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Assessing Performance: Evaluation Practices and Perspectives in Canada’s Voluntary Sector

October 17, 200517 October 2005

Based on a national survey of 1,965 voluntary organizations (including 336 arts and culture organizations) and 322 funders, this report examines the “evaluation practices, strengths, limitations and needs” in the voluntary sector. About three-quarters of all voluntary organizations and a similar percentage of arts and culture organizations have conducted at least one evaluation in the past year. About 60% of arts and culture organizations reported routinely performing evaluations. This is the lowest percentage of all organization types. Staff meetings, volunteer meetings, surveys and interviews were more commonly used by cultural organizations than formal evaluations or focus groups. In fact, cultural organizations reported the lowest frequency of use of formal evaluations and focus groups of all types of voluntary organizations covered by the survey.

Arts and culture organizations used evaluation information to improve their programs and services, for strategic planning purposes, and to raise awareness of their programs and services. The major evaluation problems reported by arts and culture organizations are a lack of internal capacity and a lack of money for evaluations. Cultural organizations expressed a variety of needs regarding evaluations, including more financial resources, better information about what other organizations are doing, and greater clarity from funders in their use of evaluation terminology.

The survey results also show that the evaluation of outcomes (rather than outputs) does not appear to be fully understood by many voluntary organizations. In addition, about one-fifth of voluntary organizations believe that “funders collect evaluation information simply for administrative purposes”. Funders expect more from organizations’ evaluations than in the past but have not provided increased funding for evaluation. In fact, less than half of all funders indicated that they provide any financial support for evaluation. A greater number of funders indicated that they provide advice, tools and training.

The report makes recommendations regarding increasing financial and non-financial resources for evaluation, improving communication and coordination among funders, improving access to training, technology and education, and developing a “partnership approach to evaluation” between funders and voluntary organizations.

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