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How to Optimize Your Nonprofit’s Outputs and Outcomes

The dreaded section of a grant application – the outputs and outcomes.

Program outputs and outcomes are the end results of the services your organization offers and are part of your healthy Grants Ecosystem.

Funders increasingly expect specific and measurable goals of the programs and nonprofit organizations they support. By providing this information you are demonstrating to the funder that your agency is serving your community in meaningful and impactful ways.

Here are some definitions to help us sort out the differences between outputs, outcomes, and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Some funders use the terms interchangeably.

Outcomes: what your agency wants or needs to achieve, the results, the goal.

Outputs: the actions or items that contribute to achieving an outcome.

KPIs: metrics that tell you how well you are doing toward your goal. Metrics should not become targets. KPIs are not standard for all organizations Each organization decides which KPIs are relevant for their organization.

The SMART formula helps determine KPIs: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-oriented, and Time-bound.

Outputs are specific actions, steps, items that lead to outcomes. Examples are:

  • 50 pregnant mothers received prenatal care.

  • 65 reading lessons were given to children

  • A class of 87 individuals earned a computer programming certificate.

Outcomes measure the change in behavior, knowledge or results of the work (Outputs) being done. Outcomes must align with your mission statement. Examples are:

The number of people who no longer experience hunger because of the food pantry’s efforts

  • Children born healthy because of proper prenatal care

  • Children increased their reading levels

  • Increased earnings of graduates because what they learned in the program made them more employable.

Data can be self-reported from participants or by documented observation. For example, 84% of participants report an increase in self-confidence. 75% of participants demonstrated improved public speaking skills measured by facilitator observation.

Outcomes may not always be directly tied to the outputs. For example, a food pantry may provide food to 1000 people, but the outcome may be that 500 of those people experience reduced hunger as a result.

Every nonprofit organization must decide on the KPIs that are most relevant to them. Funders want to know about your programming metrics. Which KPIs does your agency use to measure the effectiveness of your programs? One example is the “beneficiary satisfaction rate.” This is a qualitative rather than quantitative metric. Most often this information is gathered with surveys or questionnaires that are distributed to participants at the end of a program.

The survey results are then compiled, summarized, and shared with leadership, funders, and other appropriate stakeholders.

In today’s nonprofit world it’s not enough to say we’re doing meaningful work that benefits our communities. We have to work collaboratively with our program team to prove our mission is effective and worthy of funding by using SMART documentation.


Michelle Crim, CFRE

Dynamic Development Strategies can help. We offer coaching, grant writing, and fundraising services for our nonprofit clients. We specialize in small to mid-size organizations because we understand your challenges. Please contact us for more information.

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