There are few aspects of society that the pandemic is not affecting. Accordingly, COVID-19 is having a substantial effect on the operation and sustenance of nonprofits. A June, 2020 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which summarizes a national survey of 750 members of primarily US based nonprofits, reported that nearly 75% of survey respondents stated their organizations had experienced a drop in revenues, and over 80% had moved all or some of their programs and services to an online format. (See “The Continuing Impact of COVID-19 on the Social Sector”) Eighty percent of surveyed nonprofits are shifting to work from home, many are expecting or already have made reductions in staff, and many are considering mergers with other non-profits. (See also the reported effects on 110 nonprofits in “The Impact of COVID-19 on Large and Mid-Sized Nonprofits,” June 15, 2020, Independent Sector which reports that 71% of surveyed large and medium sized nonprofits have reduced services.)
In the Nonprofit Quarterly article, “Nonprofits Struggle to Stay Alive amid COVID-19” one nonprofit CEO says “The impact of COVID-19 on the nonprofit community is unprecedented. It has affected the capacity and sustainability of every nonprofit—from education to the environment, affordable housing to mental health services, animal welfare to the arts—no organization will emerge unscathed.” This article goes on to say that in Arizona, “Fundraising and program cancellations as a result of COVID-19 have cost Arizona nonprofits an estimated $53 million in lost revenue (as of June 11). In that same survey, 25 percent of nonprofits indicated that they’ve had to lay off or furlough employees, and 69 percent report a loss of critical program volunteers.”
Although there are certainly new opportunities for nonprofits to rethink their operations and to create new approaches to fundraising, it is likely that the nonprofit sector will continue to face rather steep challenges in the months and years ahead. In fact, many of the challenges confronting nonprofits began before the onset of the pandemic. The ameliorative goals of many non-profits had already been challenged by the operation of the “normal” economy, which favored the well-positioned and affluent, and created ever greater needs among ever larger swaths of the American population for the many services that nonprofits have delivered.
“COVID-19 Has Pushed Nonprofits to the Limits, Especially Those Led by People of Color,” by Amelia Ahl October 19, 2020
“Nonprofits Struggle to Stay Alive amid COVID-19” by Martin Levine, June 23, 2020, NonProfit Quarterly
“Three Things Nonprofits Should Prioritize in the Wake of COVID-19” by Amy Celep, Megan Coolidge & Lori Bartczak Apr. 30, 2020 Stanford Social Innovation Review.
“The Impact of COVID-19 on Large and Mid-Sized Nonprofits,” June 15, 2020, Independent Sector
“Nonprofits and Coronavirus, COVID-19,” National Council of Nonprofits
A “thought partner” is someone other than one’s typical work colleagues who helps organizational leaders to consider an organization’s strategic issues. Thought partners typically add value to conversations about strategy by bringing to bear an experience-based perspective, a genuine curiosity about key issues, and a range of listening and question-asking skills that assist organizational leaders to formulate innovative plans for an organization’s future direction. Thought partners ask good questions, are sensitive to the values and ultimate purposes of the organization, and although they challenge ‘business-as-usual’ assumptions, are non-judgmental about other’s ideas and viewpoints. Thought partners challenge organizational leaders to think innovatively and to assume a creative perspective in order to solve what are often seemingly intractable problems.
One of the key aspects of an effective thought partner is an objectivity that comes from the thought partner’s externality to the organization. (See “4 Advantages of an External Consultant”) Thought partners must be empathic, intellectually flexible, and inventive. Because thought partners are not enmeshed in the daily politics and interpersonal competition of the organization, they are able to offer an impartial view of the issues and challenges that leaders must work with.
Brad Rose Consulting has 25 years of experience not only conducting evaluations and conducting organizational development initiatives, but as serving as a thought partner to our clients. Our experience provides us with a source of broad-based knowledge about the issues that non-profit and educational leaders face. We are experienced at asking good questions, listening to clients’ perspectives, helping organizations to envision future directions, and helping clients to take immediate steps to strengthen their organizations’ effectiveness.
“A Fascinating New Concept: How “Thought Partners” Add Value to Your Business: Barbara Stanny, Forbes, Jun 19, 2012
What is Evaluation?
Program evaluation is an applied research process that examines the effects and effectiveness of programs and initiatives. Michael Quinn Patton notes that, “Program evaluation is the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs in order to make judgements about the program, to improve program effectiveness, and/or to inform decisions about future programming.”
Program evaluation can be used to look at:
- the process of program implementation,
- the intended and unintended results/effects produced by programs,
- the long-term impacts of interventions.
Program evaluation employs a variety of social science methodologies–from large-scale surveys and in-depth individual interviews, to focus groups and review of program records. Although program evaluation is research-based, unlike purely academic research, it is designed to produce actionable and immediately useful information for program designers, managers, funders, stakeholders, and policymakers. (See our previous article “What’s the Difference? Evaluation vs. Research”
Program evaluation is a way to judge the effectiveness of a program. It can also provide valuable information to ensure that the program is maximally capable of achieving its intended results. Some of the most common reasons for conducting program evaluation are to:
- monitor the progress of a program’s implementation and provide feedback to stakeholders about various ways to increase the positive effects of the program
- improve program design and efficacy
- measure the outcomes, or effects, produced by a program, in order to determine if the program has achieved success and improved the lives of those it is intended to serve or affect
- provide objective evidence of a program’s achievements to current and/or future funders and policy makers
- elucidate important lessons and contribute to public knowledge
There are numerous reasons why a program manager or an organizational leader might choose to conduct an evaluation. Program evaluation is a way to understand how a program or initiative is doing. Learning about a program’s effectiveness in a timely way, especially learning about a program’s achievements and challenges, can be a valuable endeavor for those who are responsible for programs’ successes. Evaluation is not simply a way to “judge” a program, but a way to learn about and strengthen a program. Moreover, evaluation can help to strengthen not just a particular program, but the organization that hosts the program. (See “Strengthening Program AND Organizational Effectiveness”)
The COVID-19 Pandemic has affected many aspects of life, not least of which is education. In April, 2020, The World Economic Forum estimated that school closures had affected 1.2 Billion children. While, worldwide, not all children have begun to participate in on-line learning, many have, and much of traditional classroom-based education has been compelled to move to on-line, computer-mediated education.
How effective is on-line learning? The results are mixed. On-line learning depends of course, on accessibility. For those that have access, research indicates that on-line learning can be as effective, and in some cases, a more efficient, mode of instruction than tradition classroom learning, including enhanced retention, speed of learning, and advantages of self-paced vs. other-paced instruction. “For those who do have access to the right technology…Some research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. This is mostly due to the students being able to learn faster online; e-learning requires 40-60% less time to learn than in a traditional classroom setting because students can learn at their own pace, going back and re-reading, skipping, or accelerating through concepts as they choose. (See “5 Reasons Why Online Learning is More Effective”)
Effectiveness however, may vary by the age of students. Younger students often thrive in a more immersive, face-to-face environment, and benefit from learning a range of social and emotional skills that are often more difficult to convey in a “narrow-cast” learning venue. Classroom structure can itself be an important social-educational factor. The effectiveness of on-line learning also may vary depending on whether instruction is exclusively on-line, or if it is “blended” (i.e., includes both on-line and face-to-face instruction). Some research has shown that blended instruction results in better student outcomes than solely on-line learning. (See “The Effectiveness of Online Learning: Beyond No Significant Difference and Future Horizons,” Tuan Nguyen, Leadership, Policy, and Organization Peabody College, Vanderbilt University)
While there appear to be benefits to on-line learning for some students, Susanna Loeb, writing in a recent issue of Education Week reminds us “Just like in brick-and-mortar classrooms, online courses need a strong curriculum and strong pedagogical practices. Teachers need to understand what students know and what they don’t know, as well as how to help them learn new material. What is different in the online setting is that students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation. The teacher will need to set norms for engagement—such as requiring students to regularly ask questions and respond to their peers—that are different than the norms in the in-person setting.” She further observes that some instruction (i.e. on-line) is better than no instruction, and that “especially (for) students with fewer resources at home, (these students) learn less when they are not in school. Right now, virtual courses are allowing students to access lessons and exercises and interact with teachers in ways that would have been impossible if an epidemic had closed schools even a decade or two earlier. So, we may be skeptical of online learning, but it is also time to embrace and improve it.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how” World Economici Forum, April 2020
“The Effectiveness of Online Learning: Beyond No Significant Difference and Future Horizons,” Tuan Nguyen, Leadership, Policy, and Organization Peabody College, Vanderbilt Universy
“How Effective Is Online Learning? What the Research Does and Doesn’t Tell Us” By Susanna Loeb, Education Week, March 20, 2020
In the latest issue of the American Journal of Evaluation (Vol 41, No.2, June 2020) Robert Picciotto argues that the time has arrived for evaluation to make use of Big Data. In “Evaluation and the Big Data Challenge,” Picciotto observes that evaluators, although not yet well versed in Big Data’s use, should nonetheless actively engage Big Data, which is data composed of large data sets that are too large and complex for traditional data processing tools and that imply just-in-time information for decision-making, continuous storage and processing, and the extensive use of algorithms. The scale and seeming availability of Big Data, coupled with exponentially growing computer power, Picciotto tells us, increasingly makes the use of such data more attractive for evaluators. Big Data makes it possible for evaluators to identify patterns and to gain insights that arise from large data sets, insights that can’t be secured though limited and costly access to traditional data. Additionally, Big Data, if handled correctly, may improve the quality of evaluation. It may even allow evaluators to more effectively wrestle with the persistently thorny problem of discerning causality in complex social systems.
While Big Data offers a range of new opportunities to evaluators, Big Data (and big tech that privately owns and deploys this data) is not without its challenges and drawbacks. Governments, corporations, and interest groups are increasingly reliant on Big Data to manipulate public opinion, shape consumer behavior though predatory advertising, and in some cases to manipulatively intervene in the civic and political lives of nations. (See our previous article, “Everybody Lies”) Picciotto acknowledges the often pernicious uses of private data, and points to the lamentably under-regulated use of Big Data to monitor and influence the behavior of citizens and consumers. He also notes that the algorithms now used to analyze the volumes of data are neither objective nor universally accurate. Despite these substantial challenges, Picciotto—somewhat sanguinely I think—believes that evaluators and greater governmental regulation of big tech may ameliorate some of the more egregious dimensions and uses of Big Data. “Big Data has let lose a host of social threats: oppressive surveillance, loss of privacy, reduced autonomy, digital addiction, spread of disinformation, social polarization, and so on.” Whether evaluators and the public are capable of taming an enterprise that is now overarchingly global, under-regulated, ethically questionable, and resistant to national constraints, will need to be seen.
“Evaluation and the Big Data Challenge,” Robert Picciotto, American Journal of Evaluation pp.166-181. (Vol 41, No.2, June 2020)
“Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are,” (Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Dey St., 2017)
“What Is Big Data?” Lisa Arthur, Forbes, Aug 15, 2013
“What is Big Data?” Bernard Marr
The Metric Society: On the Quantification of the Social, (Polity, 2019)