Benchmarks For a Better Vermont Evaluates Nonprofits

Kate JellemaThe Marlboro College based Benchmarks for a Better Vermont Performance Institute recently announced the Rutland County Parent Center and the Rutland Housing Coalition as the latest participants in its program. Benchmarks, a grant-funded organization centered on evaluating nonprofits through “results-based accountability,” expects to work with five other organizations by October 2013. Its director, Kate Jellema, who also heads Marlboro College’s Program in Nonprofit Management, said that most nonprofits in the past have been driven anecdotally, but because of the growing competition for funding, the need for rigorous assessment is crucial. Funders want to know if their contributions are being used effectively, and the programs themselves want to know if their commitments and priority areas are being addressed.

We ask these organizations to ask themselves three questions, Jellema said. “How much did we do? How well did we do it? And is anybody better off?” The evaluation that follows is systematic and particular to the needs and structure of the organization. If necessary, the methods of the nonprofit are then redirected to ensure that it is making “significant, sustained improvements in healthy futures, education, and economic opportunities for all Vermonters.”

In addition to assessing the performance and services of specific nonprofits, Benchmarks looks to bring those organizations together to a place of greater cooperation. “The nonprofit sector is a critical component of the regional landscape,” Jellema said, “and it attracts some of the most innovative thinkers.” Helping these programs evaluate their own day-to-day operations and helping them work together will support their commitments “to make the most of limited resources to make a difference in the communities they serve.”