Communicate with stakeholders across various mediumsDonor trust in charities is based largely on knowing how charities spend their money, and what they achieve with it. But how will outsiders know what you're achieving?
Whether analyzing your outcomes takes five hours or five months, communication of the results is essential — both inside and outside your organization. Before we jump into a plan for effective communication, though, it's important to define a few potentially confusing terms.
Consider these commonly confused outcomes terms:
- Outcomes: Short-term or intermediate changes in client or participant behavior.
- Impacts: Broader changes that occur within the community or society as a result of a program or service.
- Outcomes tracking: Collecting data that reflects what happens as a result of a program or service. Has a program met its goals? How have participants' lives been improved?
- Evaluation: Determination of whether program results are truly the result of a specific organization's efforts.
- Achievements: Specific goals that have been reached.
- Accomplishments: Jobs or large-scale projects that have been completed.
- Results: Documentation of the outcomes of a program or process.
Outcomes communication tips
A strong outcomes communication strategy engages participants, funders and other stakeholders in a variety of ways across various mediums. Do people really understand what you do? Are you reaching the right people? If not, think critically about how to improve the way you communicate your outcomes.
Your visual presence includes everything from billboards in a targeted neighborhood to the shopping cart software used in your web shop. Does your brand tell your outcomes story? Is it easy for website visitors to see at a glance what social issue you're trying to right?
Depending on your audience, you might use visual material such as posters, stickers and postcards to highlight headline-worthy outcomes. Or, produce a video (or series) telling the story of your participants or highlighting one of the changes your organization brought about.
Arguably the cornerstone of any strong communication strategy, writing opens the door for the public to peek into the heart of your organization. Whether you're issuing formal reports, crafting stories with impact or developing press releases, writing is the voice of your organization.
Use the key words or phrases defined in your organization's brand guidelines to represent your organization or mission and use them across mediums. Study your social media presence — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. What can you improve? Are you effectively communicating both the ongoing need for support and the progress you're making toward your impacts?
Remember that listeners are much more likely to be moved by the story of a single person than by a recital of dry facts and figures. Feature case studies and personal stories on your website — and link these to your bigger picture outcomes (such as the total number of people who benefited from your programs in a given year). With permission, use photos and quotes from participants. Let the world hear their stories directly.
In your reports, use the opportunity to clarify the link between outputs and outcomes. For example, if you ran X after-school clubs last year for X children, how did that benefit these children? What would they have done instead? How did it benefit their parents?
Building a strong nonprofit involves generating goodwill in the community. Have you had face-to-face contact with local businesses and community groups? Think meetings, interviews, networking events, parties and community gatherings. Putting a face to your organization might allow you to connect with people who don't respond well to visual or written accounts.
Consider all the individuals and groups you might want to reach out to in your community — potential and current donors, partner organizations and other local nonprofits. Now zoom in to the level of your staff and volunteers. Have they been properly oriented? Can they easily communicate the need for your services and recent success stories to someone they've just met?
In the best case scenario, you'll strike a balance between these three categories. Spreading your resources will help you reach a wider audience and ensure that everyone who comes into contact with your organization will connect with the heart of your mission.
Free Management Library: Basic guide to outcomes-based evaluation for nonprofit organizations with very limited resources by Carter McNamara
Strengthening Nonprofits: Measuring outcomes
Meera: Outcomes and impacts
Gallaudet University: Setting performance targets (criteria for success)
NPC: Result! What good impact reporting looks like by Katie Boswell and Sarah Handley (2016)
NPC: The principles of good impact reporting (2011)