This month our focus is on outcomes of nonprofits. 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-the resources that an organization puts toward a program or service. These resources can be financial resources, time, physical space, volunteers, etc.
Outputs –what your organization does, its service. Some examples include training sessions, counseling sessions, meals provided, after-school programs, etc.
Outcomes – 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 – 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.
Over the next few weeks, we will look in depth at outcomes and how to measure the accomplishments of your organization.
If this is an area where your organization is struggling, we can assist you, contact us today.