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Toolkit Troubles? TCC’s Evaluators Share Their Top Tips

Deepti Sood, Associate Director, Evaluation and Learning

Rose Konecky, Consultant, Evaluation and Learning

Tune Up Your Toolkit Each nonprofit has a unique mission that drives their efforts to make the world a better place. While their organizational missions may be unique, many nonprofits face similar challenges and capacity needs. Though they exist independently, there is no reason for each to be on their own when it comes to identifying relevant and useful tools and resources.

Resource toolkits are collections of items like articles, templates, tools, and worksheets that reduce the difficulty for each nonprofit to track down useful resources. Since toolkits can be offered to hundreds of organizations simultaneously at approximately the same cost as being offered to one, they are also a relatively low-cost way to help build the knowledge and motivation capacity of nonprofits. Through recent engagements, TCC Group has evaluated and provided guidance to nonprofits and foundations to strengthen their toolkits with the goal of offering low-cost, high-impact resources. Through this experience, we have identified several best practices in toolkit design and implementation. This article lays out five key elements involved in maximizing toolkit utility.

1Make it purposeful. A toolkit must have a defined mission and purpose at its outset. Without this clarity, the toolkit may experience “mission creep.” The audience may not understand the kit’s unifying principles, and as a result, the user will search elsewhere for tools and information. Prevent this pitfall by solidifying the goals of the toolkit during an initial planning process. Ask yourself, “What will change as a result of this toolkit existing?” In addition, clearly define the intended audience. For example, nonprofit executives need different toolkit content than direct service providers. These considerations can help determine the length, sophistication, and other criteria for selecting the tools.

2Make it intuitive. Toolkit layout is at least as important as content. It is important that a potential user can arrive at your toolkit and understand how to find the resources they need. In order to lay out the structure in a way that is intuitive to the typical user, consult the mission and intended audience, as defined in the “make it purposeful” element. Depending on the purpose and audience, organize the toolkit by subject matter, user type (administrators, recipients, etc.), or necessary skill level. A small advisory group of potential users can provide guidance in this process as well as valuable input based on their findings from piloting the kit.

3Make it functional. Some toolkit designers think that having a sophisticated set of “bells and whistles” will attract users. Our experience indicates that these extras can distract from functionality. We recommend considering all the “must-haves” with regard to your toolkit – that is, which characteristics must the toolkit have in order to create an ideal user experience for your target audience? Then stick closely to that “must-have” list. For example, if it is a “must-have” that users are able to access the kit reliably, 24/7, then employ a reliable web host for the kit. If it is a “must-have” that the kit is easy to use, then provide clear, jargon-free instructions and an intuitive organizational structure. If it is a “must-have” that peer organizations interact around the tools in order to increase buy-in, then a comments section or rating system may be in order.

4Make your updates. Consider your toolkit to be a living document that needs evaluation and editing to mature. Set a schedule to regularly review toolkit outputs, outcomes, structure, and content to make revisions. This process might include promoting select resources you think are critical but underused. If features are not being used at all, change or remove them. By pruning extraneous tools in this way, you can maximize the relevance of the content to your target population.

5Don’t forget to publicize. The primary enemy to effective toolkits is non-use. It is likely not your goal to spend time and resources creating and administering a toolkit if your user base is unaware or uninterested in it. To that end, you should publicize the toolkit throughout its life. At the outset, consider organizing an event around the kit’s launch. During administration, issue regular communication about the kit, stressing its benefits to the audience. After making toolkit improvements, share information with users about how they can expect an improved toolkit experience.

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