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Topic: Programs and Services

Capturing What Counts

March 31, 2008
Jeff Mason, Social Solutions
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There is a desire within the nonprofit sector (funders and organizations) to improve the overall level of accountability and to work more productively. This desire has led to an increased interest in outcomes. However, for many, the good intent that has fueled interest in outcomes has resulted in confusion and a data collection and reporting headache that has actually hampered performance.

Today, to support a so called "outcomes-oriented" approach, you may find yourself scrambling to capture, and then report on, data that doesn't do much to illustrate your true impact or help you in moving closer to achieving your mission. In fact, this information collection and reporting often distracts you from your work and hampers your performance. This isn't what an outcomes-oriented approach is about.

An outcomes-oriented approach is about performance optimization. It's about using information as a tool to help you achieve your goals and demonstrate your impact. A growing number of grassroots organizations are effectively implementing an outcomes-oriented approach that is resulting in a boost in their performance.

All of these high-performing organizations have at least three things in common:

  1. They understand what an outcome is and why it's important.
  2. They have a well-defined mission and a strategy for success.
  3. They use performance management tools that enables them to quickly assess which of their efforts are having the greatest affect on their ability to achieve a desired outcome and which are not.

What are Outcomes?

Outcomes are often confused with outputs. To define an outcome it's helpful to first define an output. An output is something that you get at the end of a process - a deliverable. Outputs are the amount of work accomplished. It's about the units of service or products delivered. Examples would include:

  • Number of classes taught
  • Number of counseling sessions conducted
  • Number of participants served
  • Number of meals distributed
  • Number of jobs secured

In contrast, an outcome is the result. It's the measurable changes that are realized by a service recipient. Outcomes are the result of intentional effort and they are sustained overtime. Whereas an output is something that you've done, an outcome is the reason why you've done it. Outcomes are related to:

  • New knowledge
  • Improved skills
  • Change in attitude
  • Modified behavior
  • Improved condition

In the upcoming months, we are going to define and explore the importance of outcomes and provide you with tips on becoming an outcomes-oriented organization. We hope this series helps you to increase your performance and enhance the IMPACT of your organization.

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Social Solutions is the leading provider of performance management software and services for the human services sector.

Their ETO (Efforts to Outcomes) software and services give organizations a clear picture of which efforts are having the greatest impact on the social issues they strive to address. With this knowledge, organizations can reinforce what's working, adjust what isn't, and more easily report quantified successes to key stakeholders.

Click here to learn more.







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