Goodwill Industries of North Central WI partners with Co-Create to refine their evaluation

As the CommNS Co-Create team we believe in the value of strong evaluation for nonprofit organizations. At its best, evaluation provides organizations with the data to track progress in programs and activities that advance their missions, to make informed adjustments as needed, and to communicate to wide audiences the impact of their work. The nonprofits we know recognize this value too, but a strong evaluation effort is hard to achieve, given the complexities of their efforts and many competing demands of time, energy, funding, and expertise.

Co-Create has had the privilege of working with several nonprofits to comprehensively review, refine, and implement changes to their evaluation efforts. Recently, we partnered with Goodwill North Central Wisconsin (Goodwill NCW) in an evaluation refinement project. Goodwill NCW is a member of the international Goodwill movement that works to support community members in building skills to attain and sustain meaningful employment and improve their financial stability, including through Goodwill NCW retail stores.

Goodwill NCW has provided a variety of programs to community residents over a wide region for over fifty years – all wonderful things and also factors that complicate evaluation! With so many pieces and touchpoints, it can be hard to discern focus for an effective evaluation and to build and maintain processes for pulling in and making use of data. Above all, evaluation should add value to your mission work, not detract from it. Goodwill NCW had a particular interest in capturing the greater impact of their efforts, over the long-term for past participants, and at community and regional levels.

The first phase of an evaluation refinement project involves an in-depth review of a current evaluation effort to identify strengths and challenges. For Goodwill NCW, we reviewed evaluation-related documents like program logic models and the present strategic plan, examined survey questions and other data collection instruments, and conducted a site visit that included a demonstration of their data management system and conversations with staff about how they gather and use data. We identified the assets of Goodwill NCW’s evaluation efforts and considered how to best build on them. As with each of these phases, we presented our process and findings with Goodwill NCW staff and determined together the priorities for the next phase.

In the next phase of an evaluation refinement, we identify best practices for evaluation that fit the context of the organization and address the specific challenges identified. With Goodwill NCW, our best practice scan involved a review of academic literature related to employment training and support interventions with a matching review of the evaluation efforts of peer organizations from around the country. Given Goodwill NCW’s focus on long-term impact for participants’ employment and improved financial security, we also lifted up best practices for longitudinal data collection for evaluation and how that can be positively connected to an organization’s ongoing participant engagement.

In the final phase, we integrate the learning from the current practice review and the best practices scan to craft an evaluation refinement plan. This plan describes how to align the evaluation effort and the organization’s mission. It also breaks down corresponding measures, data collection tools, analysis strategies, and plans for application and dissemination. To support the organization in transitioning to a refined effort, the plan includes suggested timelines and a sequence of incremental steps. Given Goodwill NCW’s long track record of impact, this final phase included the preparation of a set of “impact statements” that encapsulate their evaluation results to date and their value to the community. We discussed and refined this final plan with feedback from Goodwill NCW to ensure a robust yet achievable and sustainable evaluation effort.

Sara Bell, Goodwill NCW Vice President of Education, Development and Outcomes, shared that “working with Co-Create allowed us to step back, evaluate our processes, and then take a big step forward in our program evaluation methods and strategy. The recommendations from Co-Create will improve the efficiency of our data review processes and allow us to focus on the most meaningful outcomes that are aligned to our mission.”

Is your organization interested in stepping up your evaluation effort? Contact the CommNS Co-Create team at to explore your own evaluation refinement project. Or plan to join us on Tuesday February 8th, 2024 from 3:30-5:00 pm at the UW South Madison Partnership (2238 S. Park St.) for a “Nonprofit Evaluation Check-Up.”

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