If you run a nonprofit organization, the chances are good that somewhere along the line, you’ve heard the phrase “outcomes measurement.” You may have read it in an article like this one, in a book, or perhaps attended a workshop or seminar where the term was mentioned.
Many people assume they understand what outcomes measurement means, but when asked to quantify it, they stumble for words. “Well, my program encourages children to read more…read anything, really.” Okay, but how do you measure the impact of your program? By the number of children enrolled, the number of books they’ve read, or another measurement?
Output or Outcome?
The example above of a children’s reading program is an excellent illustration of how many people confuse outputs with outcomes. Outputs typically refer to raw numbers: the number of children enrolled in the program, the number of books they read, the hours spent reading.
Outcomes differ from outputs because they measure change. The outcome of a reading program must measure changes in reading habits to measure the outcome effectively. The stated outcome of the children’s program to encourage children to read more and to love reading. To measure the outcomes, the program’s leadership must find a way to measure the participants’ attitudes towards reading and reading habits before and after completing the program.
Do you see the difference? Outcomes always refer to change—a change in habits, thinking, or behavior. Program outcomes should be considered long before you sit down to measure them. Most nonprofits do this automatically by considering what impact they wish to make before embarking on a new program. The emphasis shifts from activity to change, which is the ultimate goal of most nonprofit programs.
Even if you haven’t considered the ramifications of outcomes versus outputs measurement, it’s never too late to find a way to measure outcomes. The has an excellent page of resources that will help you learn more about outcomes measurement. It includes tools from places such as the Kellogg Foundation, GuideStar, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to name a few, that will help you improve outcomes measurement.
Why Measure Outcomes?
More and more, nonprofits must provide outcomes measurement data to foundations and other sources of funding. prefer to put their money behind programs that make a difference in the world, and the measurement of that difference or change is what outcomes measurement is all about. Without this data, they may wonder whether or not your program actually does what it says it will do.
Outcomes measurement is also critical to cultivate public trust. The public needs to know that they’re donating money towards programs that work. They want to see that their hard-earned money goes towards something that inspires the change they wish to see in the world. With outcomes measurement data, you can easily and quickly show even the most skeptical donor or foundation that yes, your program works, and here’s the proof.
Measuring the impact of programs takes time and effort, but it is worth it. The data generated from outcomes measurement can go a long way towards helping your nonprofit gain public trust and receive more funding.
Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please at 206-605-3113 for more information.