The Outcome Oriented Non-Profit Organization

| July 7, 2014

?????????????????????????????Donors and the public are increasingly expecting non-profits to demonstrate that their work is making a measureable difference – to be outcome oriented and not just ministry oriented.  Simply put, outcomes answer the question, “what have we accomplished?” Clearly, the purpose of a nonprofit is to change something or make a difference, so when we measure outcomes, we need to answer the “making a difference” question in light of the work being done by the organization.

The first step to understanding the complicated world of outcomes and outcome measures is to understand the numerous terms used.

“Inputs” are the resources that an organization puts toward a program or service. These resources can be financial resources, time, physical space, and volunteers.

“Outputs” is what your organization does, its service. Some examples include training sessions, counseling sessions, meals provided, after-school programs, and many other ministry services.

“Outcomes” means the direct, intended benefit on those served by the organization. Generally, outcomes demonstrate some level of improvement, or change.  In other words, the outcome is what happens as the result of our program or service.

“Impact” is the eventual outcomes as a result of our work. It often takes a really long time to make an impact, and because there are so many factors involved in doing so, it is difficult to predict with accuracy the impact that will be made.

The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox uses the following analogy to explain these terms. Imagine that you are standing on the side of a lake and you toss a rock into the water. The inputs are you, the rock and the strength of your arm. The program is your act of throwing the rock. The output is the splash the rock makes as it hits the water. The ripples on the water are the outcome of your action—they happened because of the output. They reflect a change you have made to the surface conditions of the water.

In the end, impacts are what we desire, but outcomes are what we work for.

These terms can be overwhelming and daunting when you try to use them to talk about your organization’s accomplishments. One of the easiest and most effective ways to express your accomplishments is through the use of a logic model.

A logic model is a visual way to express the relationship between the resources your organization has for a program or service, the activities your organization is delivering and the changes you want to see amongst those you serve, or in other words, how will the lives of those you serve be better as a result of your program or service?

Below is a visual representation of a logic model that uses the same terms discussed above.  Note under inputs, there is also a section called “Constraints on the Program.”  Constraints are something that nonprofits sometimes forget to include in their logic model but are very real and must be considered.  Often constraints include laws and regulations, and public perception.



After your organization has identified its outcomes, the next step is to break them down into short and long term outcomes and determine the overall impact the program or service will have — to design an evaluation plan for your program or service.

Like most things, it is easiest to begin designing an evaluation plan at the outset of the program. Better yet, design the evaluation plan when the program is being designed. As you begin, answer the following questions:

  • How will we know the program is a success?  What will our participants or clients look like? How will their lives be better?
  • Using the answers to the above questions, think about 2 or 3 questions that will help you know that the program or service is making a difference in the lives of those you serve. For instance, in a job placement program, one obvious question is how many people obtained employment.  Another question might be how many people are still employed after three months and still another might be how many people have obtained a raise or promotion after six months.
  • Once you have the questions that you want to answer, the next step is to determine what information you need to answer these questions. Because data collection can be time consuming and expensive, you will want to focus on just two or three questions. It can be tempting to develop an evaluation plan that has the organization collecting a lot of data and doing lots of follow-up with clients; however, remember that such a process can be overwhelming for staff and quite costly. Instead, focus on a few key questions and collect anecdotal stories of success throughout the program year.

One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make is not including any funds in the budget for evaluation costs. Evaluation costs money!  Typically, someone must collect the data (and often a specialized software system is used) and analyze it. For programs that track longitudinal outcomes or those that are designed with control groups, the costs can be even more significant.

As you can see, the basics of evaluation are not so basic. Even to the most experienced organization, evaluation can often be overwhelming.  But evaluation demonstrates outcome, and outcomes ultimately becomes impact, and impact is what a non-profit organization is all about.





Category: Non-Profits

About the Author ()

Email | Website | Deborah DiVirgilio is a Certified Governance Trainer through BoardSource and has more than 20 years of experience in providing nonprofit consulting, grant writing and management services for nonprofits, government agencies and faith-based organizations. She is the owner and principal consultant of The Faith-Based Nonprofit Resource Center (formally known as DiVirgilio & Associates). She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioral Sciences from Wilmington College and a Masters Degree in Non-Profit Management from Regis University, and is Grant Professional certified by the Grant Professional Institute. She has served on the Board of Directors and as an officer of the Grant Professionals Association.