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GuideStar Blog

Using Outcomes to Guide Your Nonprofit to Success

Men and women gathered at a white board with sticky notes on it. The woman in the foreground is writing on a sticky note.

Outcomes measurement has become part of the social sector vernacular. Foundations, nonprofits, and many others speak of outcomes as a key component of successful program design. Before you begin to design your program, you should already have a good sense of what your outcomes are going to be.

Yet, through the data that Candid has been gathering from GuideStar’s nonprofit profiles, we realize that everyone has a very different interpretation of what an outcome is. For example, it’s very common for organizations to confuse outcomes with outputs and activities. What do I mean by that? An example of an activity would be “to offer mentorship services to high school girls.” An output from this activity would be “50 girls served through the mentorship program.” But what is the outcome?

Simply stated, an outcome is the change in attitudes, knowledge, behavior, and/or condition that results from the services that you provide. When thinking about your program’s outcomes, you have to think about the change you want to see. In our example above, you have to think about why you’re offering the mentorship program to this specific group of young girls. What is the change that you want to see in them?

Of course, it’s not always that simple, and many nonprofit programs are far more complex than that. Identifying your outcomes requires time, research, and data to get a sense of where you’re starting from and where you want to go.

Candid offers great tools and resources to help you get started. We have a couple of courses that can help you begin to think in terms of impact (versus simply outputs), identify your outcome targets, and figure out how to measure them. Check out our Outcomes Thinking & Management course, followed by our Measuring Your Organization’s Impact self-paced eLearning course. Once you’ve completed those two courses, we highly encourage you to visit IssueLab to check out our free collection on outcomes. This collection and set of companion tools is a place for foundations and nonprofits to share funded evaluations and to access the lessons of their peers and colleagues.

Finally, when you have identified your programmatic outcomes and are ready to share them with the world, we highly encourage you to update your Nonprofit Profile on GuideStar. Under the “Programs” section, GuideStar allows you to explain how you are measuring your results. By sharing this information, you are also positioning yourself to earn a Platinum Seal of Transparency!

We all have so much to learn from each other! Tell us about your outcomes measurement journey, and how we can help you! We want to hear from you!

This post is reprinted from the GrantSpace Blog.

Julieta MendezJulieta Mendez is director of programs at Candid. Her experience in the social sector spans more than 10 years, with roles in grantmaking, fundraising, training, communications, outcomes measurement, and international development. She has extensive experience working both in the US and around the world. As director of programs for the Candid Social Sector Outreach unit, she provides leadership for the organization's online, in-person, and customized training programs. 

Topics: Nonprofit Outcomes Nonprofit Impact Nonprofit evaluation Nonprofit Transparency Trust in Nonprofits
  Your Nonprofit Profile on GuideStar has a new Demographics section.