Do you want to wow your donors and secure more funding? Arts programs that consistently attract more funding intentionally combine evaluation results with stories to inspire action. Like consumers, donors make funding decisions based on emotion, and then they rationalize their decisions with logic. Good grant writing and marketing copy capitalizes on this phenomenon by weaving evaluation data throughout participant anecdotes. The stories appeal to the funders’ emotional side and the program evaluation results helps donors rationalize their funding decisions.

Let’s examine this in practice by reading a a participant’s experience in VSA Ohio’s Adaptation, Integration and the Arts (AIA) Residency program. In this program, students with and without disabilities explored through dance the different ways in which we love. The students were placed in groups and worked together through the process in partnering, poetry creation, and image searching.

Kate, a student who is blind, had never experienced a dance or exercise class before the AIA residency. At the end of the residency Kate was performing on stage with her peers without the assistance of her aide. Another student, also named Kate, worked with her and became her peer guidance for the dance. It was beautiful to see third grade students gain compassion and understanding through peer-to-peer work in the arts, giving Kate the freedom to perform on stage for the first time.

The girls’ story highlights how the AIA program uses movement and art to build friendships and increase students’ confidence. A story like this helps individuals care and remember the program. However, it might not be enough to inspire a donation.

VSA Ohio’s evaluation data allows them to strengthen their storytelling, by focusing on the overall impact of the program. This is how they continue the story.

The AIA program served nearly 2,000 students last school year and 52 percent were like Kate, a student with a disability. Program evaluation results revealed that 100 percent of administrators with an AIA program in their schools agreed that the program impacts student learning. The majority of the teachers (80%) reported the program increased student creativity and appreciation of art. During the program, students experienced an 18 percent increase in the rate of growth in their reading fluency scores compared to the rate of growth before the residency.

When funders read these results, they know the social impact of their investments to the AIA program. They have confidence that their donation will allow 2,000 students to experience learning gains, creativity, and appreciation for the arts. Donating to this program becomes much easier because funders have the facts to justify their decision to donate.

Research conducted in Impact & Excellence reveals that more than 75 percent of nonprofits are likely leaving money on the table. Most organizations are missing the critical program evaluation data which help donors justify their decisions. The same study revealed that the organizations that do have evaluation data are significantly more likely than the other organizations to increase their revenues and better engage donors. The good news is that program evaluation can be done in any organization regardless of size and budget.

It doesn’t have to be difficult to start tracking your unique impact and value through program evaluation. The first step is as simple as answering the following questions:

  • What do your funders care about?
  • Why do they fund you?
  • What problem do you solve or improve for those you serve?
  • What need are you fulfilling?
  • Who would be impacted if you closed your doors tomorrow?
  • What are the consequences if you no longer provided your services?

Be honest. Have the difficult conversations about your role in this world.

Use the answers to these questions to get clear on the unique impact you are attempting to achieve. Once defined, turn your answers into survey questions or find measures that align with your desired outcomes. Commit to giving these surveys and measures to your participants to truly quantify and demonstrate your impact. Lastly, make sure you are gathering participant stories which illustrates how your program is achieving these outcomes.

In addition to making a huge impact on this world, you will attract the resources needed to provide the services in a much bigger way!