Sarah Ford | June 18, 2014

4 Tips for Measuring Outcomes Instead of Activities

By Jason Saul

In my last post, I wrote about why it’s important for nonprofits to measure outcomes rather than activities. I was excited to see that the post sparked a discussion, but I also noticed that folks were unsure just how to go about measuring outcomes.  So here are a few tips.

In more than 20 years of working with nonprofits, I’ve found that one of the most common frustrations is how to make use of limited resources to conduct evaluations that show an organization’s impact and meet grant makers’ expectations. These suggestions will help.

Aim at the right outcomes. The “right” outcomes are those you can credibly claim to produce. By that, I mean it must be believable that your organization makes a substantial contribution to producing the outcomes it lays claim to.

One charity I worked with wanted to say it had reduced a city’s unemployment rate. But this was a stretch because the city had a population of millions and the charity was providing job training to only a couple hundred people.  In this case, it would’ve made more sense for the charity to determine how many program participants were successfully placed in jobs.

The right outcomes should also be relevant. In other words, they need to pass the “so what?” test.  Just as you are deliberate about your organization’s mission, make sure your outcomes are relevant to that mission.

I was recently talking to a state budget analyst about the status of a road-construction effort. 

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