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, outputs, outcomes and impact actual mimic very common sense approaches to achieving results in everyday personal efforts such as working out to improve your 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 continues 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.
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.
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
Benchmarks for a Better Vermont, our sister organization is your “go-to” resource for managing for impact with Results-Based Accountability.
With the aid of Results-Based Accountability™, Benchmarks for a Better Vermont helps nonprofits 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?
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. Over the past 15 years, dozens of Vermont nonprofits and state agencies have found RBA a powerful, effective tool.
With a results-based approach,Benchmarks for a Better Vermontstrengthens the nonprofit sector’s capacity to make significant, sustained improvements in the well-being of Vermont communities and individuals.
Lizann Peyton details the benefits and workings of the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) for Vermont nonprofits that want to assess their capacity and improve their effectiveness.