In the early 2000s as a corporate grantmaker, I was asked by a C-level executive what we were achieving with the millions of dollars that we gave annually to domestic violence organizations. Like many other grantmakers, including many of my colleagues, I started rattling off the number of grants, the number geographic regions served, and I was even able to tell him some outputs, such as the number of orders of protection, the number of shelter nights provided, and number of counseling hours delivered.
His response? That’s great, but what is different for these women now? How have we helped to change their lives for the better?
My face reddened as the realization sunk in that he wanted to know the impact of our program, not a bunch of surface metrics. So off I went to build the real impact story of our grantmaking efforts.
From there I dug in to learn as much as I could about outcomes measurement and results from consultants, think tanks and other leaders in the field.
What did I learn about outcomes and measuring results in those early days?
- Outcomes are changes in the behavior of, or the situation for, the program participants
- Change happens over time and multiple changes and outcomes lead to impact
- As a funder, I need to first collaborate with experts in my focus areas to determine the right types of changes that should occur and we need to determine how these changes should be measured
- As a funder, I need to state upfront during in my application guidelines what my program is trying to achieve, enabling grantees to determine if their program is a match
- Asking for consistent, apples-to-apples outcomes in each focus area is key to being able to roll up our impact story
- Tracking and monitoring outcomes will help to continue to shape and inform strategic direction
- And most importantly, for every dollar granted there should be specific and measurable impact in the form of social impact or social learning.
Do these elements of outcomes tracking and measurement resonate with you? How have you implemented these concepts in your programs?
For me, immersing myself in the world of outcomes measurement was not only eye-opening but career-changing. And it led me to spend the better part of the past decade helping other giving organizations become more impactful in their giving and better able to tell their results story.