Assessing Your Program
Conducting a Program Assessment
Interpreting Assessment Findings
Making Needed Program Improvements
Expanding the Program
This section of the manual is for operating diaper banks that are beginning to consider ways to improve and, if they choose, expand their operations. This section is divided into two parts. The first part discusses the value of, and offers guidance on, measuring or evaluating how well a program has functioned since it started. Such an evaluation is important because it helps programs see if they are prepared to handle the added pressures and demands that accompany growth. The second part guides programs through the primary considerations involved in deciding to expand and outlines various issues that programs deciding to expand might consider in designing a growth strategy.
Assessing your program
Program assessment or program evaluation is a formal term for stepping back and objectively measuring your achievements and identifying programmatic strengths and weaknesses. Assessment is the work that needs to be done before a program can set short- and long-term goals for improving or expanding its operations.
When is the right time to begin an assessment? The answer varies from program to program. You may want to wait until you are beyond the hectic start-up phase so you can more accurately measure the achievements of a day-to-day routine and make more realistic projections of your future capacities. Still, it is good practice to establish a periodic practice, possibly on an annual basis, of comparing your strategic plans to your current operations and make the appropriate adjustments.
The value of a program assessment is not limited to new diaper banks. Even well-established diaper banks benefit from careful evaluation of their operations and review of the systems, assumptions, procedures and relationships on which their programs have been built.
A program assessment can be a comprehensive examination of the operation, or it can examine individual aspects of a program over a period of time. For instance, a diaper bank might opt to examine its administrative policies over a period of several months before moving on to evaluate operational functions. This step-by-step approach takes longer but is less disruptive.
Each diaper bank has its own particular goals and its own definition of “success.” The first step in designing a program assessment is to determine how to measure the program’s success. Depending on the goals you have set, the following are a few of the general issues that might be examined in an assessment.
• How safely and efficiently does the program operate on a day-to-day basis?
• Do program staff adhere to established policies for storage and distribution of diapers? Are these policies sufficient?
• Are the program’s scheduling systems and policies working effectively? Do the diapers get to the agencies quickly and safely and reliably? Are there inefficiencies or interruptions in service?
• Would additional equipment and supplies enable the program to operate more efficiently and safely?
• Have the program’s recruitment efforts resulted in the desired number of and types of agencies?
• How many agencies are working with the program on a consistent basis? How do these numbers compare with the program’s expectation and capacities?
• Are recipient agencies able to use the type and number of diapers we have distributed?
• How well does the program meet expectations?
• Are the diapers helping families in need? Are there enough diapers? Are they the types & sizes of diapers most in demand?
• Do agencies think that working with the program is rewarding? Do they find it convenient? Do they think the program staff members are competent, well-trained and polite?
• Are agencies pleased with the training their staff receives through your diaper bank?
• Are agencies involved with the program beyond receiving diapers (e.g., in community-relations activities, in fundraising, board participation, etc.)?
• Are they recommending the program to other agencies and potential donors?
• Are there systems in place to ensure that the program maintains regular, ongoing communications with the donors and recipient agencies?
• Are agencies maintaining the right statistics (records?) for our program reporting?
Anti-poverty, child welfare, and health care industry outreach
• Has the program earned the support and cooperation of the local social service and anti-poverty community?
• Has the program established itself as a member of this community? Do the other groups see the program as performing a vital service and operating in a manner that advances the community as a whole?
• Do other groups readily share information with the program?
• Has the program created opportunities for these groups to directly participate in or support the program (e.g., by providing technical assistance)?
• How well has the program publicized its activities?
• Has the program built sufficient name recognition? Is its public image positive? Is the image accurate?
• Is the public aware of the problem of diaper need in the community? Do they view the program as important to helping provide basic human needs and helping people rise from poverty?
• Does the public think of the program in situations where they have excess diapers or diapering supplies? Do they bring the diapering supplies to your diaper bank?
• Does the public express support for the program with volunteer work, financial contributions and technical assistance?
Diaper Bank Outreach
• Are other diaper banks aware of your program?
• Does your diaper bank follow developments in the field? Does it take advantage of other programs and share its experience with other programs?
• Is it connected to the National Diaper Bank Network?
• Is the program’s staff structured and utilized in a manner that maximizes the program’s ability to operate safely and efficiently?
• Are responsibilities well distributed among staff? Do all staff members have a clear understanding of their responsibilities?
• Is the staff performing competently and professionally? Has it grown and adapted as the program has matured?
• Do the various work styles help or hinder the program’s safe and efficient operations? Do they reflect well on the program?
• Is staff turnover a problem? If so, why?
• Do we have the right mix of staff skills to work most efficiently and effectively?
• Is the program established complete and efficient information recording procedures? Does it have the right materials (i.e., forms and records)? Does the staff adhere to procedure and use the materials correctly?
• Is information stored in a way that makes it easy to retrieve, analyze, and report to interested parties?
• Are the program’s key constituents (e.g., donors, agencies) satisfied with the type and frequency of information given them?
• Is the board of directors being used appropriately and to their best capacities?
• Is the board (demographically and professionally) balanced? Are all of the program’s key constituencies represented on the board?
• Is the board focusing on the right issues?
• In what areas is the board best utilized and under-utilized? (e.g. fundraising, technical assistance, etc.)?
• Are roles and responsibilities clearly communicated and understood?
• Are board assignments monitored? Are members showing any signs of boredom?
• Have we had a board assessment lately?
• Are the program’s finances managed in a manner that maximizes its service capacity?
• Does the program’s financial condition restrict its ability to meet its diaper distribution goals or to operate safely and efficiently?
• Does the program operate within its budget projections? If not, why?
• Is the fund-raising strategy generating enough cash and in-kind support to meet the program’s needs? Is the strategy demanding excessive amounts of staff time and/or program money?
• What does it cost to distribute 10 diapers? How does this cost compare to projections?
• How does the cost per diaper compare to that of other diaper banks?
• Has the cost increased or decreased since the program began operating?
• Can it be expected to increase or decrease in the coming months? By how much? Is the cost-per-diaper justifiable?
• Can cost-effectiveness be improved?
Conducting a Program Assessment
Once you know what elements of your program will be assessed, you need to consider the process you will use to conduct the evaluation.
Several general suggestions to consider when planning your assessment process:
Try to involve all relevant groups (staff, boards, donors, agencies, etc.) in both the design and implementation of the assessment. Broad participation will ensure that the assessment takes into account the diverse range of interests in a diaper bank, and will help build a consensus in support of recommendations or changes that may result from the assessment.
Try to make the process of collecting information “user-friendly.” Match collection methods and tools to various groups involved in the assessment. Be careful to avoid methods or tools that are inconvenient. Try to frame the information collection process so that it appeals to the self-interest of the groups involved. Let them know that their cooperation will help you to better respond to their needs and concerns.
With these suggestions in mind, here are various methods of conducting an assessment:
• One-on-one meetings/interviews (e.g., meeting with an individual donor): such meetings, set in a personal, engaging atmosphere, are sure to draw a response. But, they can also be very time consuming.
• Group meetings/focus groups (e.g., presenting issues for discussion to a group a donors): such meetings may be more time-efficient and can be effective in building consensus. But, they can be dominated by the most aggressive participant and get sidetracked.
• Mail or telephone surveys/questionnaires: Surveys and questionnaires are the easiest ways to reach a large audience. But, it is often difficult to get a quick or complete response, and people may be annoyed by telephone surveys.
Your choice of methods should be made on a case-by-case basis using your best judgment and past experience in communicating with the groups you plan to involve in the assessment. Other diaper banks may also be able to share their experiences on specific assessment methods with certain groups.
Interpreting Assessment Findings
Each program will read the information it collects through the lens of its particular goals and priorities. Regardless of how the information is interpreted, however, most diaper banks are likely to find that their programs have both particular strengths and deficiencies. They are likely to discover opportunities that, if pursued, would allow the program to expand the scope of its operations. The best guidance is to build on strengths and remedy deficiencies first, and then pursue expansion opportunities.
Making Needed Program Improvements
As a general rule, a diaper bank should focus on addressing any problems or improving any weaknesses before considering growth opportunities.
How a program chooses to make improvements depends on its particular long- and short-term priorities and goals. While there are decisions that only the individual program can make, it may be helpful to keep two considerations in mind:
• There is always room to change how a program operates. Staying with a system or structure just because “that’s the way it has always been done” stifles innovation and improvement.
• Organizational assumptions may need revision. Some of the basic assumptions on which the program was established may no longer hold true (e.g., “We can only serve a certain portion of the city,” or “Our agencies only want diapers we can deliver, not diapers we might be able to broker”).
It likely that other diaper banks have faced similar challenges and may be able to share ideas and experiences that can be applied, with modification, to your program. Do not hesitate to tap into the network; such information sharing can save a lot of time and energy.
Once a program is satisfied with its improvement efforts, it can begin to explore if and how it might expand. The considerations involved in these decisions are explored in the next section.
Expanding the Program
Virtually every diaper bank will discover that the need greatly exceeds the money and diapers it could possibly collect, yet even so each will most likely experience growth in its first year of operation. New programs grow—almost automatically—as more people learn of them. However, long-term growth is deliberate and proactive and requires careful planning.
Should we grow?
At this point, it should be noted that this manual recognizes that not every diaper bank must get bigger. Rather, its intent is to help those programs that can and should expand map out a realistic plan.
Programs that are considering long-term expansion should ask the following.
• Do we agree that we want to expand? Your diaper bank needs to be sure that both leadership (board) and staff are completely committed to long-term growth.
• Does our community need an expanded program? Diaper banks need to be sure that there is demand for a larger program. Sadly, agencies can almost always use more diapers. This, however, needs to be confirmed and the need must be characterized in order to shape the appropriate growth plan.
• Does the program have the capacity to expand without compromising its ability to reliably supply agencies on an on-going basis? Growth will require increasing staff and supplies, particularly diapers, and thus more money. Programs need to be sure they can meet and sustain the added costs of a larger program.
• Do we really need a strategy? Can’t we just grow as we go?
It is tempting to let your program grow on demand, but ultimately, uncontrolled growth can lead to serious resource problems.
Taking time to develop a growth strategy is important because:
• It allows your program to grow at its own pace.
• It permits your program to take the steps necessary to maintain the efficiency and integrity of its operations.
• It appeals to agencies that want assurance that their level of service will not be jeopardized by uncontrolled expansion.
• It appeals to funders who typically put more faith (and money) in programs with rational, well-researched expansion plans than in those that grow haphazardly.
Expansions need funding. While specific fundraising advice is beyond the scope of this manual, there are several points that merit mention here:
Funders want to see that their support has or will have concrete results. Your funding prospects will be enhanced if your proposal includes a thorough, well-documented expansion plan with specific growth objectives.
Emphasize the long-term nature of your expansion plan. Most funders are attracted to forward-thinking organizations and may be persuaded to provide support over a multi-year period. The prospects for multi-year funding may even be improved if your diaper bank is willing to commit to specific, realistic growth objectives as a condition for continuing support.
Finally, there are two general suggestions which all diaper banks should consider as they plan and implement their expansion efforts:
• Expansion should be built on a program’s established strengths
• Expansion activities should not reduce, or be perceived as reducing, the quality of the program’s current services.
There are many diaper banks that have already embarked on long-term expansion efforts and who would be happy to share their ideas and experiences. Once again, do not hesitate to tap into this tremendous information network.
Please contact us and let us know if this manual was helpful. Also, if you have questions or contacts, we look forward to hearing from you.
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