It’s Time to Move Beyond Outputs

I recently had the good fortune to speak with a number of smart and engaging advocates at the 2016 National CASA/GAL Conference. They are a group of professionals who have dedicated their careers to a cause as worthy as they come: ensuring that every abused or neglected child in the United States can be safe, have a permanent home, and the opportunity to thrive.

Over the course of three days, I heard many anecdotes about the impact CASA programs are having. While each one was impressive, I couldn’t help myself from asking the same question at the end of each story. This very simple question is “And?”

Let me explain. A typical anecdote would focus on the fact that 93 percent of children in a particular area were appointed an advocate, and the story would invariably stop there. Ensuring that the vast majority of neglected children were appointed an advocate sounds great on the surface, but take a step back and ask yourself what this type of output really means. Or, better yet, ask yourself what crucial information is missing.

Does the fact that these children were appointed an advocate really tell you anything concrete? If you are anything like me, you are much more interested in understanding what positive outcomes resulted from the child/advocate relationship, such as:

  • How many are graduating high school?
  • How many are employed?
  • How many days is a CASA supported child in care versus one without an advocate?
  • And, most importantly, what is the impact of these positive outcomes on the children and the greater community?

My experience at the CASA conference was no different from my experience at countless other nonprofit conferences I have attended over the years. In an effort to quickly and simply convey an organization’s successes, nonprofit executives often inadvertently shortchange their impact by focusing on outputs instead of outcomes.

This is not surprising, as it is very easy to count outputs… how much money did we raise, how many people did we reach, how many meals did we serve, how many volunteer hours were donated, etc., etc., etc.

Communicating outcomes is not as simple, but it is perhaps the most important factor when launching a strategic fundraising initiative or capital campaign. Today’s nonprofit investors are experienced and savvy, looking for organizations that can point to investable outcomes with a true return on investment.

Let’s go back to the original anecdote about 93 percent of children being appointed an advocate. How would you move post outputs to start focusing on real outcomes? Here is a simple and effective example.

Consider that when children have an advocate, they:

  • spend less days in foster care
  • are more likely to graduate from high school
  • are more likely to avoid unwanted teen pregnancies
  • are less likely to be arrested

And perhaps the most important element, the net effect of the above results in significant economic and social impact to a region per child served.

In this scenario, by communicating actual data for each output above in terms of real world impact, you are able to create a much stronger case for investment. You can calculate how much money is saved by getting children out of foster care earlier, how much more money your charges will make over the course of their lifetime with a high school diploma, etc. Demonstrating the true value of your outcomes to potential investors will give you the edge needed in today’s competitive funding environment to secure substantial, sustainable funding.

If the idea of identifying, calculating, and communicating investable outcomes is intimidating, there are consulting firms that can assist you. The important thing is that you do develop your outcomes and learn how to communicate the value of those outcomes to funders. It’s not enough simply to identify your most powerful outcomes, you must also be able to match your outcomes to the investors who will most value them and ultimately, fund them.