Tag Archives: Outcomes

What’s The Difference in Activities and Outcomes?

In past blogs I have droned on and on about Funder’s wanting to see Outcomes and how important Outcomes are.  But I know from experience and conversations with government agencies and non-profit organizations that many people struggle to understand the difference in Outcomes and Activities.  So, here are a few clues to knowing the difference so that you can identify and use Outcomes when seeking or justifying funding and doing reporting.

 

Your Outcome may be someone else’s Activity.  The Outcomes you need to produce depend on where your organization/program fits into the continuum of the big picture.  When you rely on funding from outside your organization or agency, you fall somewhere in the continuum of the mission/program of the funding provider.  This also applies if you are a department within an agency or government entity.  Think of it as an assembly line.  Your station on the line is somewhere in the middle.  Here is an illustration:  Your station’s purpose is to take a raw material (such as corn), modify it (cut the corn off the cob), then pass it on to another station to conduct another function (cook it).  The end product will be creamed corn in a can.  The work of your station on the line is vital to the end result.  To the big picture your station conducts an Activity; for your station, you have produced an Outcome.

Don’t assume your Activities are what matters.  On the assembly line where your station produces corn cut from the cob, you will likely be expected to produce a specific amount of cut corn.  In the big picture your station is not measured by the number of cobs you process, how fast you cut the corn or how quickly you process each cob.  Also, in the big picture it does not matter how long it takes for your machine to warm up or how many times you have to stop the machine and clear out a blockage.   Your station is measured on how much cut corn gets to the next step on the assembly line.  Stated differently: you are measured on the amount your station contributes to the end product.

With this assembly line (continuum) picture in mind, here are some points to help you differentiate between Activities and Outcomes for your agency/organization within the desired Outcome of the Funder.  Following are some typical Activities that people often mistake for Outcomes:

Actions you tally – Information sessions, classes, mentoring sessions, speeches, counseling sessions, forms completed

Inputs your provide – Staff, volunteers, money, place, trainers, tests, counselors, food

Outputs you count – Participants, attendees, graduates, program completers, certifications, qualifications, parents counseled

Resources you obtain – Materials for students, Childcare for career training attendees, mobile classroom, counseling services

 

Outcomes are what you produce depending on where you fall in the continuum – In reporting and in seeking funding, you must explain how your product helps accomplish the outcome(s) of the funder or partnership.  Here are some examples:

  • Middle Schoolers ready to enter high school – demonstrate how you know they are ready to enter high school and move on toward graduating and obtaining a job with family sustaining wages
  • Nutritional meals for Seniors that help increase their overall health
  • Program participants that are ready to fill and sustain positions in health care, manufacturing, logistics, etc. that provide family sustaining wages
  • Healthier families because you provided  food on weekends to elementary school children, health screenings for seniors, free medical clinic
  • Decreased children in poverty because you have facilitated the outcome of more people employed with family sustaining wages

 

I have attempted to provide you some explanation and examples so that you can be better prepared to determine your own Outcomes and differentiate them from Activities.  However, Outcomes are very personal to an organization/agency and where it fits into the big picture.  One of the best pieces of advice I can provide is to get outside input.  People within an organization or agency are so busy doing the work that it is difficult for them to step back far enough to see the other parts of the continuum.  Outside scrutiny can help with this.  Outside help can come from many sources, here are a few:  Funder (donor, grantor, government agency, etc.), education (university institute, interns, students in an appropriate, professors, etc.), consultant, board, volunteer, other organizations/agencies and even the funding provider.

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MAGIC FORMULA FOR GETTING FUNDING AND PARTNERS

If you are struggling to articulate how you fit into a potential funder’s or partner’s continuum of mission or service here is a magic formula – put it in context.

In Context provides clarity, precision, transparency, understanding, proper perspective and ability to demonstrate your place in a continuum.

Out of Context causes ambiguity, uncertainty, vagueness, misunderstanding and inability to illustrate your place in a continuum.

 

Here are the steps to invoking the magic formula:

  1. Understand that the service(s) you provide are not what is important to the funder or partner. What is important to them is the problem, need or difficulty you can address for the population/community they are trying to help.
  2. Acquaint yourself with the mission, programs and past fundings/partnerships of your target.
  3. Be certain that you are asking for funding or a partner for something that actually fits into the mission or program of your target. Do not try to make desperation for operational money appear to be a funding/partnership request for a program that enhances the target’s mission.  Out of Context
  4. Completely develop your program before you seek funding or partners. Include the budget and focus on Outcomes.  The Outcomes should be things that easily flow into the funder’s/partner’s mission and programs.  For instance:  You will provide nutritional meals twice a week to 100 seniors to help your funder/partner improve the health statistics of seniors in ABC community. In Context
  5. Demonstrate how you will use measurements that are in concert with those of the funder/partner. Don’t just say you will – demonstrate how.   In Context

 

If you do not plead your case in context with that of the target’s, you will appear, at best, to be vague, at worst, not worthy of funding or a partnership.  One other benefit of proving you are in context is that you will more fully flesh out your own program or organization, which in turn leads to better results and other funding.

Now, if we could just get the rest of the people in the world to see things in context what a more harmonious world we would have.  There would be less knee jerk reactions on social media.  Elected officials could accomplish much more.  And there would be a lot less selfies.  But that’s just the researcher in me dreaming out loud.

Funders Want Outcomes Not Output

Funders, foundations, government agencies and even donors, want the organizations they fund to demonstrate outcomes, not report activities and outputs.  They want to fund results oriented programs, not read touching stories.

Funders want to see:

  • Strategy more than tactics – Improve graduation rate through tutoring VS X number of participants in an after school program
  • Big picture versus tallies of activities – Produce X number of people in jobs that pay $15 or more per hour employed for 1 year or more VS Train X number people in manufacturing skills and Assist X number of people in resume preparation
  • Partnering more than referring – Partner with X number of organizations to provide GED qualified participants for a workforce development program VS Refer clients who cannot read to literacy organizations.  Partner implies interaction – Refer implies you are done.
  • Effectiveness instead of blood, sweat and tears –X number of program participants plan to choose a career in healthcare VS Spoke to 25 student groups on healthcare careers and participated in 3 high school career day events
  • Systemic change versus heart rending anecdotes – Facilitated the adoption of new policy by the Sheriff’s Department that directs officers to contact Solicitor’s office before detaining juveniles VS Story about a School Resource Officer that counseled two eleventh graders and kept them from dropping out
  • Evidence of follow up and follow through – Provided resources that enabled X number of program graduates to stay employed in years two through five VS Contacted X number of program graduates to complete survey about employment status
  • Depth, breadth and commitment of relationships with stakeholders – Coalition of a high school, a community center, parents, Boy Scouts and two churches provide tutoring and support for at-risk sixth graders. Detailed MOUs exist between the organizations; parents and student participants sign commitment letters.  Grades and test scores of student participants are monitored.  The outcome goal of the program is that promotion from sixth to seventh grade will improve each year.  VS A community center that offers an after school program for middle schoolers with volunteer tutors and monitors.  There are no MOUs with other organizations or schools.  Participation by students is voluntary; parents are not required to be involved.  Because there is no formal relationship with the school the community center cannot obtain grades or test scores.

 

Obviously it takes time to focus on outcomes and develop program, measurements and relationships that will accomplish those outcomes.    But the time is an investment in a proposal and a program that will get funded.

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