [1]

We’ll start with some definitions in this post, and then offer some evaluation frameworks in future posts. Subscribe to our RSS feed so you never miss a post!


Evaluation “involves measuring a targeted program’s inputs, processes, and outcomes so as to assess the program’s efficiency of operations and/or effectiveness in impacting the program’s targeted clientele group.” [2]

Formative Evaluation

During formative evaluation, ongoing operations are assessed for the purpose of adjusting practices to achieve greater effectiveness. Formative evaluation normally focuses on inputs and processes.

Summative Evaluation

Summative evaluation, on the other hand, involved measuring and assessing a program’s outputs, to measure impact.  


This is the ultimate effect of your program on the target population. For example, if you run a homework club for youth at risk, then an impact may be a future increase in gainful employment among residents of a neighbourhood.

You need to decide on your desired impact before you start, in order to design a program which will have a greater chance of achieving it.


There is a difference between Impact and Outcomes. Impact is broad, while outcomes are generally SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Some potential outcomes from your homework club could be the following:

Potential Outcome


kids did their homework regularly

between September, 2017 and June, 2018, participating youth will complete their homework 80% of the time.

they got better grades,

Participating youth will improve their GPA by 10% over the course of the 2017-18 school year.

they exhibited more pro-social behaviour at school

participating youth will achieve better marks and comments under “Learning skills and work habits” on their report cards over the course of the 2017-18 year.

they applied for postsecondary education

90% of participating Grade 12 youth will apply to at least one postsecondary institution in 2018.

they were accepted at postsecondary educational institutions

70% of participating Grade 12 youth will be accepted to at least one postsecondary institution in 2018.

Note that your goals should be realistic and attainable, but a failure to achieve them should not necessarily be seen as a failure of your program. It just shows you where you can focus on improving in future years.


Ultimately, program evaluation will allow you to be more accountable – to your board, your management, your funders, and your stakeholders. Another important aspect of this is accountability to your staff - both paid and unpaid.

Remember that 96% of volunteers do so because they care about the cause you support. Also remember that your program successes are not necessarily obvious to everyone. When times get hard and senior staff needs to cut programs, make sure your fantastic program gets kept by “purposefully and proactively communicat[ing] the information” to your managers, funders, volunteers, and outside stakeholders.

To learn more about volunteer program evaluation, come to our upcoming workshop.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to organizational operations. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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Related post: 

[1] F. Zarinpoush, "Project Evaluation Guide for Nonprofit Organizations," Imagine Canada, 2006. [Online]. Available: | [2] K. Seel, Ed., Volunteer Administration: Professional Practice, 3rd ed., Lexus Nexus Canada, 2016.
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