What is the Added Value of an Outside Evaluator?

Dear Kim:

If a funder does not require us to hire an outside evaluator to evaluate the program they funded, is there any reason to do so?  We do our own internal examination and I’d like to save the money but our main goal is to provide the best program we can.

Survey.  Survey not. Survey….

Dear Survey:


You articulate a dilemma faced by many organizations, which is basically “what is the added value of an outside evaluator, particularly for organizations that do internal evaluation and are genuinely always seeking to improve their programs?”  To answer this question I asked a professional evaluator, Juliah Lindsey, to weigh in.  This is what she said:

“I am glad you are not just thinking that the reason to do evaluation is to make funders happy.   An outside evaluator can help ensure that you are making the maximum impact and can help your organization fine tune the services you provide to clients, use resources wisely and plan for the future. Many people don’t realize that an outside person will often discover many good things you are doing which you do so automatically you don’t realize they are part of your effectiveness. 


Also, an outside evaluation can be used in a grant report and with individual donors as a way of demonstrating due diligence and not having to toot your own horn.  Outside evaluators can also act as a coach or personal trainer who keeps you focused on meeting the goals that you set for yourself by identifying ongoing barriers and strategies to help you move forward.  Reflecting on successes and areas of improvement this year is an important planning tool that will help you do even more next year. 


Finally, an outside person will often have a more clear sense than could be expected of anyone in your organization of what data is most useful to you, how to access the data and how to interpret it.”

I would add to Juliah’s comment that donors and funders will often have a higher regard for an organization that is willing to be evaluated by an outsider at their own expense.  You show that you have nothing to hide, that you have confidence in the quality of your work, but also that you want to do the very best work you can to fulfill your mission.  I generally find that good evaluators more than pay for themselves. 

For additional information on evaluation for small and grassroots organizations, have a look at Marcia Festen and Marianne Philbin’s book, Level Best, (Jossey Bass Publishers).