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Evaluation Measures 101: Outcomes vs. Outputs

In my early years of writing competitive grant applications, I always wrote the outcomes. When the logic model (reference link below) was created by United Way of America for its member affiliates, a new measurement emerged: outputs. At first, the difference between outcomes and outputs seemed as clear as mud for me. However, I finally developed an understanding of how they differ, and the logic model certainly made it much easier to separate the two measurements. Let’s look at the difference between these measurements.

What Are Outcomes?

Outcomes are benefits for participants (the grant award’s end users) during and after program activities. [1] Outcomes become your qualitative measurements to monitor and report in your evaluation plan.

Outcomes support your organization’s accountability for the grant making agency’s funds. The types of grant makers requesting outcomes in their grant applications includes foundations and other grant making organizations such as the United Way, as well as local, state, and federal government agencies.

Every organization hopes to deliver quality services. Outcome measurement will help you understand whether yours does. With the information you collect, you can determine which activities to continue and build upon and which you may need to change in order to improve the effectiveness of your program.

Why are we asked to measure outcomes by grantors?

  • To measure the effectiveness of an intervention
  • To identify effective practices
  • To identify practices that need improvement during the time of implementation
  • To prove your value to existing and potential funders
  • To get clarity and consensus around the purpose of your program

The main questions addressed in outcome measurements are:

  • What has changed in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, or the community as a result of this program?
  • Has this program made a difference?
  • How are the lives of program participants better as a result of the program? [2]

What Are Outputs?

Outputs are the direct products of program activities. [3] Outputs become your quantitative measurements to monitor and report in your evaluation plan. Outputs are evidence that the grant-funded program’s activities were performed as planned. [4] For a YouthBuild Program, for instance, outputs might include:

  • # of youth recruited
  • # of youth accepted into program
  • # of youth assigned to a construction site
  • # of youth entering community college apprenticeship programs
  • # of youth receiving apprenticeship certifications
  • # of youth placed into sustainable employment

You don’t actually write a number; that would box your organization into a very tight expectation frame and would not allow for missing your target by one number. You are simply telling the grant maker that you will keep track of the number of [   ] to determine if your program is on its way to successful outcomes.

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Resources and citations

Learning the difference between outcomes and outputs is only the beginning of the accountability process expected by grant making agencies. To learn more about outcomes and outputs, I suggest that you study the logic model document compiled by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation:





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