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Outcomes mean impact: The new measure of success

Gone are the days of reporting only our outputs – how many people served, how many hours of training, or how many donors we have. In today’s world, our donors want to know that nonprofits are “moving the needle,” and making an overall impact, for those we serve. However, from what I’ve seen when reviewing websites, annual reports, and other materials from our members, it appears the majority of us continue to report outputs – a measure that is no longer effective.

Effective impact measurements require a different way of thinking and planning for most nonprofits, which means an organization-wide culture change. Rather than focusing on how many people served, it means measuring, managing, and communicating the impact on a client as a result of participating in one of our programs: what changes in their lives, not what we provided in the way of services. As we’ve observed in our Nonprofit University classes, it is always a difficult transition to stop thinking about measuring what you do (your outputs) and to think instead about the measure of what has changed for your client.

Outcomes are often defined in three different categories, which can be helpful in building your dashboard:

  • Results measures come in many forms and vary by the size, type, and reach of an organization. Most organization articulate result measures as 3-to-10 year impact statements that they hope to achieve through their programs and services.
  • Intermediate outcomes are the things we report annually as our accomplishments and achievements.
  • Program outcomes are the daily, weekly, and monthly outcomes we measure to evaluate and monitor our individual programs.

Think of these three measures as a pyramid, with results measures at the top, intermediate outcomes in the middle, and program outcomes at the bottom.

Donors and funders are expecting nonprofits to communicate their results or outcome measures for grants or donations received – the impact we achieve with their money. Effective development now means using impact measures in your donor solicitations, with a pitch based in the SSPI approach: Story, Statistic, Picture, Interaction. When impact measures are used in the “statistic” slot, you ensure that supporters, and potential supporters, understand the value of your program. This demonstrates how their money is used to achieve an impact.  

GCN offers consulting, training (including a 2-part certificate series and a 4-part certificate series), and member events to show you how to measure and communicate impact. Join us in transforming your organization or program with systematic methods for communicating your impact and demonstrating the full measure of its success.

Kathy Keeley is executive vice president, programs and a senior consultant at GCN.


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