Measuring our Impact: State of the Art Approaches to Evaluation

On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, the Institute and the UJA-Federation of New York hosted a presentation by Dr. Judith Samuels, Managing Director of the Federation’s Impact Performance and Assessment Department (IPAD). She presented on the efforts of the Federation to develop and implement innovative organizational and program evaluation models. Some 100 professionals from a broad range of organizations attended the seminar.

As Dr. Samuels emphasized, philanthropic organizations are interested in maximizing the impact of their support and in ensuring that this impact promotes the core mission of their organization.
In her presentation, she related to the Federation’s efforts to significantly expand its evaluation of the programs and agencies that it funds in order to ensure that every grant it provides has a rigorous and appropriate evaluation.

She emphasized the effort to rationalize the program evaluation process by creating a consistent strategy across the Federation and across the various programs. In addition, the process of commissioning evaluations is being standardized and improved.

Most of the presentation centered on the new system that has been developed by Samuels’ team to assess its program of core organizational grants to the Federation’s network of agencies.  The goal is to improve the process of resource allocation and to support efforts to strengthen the organizational capacity of these agencies.

The customized measurement tool focuses on five main criteria:  governance, performance, Jewish community building, cooperation and joint investment, and community reach.  Each dimension has several measurement areas, and each measurement area is composed of specific indicators or metrics.

Quantitative and qualitative data are culled from a variety of sources that include financial statements, grant reports, surveys of senior staff and board members, site visits, and more. The tool produces a score for each of the five dimensions, which is then calculated into an overall score for each agency.

Dr. Samuels and senior Federation staff sit with each organization to review the findings and identify where it is succeeding, where it might need improvement, and how the Federation can contribute to the capacity building of the agency to help realize these improvements. Although the scores are taken into account in the funding allocations process, the tool is not intended to be used as a stick to threaten the agencies, said Dr. Samuels.  To the contrary, “this is an opportunity to figure out how to move these important organizations forward, how to make them the best they can be.” Indeed, as a follow-up to the evaluation process, the Federation makes capacity-building grants to agencies to help them improve.

The tool will be standardized across all the Federation-supported agencies, but there is a degree of flexibility in applying the measures. “We don’t eliminate a dimension of evaluation, but we do change the way we look at it,” depending on the size and type of the agency.

The tool has initially been implemented in the grant-making process for Jewish community centers in the New York area.

Underlying the process is the goal of ensuring alignment between the agencies supported by the Federation and its three-pronged mission to cultivate and promote Jewish peoplehood, identity, and caring community in New York, Israel, and around the world.

About Judith Samuels
Dr. Judith Samuels has had a distinguished career in research, with appointments at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research (New York), New York University’s School of Medicine, and NYU’s Steinhardt School’s Global Institute for Public Health.

She has had an active consultancy working with 14 US States, the Federal Government, and many national and international organizations. She has served on a variety of nonprofit boards and advisory boards.

 Dr. Samuels has led extensive research in adult and family homelessness, health and mental health services, and policy and finance.  In 2010, Dr. Samuels was the lead author on Homeless Children: Update on Research, Policy, Programs and Opportunities, commissioned by the Assistant Secretary for Planning in the US Health and Human Services Administration. She serves as a scientific reviewer for the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

Dr. Samuels holds an MBA from Rutgers University, and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Public Administration from New York University.