Understanding Outcomes

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Prior to beginning the process of data collection, you'll need to define the outcomes you want to accomplish. As a nonprofit organization, your intended outcomes focus on the impacts or changes that your clients experience as a result of your programs and services. When crafting outcomes, consider the who, what, and how of the initiative. Who will be impacted by the initiative? What will change as a result of the initiative, and how will it change? When identifying outcomes, it can be helpful to organize your thoughts in the form of an outcome chain that logically links your services to client learning, behavior, and, eventually, results.

Outcome statements capture the "who," "what," and "how."

Formulaic, straightforward outcome statements can help you develop your outcomes. When crafting an outcome statement, consider the details of the initiative you are providing, the recipient of that service or program, and the intended impact of that service on your target recipients.   For instance, a youth-serving nonprofit might identify the following outcome statements in relation to their afterschool programming:

  • Increased school engagement for participating students
  • Reduced high-risk behavior for participating students
  • Increased high school graduation rates for participating students

Outcome chains document correlative relationships.

Outcome chains can help organize your thinking about what you hope to achieve. They require you to put your program theory to work and articulate how your activities will bring about the impacts in the organizations with whom you are working. Outcome chains create a logical progression of the short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes that lead to your goals. Consider the example of a large nonprofit that provides training to smaller nonprofit organizations. The provision of training can create the following chain, linking reactions, learning, behavior, and results:

Not all organizations can and will measure all the different outcomes noted in an outcome chain. Consider the example of the outcome chain above. Your organization may not have the tools and resources to evaluate outcomes as they relate to reaction, learning, behavior, and results. If your circumstances do not allow you to evaluate all areas, focus on the earlier outcomes noted in the outcome chain. There is no point in measuring for results if you cannot point to the series of outcomes that impacted those results.

Click to open interactivity Use if/then statements to identify outcomes.

Use if/then statements to identify outcomes.

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Develop realistic, informed outcomes.

When crafting outcomes, consider the following:

  • Are the outcomes related to the “core business” of your organization or program?
  • Is it within your control to influence these outcomes?
  • Are your outcomes realistic and attainable? Are your outcomes achievable within funding and reporting periods?
  • Are your outcomes written as change statements—will things increase, decrease, or stay the same?
  • Have you moved beyond client satisfaction in your outcomes?
  • Is there a logical sequence among your short-term, intermediate, and long-term outcomes?
  • Are there any big “leaps” in your outcomes, i.e., gaps in the progression of impacts?