Writing Tip: Clarifying Outputs and Outcomes

What is the difference between an output and an outcome? An output is a program activity whereas and according to the National Resource Center: Compassion Capital Fund, an outcome is what changes for the people a program serves.

In an effort to help organizations demonstrate results, the Indiana Youth Institute (IYI) presents a simple guide to writing outputs and outcomes in an article on the organization’s web site titled, “Using Data to Show Impact.” According to the article, many grant writers explain what a program did (outputs) but fail to tell about the change created because of the program (outcomes.) IYI offers a clear-cut example distinguishing outputs and outcomes in the following example.

Consider these two descriptions of a fictional program, TutorTime. One description lacks information on program outcomes, while outcome data strengthens the other.

TutorTime’s Mission

TutorTime has a mission of increasing post-high school opportunities for students who are at risk of not graduating by pairing them with local business professionals. The business professionals tutor students in key subject areas and connect them with local businesses so that students are eligible for and knowledgeable about their post-high school opportunities.

Sample Statement Lacking Outcome Data

Over the past year, TutorTime served 21 students who were at-risk of failing to graduate high school. The program also engaged 17 volunteer business professionals. Our biggest outcome was being able to serve more than twice as many youth as last year (21 compared to 10). In fact, this year almost all of our TutorTime students graduated on time, and a few who did not graduate last year came back this year and finished as fifth-year seniors. After completing the program, Tutortime students have more post-high school opportunities because the business professionals tutored and introduced them to possible work settings.

Sample Statement Including Outcome Data

Outputs: Over the past year, TutorTime has doubled the number of students served,
from 10 to 21 students. The program also engaged 17 volunteer business professionals. Twice a week we conducted after school tutoring sessions that lasted two hours, and once a month the business professionals introduced students to their colleagues or to possible future work settings.

Outcomes: In order to be eligible for post-high school opportunities such as the military,
community colleges, and many entry-level jobs, students must first graduate high school. Last year, 92% of TutorTime seniors graduated on time (in four years), and another 5% are on track to graduate just one year later. Students in our program are 16% more likely than their similarly at-risk peers to graduate on time. TutorTime graduates also are knowledgeable about their post- high school options with 9 in 10 students reported having two or more of the following opportunities upon graduating from high school: having a job lined up, being accepted into a two or four year college, being accepted into a trade or vocational school, or being eligible to enlist in the military.

IYI’s critique of the example that does not include outcome data educates readers about its shortcomings:

(1) The number of kids is an output – what they did- and not what they changed (outcome.)
(2) The statement does not explain why graduation matters to the program’s mission of increasing post high school opportunities.
(3) “A few”, “some”, and “almost all” are not specific.
(4) There is a missed opportunity to define success- what occurs with the program as compared to what happens without the program.
(5) Tutoring and introducing students to work settings are program activities (outputs.)
An outcome must prove that the program’s mission is fulfilled.

The Indiana Youth Institute is a statewide nonprofit that promotes the healthy development of Indiana children and youth by serving the people, institutions and communities of Indiana that impact their well-being. Click here www.iyi.org to learn more about the organization. Click here http://www.iyi.org/resources/doc/IYI-Issue-Brief-Using-Data-to-Show-Impact-1272010.pdf to read the article in its entirety.

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