Whats the Difference – Goals, Outcomes, and Objectives?

Whats the Difference – Goals, Outcomes, and Objectives?

More and more funding sources are requesting program outcomes so that they have an understanding of how their money has made a difference in the lives of those you serve.  It is not enough to say, “we served 50 people,” but instead, how have the lives of those 50 people changes.  Clearly, if you are trying to demonstrate that you are making a difference in the lives of people, it is important to think about how you will document this change prior to starting the program.  Developing the program is the best time to being thinking about outcomes.

To get started, it is helpful to get clear on definitions for key terms:

Goals – goals are broad-based and connected to the mission of the organization.  They may not necessarily be measurable.  For example, the overarching goal for a program offered by an early childhood education program might be “Children enter school ready to learn.”  Your program or service will probably not be able to accomplish this goal….but it is always what you are working toward.

Outcomes – A simple definition for outcomes is the change you expect to see as a result of providing your program or service. Usually, this will be a change or a step toward the accomplishment of the goal. We know that most issues are complex and have many pieces to them; thus, there are many factors that lead to the accomplishment of the goal. It is important to ensure that the change you identify is the direct result of your program or service.

Objectives – objectives are the measurable steps that your organization will be taking toward the goal.  It is best to use SMART Objectives:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results Oriented and Timed.  So, for the goal mentioned above, one objective could be:

By 2020 Children living in the XYZ community will know their alphabet when they enter Kindergarten. 

Tips for Success:

  • As you develop your goals and objectives, include only those objectives which your program or service can directly impact.
  • Include only a few key objectives, having a large number of objectives becomes burdensome to track and report.
  • Ask yourself, what do we want to know? What do our stakeholders want to know about our work?
  • Begin collecting data at the beginning of the program/service.
  • Build evaluation into your program budget.

Many people find that evaluating programs and services is the most difficult part of grant writing.  The key is to think about evaluation from the perspective of the funder and to remember the key question, “how are we making a difference in the lives of those we serve?

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