Program Design and Evaluation

Programs are the activities that will fulfill the mission of your nonprofit.  Frank Pisch (now CEO of The Compass Group) started out his career as a classroom teacher at a Catholic School teaching English and Biology.  He knew that there had to be a better way to teach kids the fundamentals so he created a curriculum that is directly based on what’s being taught in the classroom.  For students that hated math, he took them sailing and had them plot a course using a compass and logarithms – engaging them in real world math.  Frank founded The Adventure Challenge School in Manchester, CT in 1978 and operated it for 6 years.

When he developed the curriculum, he used three components:

  1. Experiential learning program (a hands-on curriculum)
  2. Adventure component (3-5 days out of the classroom)
  3. Community Service (as a group project)

There are three steps to developing programs: Research, Design and Evaluation.


  • Assess your community’s needs
  • Develop a problem statement (for which your program will address)
  • Implement research methods to determine if your problem is real (focus groups, key informant interviews, research literature that supports program development)
  • Develop a needs assessment that supports your original problem statement
  • Research if there are other nonprofits delivering the same programs you want to deliver and if so, define how will your program provide different services or serve a different sector of the population


  • From the needs assessment, you will want to develop a goal.  (Example from SDWFF: Increase positive body image among young women in 10th grade at select San Diego high schools.)
  • What activities will help you reach this goal?
  • Most likely, you are not the first person to implement a program to address a specific need. Research what other nonprofits are providing similar services and how are they delivering these services, to which population and in which geographic location.
  • When designing your programs you will want to incorporate cultural competence into your programs.  Will the population you serve be accepting and willing to participate in the way you are offering services?  Are your services culturally acceptable in their community?
  • Create a budget for the program.  What do you need to purchase to operate the program?  What people will you need to pay to implement the program?  Will you need to rent a space to host the program?
  • Once you develop the program, you will need to find ways to market the program (think: social media)


  • Develop an evaluation tool.  It can be as simple as a pre- and post-test that the program participants take.  The test result should show that the program has improved the participant (through additional knowledge, emotional well-being, increased life skills)
  • You may want to develop additional ways to monitor each individually program to ensure it is correctly delivering the services and producing the desired result.  Consider giving program feedback questionnaires or informally ask your participants about their experience
  • Utilize the evaluations and program feedback.  And then modify your services based on evaluation results.


When you are ready to get started, it is time to beg, borrow and steal to make your programs a reality.  Your resources are limited.  Brainstorm who has the assets you need and then find out if this entity will help you. Find people who believe in your idea and can benefit from it.  I don’t want to sound like your mother, but if you ask nicely people are more willing to help you and believe me, you need their help.

My colleague, Dan Bennett, is the Founder of the Children’s Film Festival (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco).  When he wanted to expand the Festival beyond San Diego, he reached out to the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA).  The partnership was mutually beneficial for each party: the Museum offered the theater for no cost and the Festival offered much needed programming for LACMA’s “Next Gen” program (the only free youth museum membership in the US and the youth were allowed to attend the film festival for free).  It was a win-win partnership.

Next week, we’ll discuss building your human resources and recruiting a stellar Board of Directors.


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