Small but mighty? The market for evaluation in the Canadian Not-for-Profit sector.

Elliot, C & Heath, S.

Paper presented at the bi-annual meeting of the European Evaluation Society Conference, Thessaloniki, GR.

Canada’s Not-For-Profit (NFP) sector is a critical segment of Canada’s evaluation industry. This sector is quite diverse, comprised of four groups: i) private foundations, ii) public foundations, iii) charitable organizations, and iv) non-profit organizations. It represents an estimated 170,000 organizations in Canada, half of which (54%) are run by volunteers, with the remainder employing approximately 2 million people. The majority of these organizations, however, are very small, with the top 1% of organizations commanding 60% of all revenues (Imagine Canada and Philanthropic Foundations Canada, 2014). Due to the diversity of this sector, it is very difficult to get a national “pulse” on the supply and the demand for evaluation in this segment.

The objectives of this paper are to discuss the findings of a qualitative research study that aimed to: (a) explore the nature and extent of evaluation work conducted by NFP organizations in Canada, (b) describe the market forces and factors that affect evaluative inquiry in this sector, (c) highlight the degree to which evaluative work in this sector influences the overall market for evaluation market in Canada, and (c) identify research priorities to further investigate NFP evaluation in Canada. To guide our initial inquiry, we identified the following broad research question: To what extent does Canada’s NFP sector engage in evaluation? To answer this question, we followed a multi-stage methodological framework. As part of a larger study on the evaluation industry in Canada, we reviewed the published and grey literature on NFP evaluation and conducted qualitative interviews with key experts working in the field.

The findings of this study suggest that the sector may be “small but mighty”. That is, the NFP sector constitutes a small segment of the overall Canadian market for evaluation services and there appears to be relatively little systematic program evaluation being performed. Primarily driven by accountability pressures from donors, NFP’s have struggled with limited capacity and chronic underfunding. Yet, despite these challenges, NFP’s have demonstrated a keen interest in program improvement, understanding ‘what works’, evaluation capacity building, and implementing innovative approaches to evaluative inquiry and performance measurement (e.g., developmental evaluation, collective impact). These findings illustrate the need to further explore evaluation activities in the NFP and the factors that drive such activities, such as availability of resources and prioritization of evaluation over performance monitoring activities. It would also be instructive to tease out differentiating factors between each of four sub-sectors, (private and public foundations, charitable organizations and non-profits), to examine the unique characteristics of each.

This type of research will equip those funding evaluation activities and those responsible for conducting evaluation activities in the NFP sector with data needed to spark and encourage change and advancement in the field. To ensure that this paper is of interest to individuals working in various sectors, we have also deliberated on the factors and drivers that influence evaluative work in general.


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