NCHT’s Evaluation Project: Our Real-time Report Card

“Back to school” season is upon us, which means my phone occasionally chimes with real-time updates on my child’s grades. When I was in public school, my parents had no idea what my grades were until they received my report card. Sent home each quarter, these cards detailed grades in the subjects and any information the teacher wanted parents to know (my teachers’ comments frequently referenced my fondness for talking).

The Natrona Collective Health Trust is nearing the 3-year anniversary of its transition into a private foundation dedicated to the health and well-being of the residents of Natrona County. We’ve developed a mission and strategic plan that focuses on mental and behavioral health. We’ve built grantmaking programs and are engaged in work beyond the simple provision of funding.

But how do we know that our work has its intended impact?

Over the course of this year, the Natrona Collective Health Trust has developed a real-time “report card” of sorts, one that evaluates our own work according to the change we want to see in our community. The evaluation framework begins with our theory of change – a statement that establishes the outcomes on which we “grade” ourselves.

Our theory of change is:

Through NCHT’s advocacy, trust-based grantmaking, non-profit capacity building, and community engagement we will support a robust and cohesive infrastructure to meet community mental and behavioral health needs; through increasing access and eliminating barriers, Natrona County will be a place where everyone can thrive.

So how do we know how we’re doing to help make Natrona County a place where everyone can thrive? How do we grade ourselves on efforts to support infrastructure, increase access, and eliminate barriers?

With input from evaluation experts, our nonprofit partners, community stakeholders, and the voices of Natrona County’s youth, we’ve developed a comprehensive set of tools to find out how our work affects our partners and community. These tools – and the questions they’ll help us answer – are as follows:

  • Data collection and analysis: What is the status of mental health, behavioral health, and physiological health outcomes in Natrona County? How are these outcomes changing over time?
  • Discussions with our nonprofit partners: Is our funding being used for its intended purpose? How are we increasing the capacity of nonprofits that serve Natrona County residents? Are we fulfilling the tenets of trust-based philanthropy?
  • Discussions with youth: What is life like in Natrona County? Do they feel a sense of belonging and safety? How do they access support and services if needed? What changes would they like to see?
  • Internal tracking and assessments: What are our activities in advocacy, developing partnerships, community engagement, capacity-building, and offering thought leadership? How are we adhering to trust-based philanthropic practices? How do we operationalize our guiding principles?

NCHT staff are testing these tools this fall with the intent to formally launch at the beginning of 2024, and then release a report on what we’ve done and, most importantly, what we’ve learned at the end of each year. This will be shared with our board, nonprofit community, and Natrona County residents in general. Our hope is that the information will be useful to policymakers, school and community leaders, and others who also work to make Natrona County “a place where everyone can thrive.” That would be an A+ achievement by any measure!