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Use outcomes to create meaning, connections and impact

Outcomes are measurable, meaningful changes in the people a program serves. Developing a strong outcomes approach will allow both participants and donors to participate in and track your progress. To get started, consider helpful outcomes formulas and strategies.

Outcomes formula

Picture a small library staffed by an energetic team. They're creative and have seemingly boundless energy. The activities calendar is always full of workshops and story hours and the community considers them a beloved institution. But when the staff begins campaigning to raise funds for a beautiful addition to the building, they can't seem to raise the capital — no matter how hard they try. Why?

To those working in the library, the mission already seems crystal clear. They're the ones on the ground floor offering tutoring and recommending books. But two or three layers out — from the perspective of the greater community or new participants — the mission starts to get cloudy. Specificity matters. Consider which of these lines is more likely to make you reach for your wallet:

"Donate to support child literacy!" versus "Donate $10 to buy an hour with a reading tutor for an underprivileged child!"

Which cause can you picture supporting? Which one will you remember a week from now? One way to draw new people into your campaigns is to connect specific, actionable outcomes happening now back to your greater mission. The following formula can be helpful:

Your support [money, time, knowledge] will provide [X books/resources, Y number of windows for the new addition], which will help us achieve our greater mission of [improving childhood literacy, empowering a new generation of readers].

Grassroots strategies

In other cases, organizations become all about vision and impact statements — with no practical application on the ground. Huge, national groups such as political networks or social movements are particularly vulnerable to this issue. Although the governing board might have a clear vision and the best of intentions, policies don't always make sense once they've trickled down to the grassroots level. This can result in the misperception that people on the ground no longer care about the cause. In reality, though, those in the grassroots ranks might simply have no clue what they're supposed to be doing to advance the cause.

Remedy this confusion by building outcome chains that show progressions of change from the ground floor up. Remind grassroots participants how their everyday activities — knocking on doors, donating a few dollars or pounds — will contribute to the success of the next outcome in the chain and, beyond that, the movement as a whole.

Studying efficacy

Once you're up and running, you'll want to study the efficacy of your initiatives. Though slowing your work to gather data or evidence can seem like a waste of time, the information will help you form an accurate picture of your results. Ultimately, there's no value in sticking with programs that have been proven to be ineffectual. Of course, the "proof" part here is critical. New programs need a chance to grow and existing programs must be evaluated at regular intervals to determine if they're still making an impact.

As you begin focusing on your outcomes measurement, consider what data you'll need to collect to determine if your initiatives are on the right track. Then, you'll be able to strip away any dysfunctional activities getting in the way of productive progress.

By starting with your outcomes vision and working backward, your organization is more likely to:

  • Develop thoughtful programming. Instead of arbitrary decisions about methods and practices, focusing on outcome chains will allow you to carefully think through every solution.
  • Conserve resources. Are your resources being used as effectively as possible? Staff? Time? Brick and mortar expenses? Keeping careful track of expenses will help cross-check that the most important programs are getting a corresponding piece of the resource pie.
  • Focus on what matters. For partnerships, outcome chains can be an extremely effective method to shift focus from daily matters to the bigger mission. They allow one or many partners who share a mission to work on different parts of the same chain.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Community Planning Toolkit: Outcomes approach

SALTO: The outcomes approach to evaluation



Writer and firm believer in using business as a tool for positive change