Outcomes & Evaluation

Sean Stannard-Stockton, CEO of Tactical Philanthropy Advisors explains the three words that are used to describe the results of nonprofits: “Outputs, Outcomes and Impact”. Instead of being confusing jargon, these three words represent logical approaches to achieving results in everyday personal efforts, like working out to improve your long-term health:

  • Outputs: These are the activities done by the nonprofit. The meals served by a soup kitchen are outputs.
  • Outcomes: These are the observed effects of the outputs on the beneficiaries of the nonprofit. The degree to which the meals served by the soup kitchen reduce hunger in the population served by the soup kitchen.
  • Impact: This is the degree to which the outcomes observed by a nonprofit are attributable to its activities. The impact of the soup kitchen is the degree to which a reduction of hunger in the population they serve is attributable to its efforts. While a soup kitchen might serve a lot of meals and correctly observe that hunger is subsequently less prevalent in the population it serves, the reduction in hunger might simply be attributable to an improving economy, or a new school lunch program or some other activities that are not part of the soup kitchen’s efforts.

While outputs, outcomes and impact might sound like jargon, they are an extremely useful vocabulary for discussing the results of a nonprofit. They help illustrate the tradeoff between the difficulty of obtaining knowledge and the value of the knowledge.

Stannard-Stockton further explains that high performing nonprofits…

  • …base their programs on research about what works.
  • …actively collect information about the results of their programs.
  • …systematically analyze this information.
  • …adjust their activities in response to new information.
  • …operate with an absolute focus on producing results.

The Urban Institute and The Center for What Works compiles resources as part of its Outcome Indicators Project. They report:

Basic criteria for quality indicators included ones that are: specific – unique, unambiguous, observable – achievable, practical, cost effective to collect, measurable; understandable –comprehensible; relevant – measure important dimension, valid, appropriate, related to program, of significance, predictive, timely; time bound; and reliable – accurate, unbiased, consistent, verifiable.

To this end, they’ve worked with a variety of nonprofits to develop a “taxonomy” of indicators that frame:

  • Program Centered Outcomes – Reach, Participation, Satisfaction
  • Participant Centered Outcomes – Knowledge/ Learning/ Attitude, Behavior, Condition/Status
  • Community Centered Outcomes – Policy, Public Health/ Safety, Civic Participation, Economic, Environmental, Social
  • Organization Centered Outcomes – Financial, Management, Governance

Results-Based Accountability (RBA)

Over the past 2 decades, Vermont nonprofits and state agencies have found Results-Based Accountability (RBA) a powerful and effective tool for outcomes and evaluation. Results-Based Accountability is a planning and evaluation framework developed by Mark Friedman, field-tested in Vermont, and outlined in Mark’s classic book Trying Hard is Not Good Enough.

With a results-based approach, Common Good Vermont strengthens the nonprofit sector’s capacity to make significant, sustained improvements in the well-being of Vermont communities and individuals. We do this by asking nonprofits to answer three transformational questions about their operations:

  • How much are we doing?
  • How well are we doing it?
  • And, most critically for all of us – Is anyone better off?

Learn More.