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Project Evaluations: Why They Matter and How to do Them Well

Imagine you are driving down a road and another car comes out of nowhere and cuts you off. Never mind that aside from that one moment, your commute was issue-free. You don’t remember anything about the cars that stayed in their lanes, but you remember every detail of the one that didn’t. Evaluating projects, campaigns, and events at your nonprofit is similar. It’s easy to remember what went wrong, which is why it’s important to also document what went right. No matter how things played out, evaluations should not casually happen in the break room while the coffee is brewing.

Each of our projects – from new websites, to email strategy, to peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns – includes an evaluation both with our nonprofit client and with our own internal team. Here are our tips for creating a replicable and useful system for running debrief meetings.

Documentation

Recapping a project after it is complete is a lot easier if you’ve taken a few important steps before things get started. Meet with your team to outline what you hope to get out of the event or campaign and create a document that captures these goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. Then use that document to guide your evaluation process, checking on each predetermined goal and how close you got to reaching it. Make sure to capture these thoughts in writing during the debrief meeting and save everything in a logical place with an easily identifiable name and date. That way you can revisit the previous year’s notes and suggestions for improvements before you start things up again the following year.

Timing

One important way to get your team into the practice of evaluating projects after they have wrapped is to set a regular schedule for debrief meetings. Whether you decide to meet the day after or wait a week, it’s important that everyone knows things don’t end when the campaign does. Getting your team into the mindset that there’s a predictable schedule for evaluation, and getting it on everyone’s calendars early, is a great way to start. The core people involved in the planning and execution of the event should be mandatory participants in the meeting, but you can choose to invite others as a peanut gallery so they can learn about the process. Inviting outside audiences can lead to questions and insights that the core participants didn’t think about.

Agenda

Here at Firefly, we debrief on all of our projects using the same agenda with the same questions asked in the same order. This system helps our team boil down big projects into the most important elements, and it ensures that we’re gathering similar information about campaigns so we can compare them to each other. We also send the agenda ahead of time to anyone required to attend the meeting, so they have time to review it, get their thoughts together, and pull any necessary reports. While there are a thousand things you can evaluate, you should limit this meeting to the most important elements. Otherwise the meetings can quickly go off the rails.

Some questions and topics you might want to add to your agenda are:

  • What was the goal, and did we achieve it?
  • How was the project managed (systems, tools, etc.)? Did those systems/tools work well? If not, why?
  • Who did what and how successful was the division of tasks?
  • Participant feedback review (online surveys, participant interviews, word of mouth, etc.)
  • Budget review with a focus on comparing your original estimates with your actuals.
  • Did this project get us closer to reaching our program or organizational goals?
  • Is this an event/program/campaign we want to run again next year?
  • Other lessons learned

People often think that project debrief meetings are only for the purpose of diving into the specific successes or failures of an event or campaign. Of course that’s a big part of them, but the feedback loop can also help your team feel heard. If you don’t create this space for honest feedback, you run the risk of frustration boiling over into an unproductive process. And if you don’t build in the opportunity to celebrate success, you can make your team feel that their hard work is going unnoticed.

If you think it’s time for a new website, want to step up your email marketing program, or are ready to launch an innovative P2P campaign, reach out to our team today so we can take you from idea to implementation to evaluation.

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  • Thank you for such an interesting blog, Michelle! I recently began my career in Project Management and I found your tips extremely helpful.

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