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Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results

ISBN: 978-0-7879-8755-8
200 pages
October 2006, Jossey-Bass
Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results (0787987557) cover image


Level Best offers guidance that demystifies evaluation and takes into account the unique challenges and realities of grassroots nonprofit organizations. It provides a new framework for thinking about evaluation and tools for measuring and sharing results in ways that are practical, efficient, and meaningful.
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Table of Contents

Figure, Tables, Worksheets, Exhibits, Agendas.


How to Use This Book.

Instruction with Samples and Examples.

1 Understanding Evaluation.

Evaluation as Power Instead of Pain.

What Evaluation Is and What It Is Not.

2 A Simple Evaluation Framework.

The Basic Evaluation Framework.

Key Concepts:What to Evaluate and How to Get Started.

The Rolling Evaluation Method.

3 Planning Your Evaluation.

A Quick Review of Basic Organizational Readiness.

Definition of an Effective Organization.

What You Plan Affects What You Learn.

Step by Step: Planning Your Evaluation.

Understanding Funders’Needs and Fitting Them into Your Evaluation Plan.

Why Setting Goals Makes Evaluation Easier.

How You Can Prepare.

4 Asking the Right Questions.

Clear Program Goals Guide Evaluation Questions and Choices.

What to Evaluate:What You Do Versus What Your Constituents Do.

If or Then:Which to Evaluate?

The Relationship Between Evaluating What You Do (Process) and What They Do (Outcome).

Determine the Right Questions.

Ask What You Really Want to Know.

How Advocacy Organizations Can Approach Evaluation.

How to Be Answerable When Advocacy and Organizing Are Your Agenda.

Ideas for Measuring Organizing Efforts.

5 Tracking Information.

Options for Tracking Information.

The Right Goal Statement Helps Determine the Right Things to Track.

6 Learning From and Using the Information.

Making Use of Your Information.

Organizing Your Information.

Drawing Conclusions.

Using What You Learn.

Sharing Your Evaluation Results with the Outside World.

Feeding Results into the Cycle of Planning.

Tying Evaluation into Planning.

Deciding Where to Begin.

Incorporating Evaluation into Your Strategic Planning Process.


A Commonly Used Terms and Their Definitions.

B Types of Evaluation.

C Sample Completed Evaluation Planning Worksheet.

D Sample Evaluation Report Outline.

E Program Evaluation Standards.


About the Authors.



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Author Information

Marcia Festen of Marcia K. Festen Associates in Chicago is a consultant to nonprofits and foundations.In addition to conducting evaluations, she develops policy and grantmaking strategies, programs, and initiatives. She was a senior program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and hasover twenty years of experience in the field.

Marianne Philbin is a writer, trainer, and consultant specializing in nonprofit organizational development.She has worked for a wide range of foundations and nonprofit organizations, and has an extensive background in grantmaking, fundraising, and nonprofit management. She is an instructor for the Donors Forum of Chicago and a lecturer at Northwestern University's School of Continuing Studies.

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"Level Best proves to be a foolproof fear buster . . . The book does an excellent job of presenting evaluation as a tool for grassroots organizations to use to their benefit…" (American Journal of Evaluation)

"Nonprofit organizations of all sizes must be able to measure progress toward their goals. As a fundraiser, I know how important this is in making a case for supporting the arts. Level Best not only demystifies the process of evaluation, it offers a reasonable approach that makes sense for programs with limited time, money, or staff to devote to this area."
—Eric Delli Bovi, development director, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, Illinois

"We are under pressure every day—not only to perform at the highest level—but to prove that what we are doing nets the greatest possible results. Of all the resources I’ve consulted on evaluation. Level Best is the most practical, the most readable, and the most supportive. The authors understand not only how great our challenges are, but how little time we have for anything that does not address our real needs—which this book does."
—Ruth Barrett Rendler, deputy director, The Center for Victims of Torture, Minneapolis, Minnesota

"So many guides to evaluation are theoretical or academic in nature, reflecting little understanding of the operating realities of smaller or more grassroots-oriented nonprofits. The authors of Level Best know this territory intimately, and their guide to evaluation offers solid guidance, clear direction, and practical applications for effective planning and program development."
—Daranee Petsod, executive director, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Sebastopol, California

"Every day I see smaller nonprofits struggling to graft onto their work evaluation procedures that in one way or another just aren’t a good match for them. The authors of Level Best have created a guide which avoids jargon and overcomplicated systems by simplifying and clarifying the process for smaller and newer groups. It will be a much-used and much-appreciated tool."
—Susannah Quem Pratt, coordinator of evaluation, Lilly Endowment’s Religion Division

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