At a minimum, programs should routinely collect certain information to document their operations (e.g., the number of requests received, number of families assisted, number of active community partners, and dollar value of the donations received). This is core information that most funders will expect to see. HALOS tabulates and summarizes the requests it receives and fulfills in monthly activity reports, which are shared with the HALOS Board of Directors and partners who attend the monthly meetings. HALOS also produces a Monthly Report of Volunteer Hours and Donations. These types of regular summary reports can help program managers identify trends (e.g., spikes in requests for certain items at the end of the school year) so they can be better prepared to meet those needs in the future, as well as gaps (e.g., recurring difficulties filling certain types of requests). With this information, program managers can target their outreach efforts toward donors or activities that are well-suited to address these needs.
Although it is important to document the number of requests received, goods and services provided, and needs addressed, the greater issue is how this data affects the program's stakeholders—caseworkers, case managers, and community partners. Most importanthow does it make a difference in the lives of children and caregivers? A properly conducted program evaluation will answer these questions.
HALOS designed its request-for-assistance forms with program evaluation in mind. When submitting request forms to HALOS, DSS caseworkers are asked to specify how HALOS contributions will affect the child or family. HALOS support may be used to
- Prevent foster care placement.
- Help close an investigation.
- Facilitate placement with a relative.
- Establish and provide healthy, stable, and safe living conditions for children and their caregivers.
- Keep siblings together.
- Assist with foster care placement.
- Meet educational needs.
This information is tabulated and summarized in the monthly activity reports that HALOS shares with its board and community partners. Reports documenting outcomes for children and families may be especially useful when approaching potential funders and preparing grant applications.
In the months preceding the replication conference, HALOS solicited input and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders. Board members were asked to complete a Board of Directors Self-Assessment. DSS caseworkers were asked to participate in personal interviews about their experiences with HALOS and community partners (see Charleston County DSS Case Worker Interview Instructions). DSS case managers were asked to complete an online survey about their satisfaction with HALOS's services and those of other providers in the community (see Charleston County DSS Case Manager Survey). Information culled from stakeholders' experiences can guide improvements to a program's services. It may be helpful to survey the various stakeholder groups periodically to identify and address any concerns that may arise with changes in personnel, agency policies, community demographics, or other shifts in the larger environment.
Especially in times of economic uncertainty, potential funders look for evidence that a program is accomplishing its goals. Although program evaluation can be a complex process, it is important that programs document the work they do. For assistance with program evaluation, visit www.ovcttac.gov/views/resources/dspPerformanceMeasurement.cfm. For help locating an evaluator for your program, visit www.ovcttac.gov/views/resources/dspHiringaLocalEvaluator.cfm.
Challenges To Consider
- Is it necessary to recruit an experienced evaluator to design data collection forms and procedures and conduct a program evaluation?
- How widely should reports of program activity be disseminated?