Ignite DFW: Jennifer Sherry – What’s The Buzz About Evaluation

If you weren’t in attendance for Jennifer Sherry’s bee talk and non-profits, here’s what you missed!

Jennifer Sherry shared her insight into why and how non-profits should evaluate themselves from inside the hive. She spoke at the 5th annual Ignite DFW, a public forum where you can share ideas for 5 minutes (accompanied by 20 slides shown at 15-second intervals) before a live audience. So think along the lines of TED talks meets Saturday Night Live with a dash of cool volunteers that know what they’re doing.

So, what do bees have to do with a Non-profit?

Sherry breaks down the mechanics of how beekeepers and internal staff function and keep an ideal environment healthy for a functioning hive. A slide appears on the screen just behind the speaker as she describes the growth of her first hive from 2015, versus the taller hive at present. She goes on to explain that the 2016 hive had a thriving environment where the bees had a balance of resources, and production of honey was high. The same was apparent in the 2015 hive.

However, she points out that when the 2016 hive was opened, they discovered no queen. This meant that the population of bees was shrinking and on the verge of collapse in weeks, had there been no intervention.

“Organizations are incredibly complex, and sometimes it is hard to tell when something has gone wrong if you’re just looking at the surface level. You really need to dig in a little deeper.” Said Sherry.

But, how do you ‘dig a little deeper’?

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Evaluations. Sherry goes on to say that evaluations are a way of measuring if the non-profit is meeting pre-determined goals. Seems simple right? But, before you start using the google-fu to find an evaluation sheet, Sherry wants you to keep two things in mind: Resource Simplicity, and Use.

Alright, so what about Resources?

Sherry explains it best in her speech:
“Balancing my need to know what’s going in that and the bees need to be left alone to do their work, an organizational evaluation is no different. Any time you do an evaluation, you’re transferring resources from one part of the organization towards that evaluation. So, you need to be committed to undertaking an evaluation [that you can do.] within your resource framework.”

Keeping things simple.

Sometimes the best way to receive feedback on anything is to have an easy to understand visual representation of positive, neutral or negative resulting outcomes. Sherry points to a slide of 3 smiley faces representing highly dissatisfied (sad face), neither satisfied nor dissatisfied (no emotion face), and highly satisfied (smiley face).

“As silly as this may be, this was a great way for the company to receive feedback and the company employees had an easy time of knowing from the indicators if they were doing well as soon as they walked in the door. If things started going yellow then they knew they still had some work to be done.”

Now, what about “Use”.

Now that there’s a way to indicate when problems were arising, its time to actually do something about the problem.

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Sherry refers back the problems of hive beetles in a thriving environment.

“If I get into my hive and see that there are a lot of hive beetles, and don’t respond to that information by installing beetle traps, that population [of bees] is going to get out of control and set the hive back.” She says, “The same is true for your organization. You’ve already invested in using these resources… [for evaluation] if you don’t use [feedback] then you’re already missing the chance to strength the organization and grow it.”

M’kay, so how do you actually start an evaluation?

Keeping all this in mind, Sherry suggests the best way to start an evaluation is to think about what the long-term goals are. Then work for measurable short-term goals that would lead up to the overall desired goal. Again, keeping evaluations simple is key. Then apply the use of feedback as a determining factor for whether you are closer to, or moving further away from the long-term goals.

Sherry also suggests googling logic models to use as a guide for the creation of a road map to the long-term goal. Try using your mission statement as the main source.  Lay out the short, medium, and long-term goals, then review if they’re aligning back to the mission statement.

List resources: Those you have and those you still need, the programs you offer, the programs you’d like to offer. Organize these programs and then arrange your short, medium and long-term goals accordingly.

Not only is this a great way to visually see your path towards the long-term goal, the logic model can also be used for submitting to local banks, or grant offers for revenue assistance when sending in a proposal.

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Trial and error are sure to happen, but if you do it right, the outcome can be sweet.

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