Once outcome statements, such as performance targets and milestones, have been established, it is much easier to set up a Logic Model or similar evaluation. To proceed, consider how the project will verify that proposed changes have taken place by measuring comparative data from the start of the project and as the project comes to an end. Establish benchmarks that represent indicators of progress. Verifying these changes may mean conducting follow-up with beneficiaries by conducting surveys, phone interviews, or by using some other mechanism to assure that the planned benefit has been achieved.
dvance planning of a project’s evaluation component can help determine the design, cost, and resources needed to implement the evaluation. The application should describe, at least in general terms, what will be evaluated and how it will be done, who will oversee and coordinate evaluation activities, how low-income participants and other community members will be involved in the evaluation, and what baseline data will be used for comparative purposes.
In developing an evaluation plan, applicants should:
• decide at least in general terms what to evaluate and what process to use; • determine who will oversee or coordinate evaluation activities; • identify participants – who the evaluation will focus on and who will participate in its design and implementation; • identify baseline data that is available; and • estimate costs and the need for outside expertise at the onset of the project.
- how to involve stakeholders to provide insights and identify priorities for evaluation
- how to select practical indicators and associated measurement tools such as surveys to gather information and track developments
- how to interpret the information you derive
- what steps are needed to refine evaluation procedures on an ongoing basis
- and what steps will ensure ongoing record-keeping, data collection, and monitoring.
The CFSC provides evaluation training workshops, handbooks, and specific evaluation tools to help CFP grantees conduct effective evaluations. (See Evaluation Program webpage for more information: http://www.nacaa.net/evaluation.html) The RFA encourages applicants to seek expert assistance with evaluation design and implementation, as appropriate and available. Academic institutions may collaborate for free or at a fairly low cost, out of interest in the project. Otherwise, independent consultants can also provide such assistance, though probably at a much higher cost. (Note: See the CFP RFA and CFSC’s Evaluation Handbook and Toolkit for additional guidance on evaluation and logic models: http://www.nacaa.net/evaluation_pg2.html).
g. Self-Sustainability Because Community Food Projects awards are intended as one-time funding, USDA is interested in how the project will continue or be sustained after the CFP grant ends. Sustainability should make sense in terms of project priorities and strategies. Unless there is a strong entrepreneurial component, project activities are not expected to generate an on-going revenue stream.
Viable sustainability strategies may include: continued support provided by the grantee, in-kind and institutionalized support from a project partner who takes an activity under its wing, continued grants or other fund-raising, and project revenues and income generated by project entrepreneurship. 3. Budget Narrative and Justiﬁcation The application requires a budget narrative to explain how CFP funds will be used. Reviewers judge an application mainly by what it proposes to achieve and how it will accomplish its objectives. But the budget needs to be appropriate for the project and make sense. Because the USDA budget forms combine many line item categories, explaining the details can make the difference as to whether or not a proposal gets funded.
The budget justification should explain every budget line item, and break down large categories into specific expenditures. This is the place to explain any unusual expenditures – particularly if they are relatively large and not clearly detailed in the narrative section. Reviewers and USDA will look at these details to make sure they are consistent with the proposed activities, and also will consider whether there is sufficient funding to accomplish the activities being proposed. Give particular attention to the budget justification section; it should be neat and avoid redundancy. Splitting out costs for each year of the project is helpful, but it is not necessary to repeat lengthy information for every year; just break out the items that change, such as new supplies and equipment, salary increases, and the like.
The sources and amounts of all matching support should be summarized on a separate page and added as an attachment as part of the Budget Justification, with letters of commitment and other documentation of match details also included as attachments. 4. Letters of Matching Commitment As noted earlier, federal CFP funds requested must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Matching resources may be either cash and/or in-kind, but must be non-federal in origin. They can come from a state or local government agency, or private sources such as businesses, foundations or charities, or from other non-profit entities. In-kind resources may include the value of office space used exclusively for the funded project, or the value, fairly assessed, of transportation, photocopying, postage or other costs covered by the applicant organization or by a project partner.
Matching resources must be detailed, explained, and firmly committed in a letter from project partners to the applicant or in a letter to USDA from the applicant. USDA requires that all matching resources for the life of the project be identified and committed “up front” before the project is initiated. Reviewers read these and other collaborator letters carefully to assess the degree of commitment and involvement of each organization. Form letters or letters that simply state the project is important and that the organization will endorse it signal to reviewers that the group has not been very involved in the planning of the project.
On the other hand, a unique, individualized letter that details the specific role of the organization, its past contributions, and its proposed activities in the planning and implementation of the project will be much more compelling. If a project is a true collaboration, this will show in the level of enthusiasm, substantive information, and consistency provided in these letters. Letters of commitment should document contributions of cash or in-kind support. Similarly, if a collaborator or consultant will be paid for work on the project, the nature of the work, hourly rate, and number of hours need to be documented in their letter.
The legislation does not require that an applicant contribute matching resources beyond the one-to-one requirement. However, evidence of additional funding can increase the project’s self-reliance and make it more self-sustaining. On the other hand, if the project has such extensive funding that CFP support will not represent a major or critical component, the application may not fit the intent of this program to “support the development of Community Food Projects with a one-time infusion of federal dollars to make such projects self-sustaining.” CFP is not looking to be a small part of a big, long-term program; the program wants to play a significant role in funding specific initiatives that might otherwise not take place. For example, CFP funds would not be appropriate to support or expand the regular activities of a food bank.
But they could assist the food bank in setting up a culinary skills training program, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm or distribution initiative, or other such activities. a. Veriﬁcation of matching resources Collaborators will need guidance on what to include in their letters of commitment regarding documentation of matching funds or in-kind. Partners should share the specific guidance for match contained in the RFA. Some types of match may be considered ineligible, because they are an intended outcome or integral part of a project. Examples include: food donations (e.g., the value of foods gleaned and donated to a food bank); food production (e.g., the value of food grown and marketed as part of the project); project income (e.g. from potential farmers’ market sales); and volunteer time that is already integral to a project (e.g., as a requirement for participation in a food coop).
Applications should include written commitments for both cash and in-kind contributions to verify matching support. Separate letters may be needed for each resource contributed to the project. Pages 18 and 19 of the RFA are very specific as to what should be included in letters from the applicant and its partners verifying the matching commitment. Written verification also means sufficient documentation to allow USDA to assess the value of the contribution, and providing evidence that a person with the appropriate level of authority has made this commitment; i.e., the commitment letter should be on letterhead and signed by the authorized organizational representative. The RFA states directly and unequivocally on page 18 that “Awards will not be issued until all matching has been verified.”
For matching funds (cash), verification of the source of the funds must be provided. But, if applicants already have funds on hand, potential complications in the grants management process may be avoided by simply stating the amount of cash available, rather than linking it to a specific grant commitment. If documentation of another grant received by the applicant is provided, it should include a copy of the award letter stating the purpose(s) for which the funding was provided and a statement as to when the funds are available.
The RFA on pages 18-19 states that for any third party cash contributions (i.e., by a partner in the project), a separate pledge agreement is required for each donation, signed by the authorized organizational representatives of the donor organization and the applicant organization. Such contributions must include a good faith estimate of the current fair market value of the contribution and other details specified in the RFA. The RFA (page 19) states that the value of applicant contributions to the project shall be established in accordance with applicable cost principles.
Again, clear details are needed for each item or type of in-kind provided. In addition, the applicant organization should demonstrate that it is willing and able to receive the items contributed and apply them toward the project. 5. Letters of Support In addition to letters of matching commitment, applications may include general support letters from project collaborators. A limited number of such support letters – such as those from farmers or schools, where appropriate – are encouraged to provide evidence of broad community involvement in both past planning, project operations, and future decision-making. Avoid using form letters for this purpose; an individualized letter that speaks to the role of the organization in the project, and importance of the project and its planned outcomes, is much more persuasive and helpful.