ARTICLE • 5 min

Six Steps To Getting Your Organization Outcomes Ready

Key success factors to measuring outcomes is the capacity, capability and commitment of an organization to implement change. 

Before embarking on your outcomes measurement journey, it is important to first assess your organization’s readiness to implement this change. 

Common Challenges faced by not-for-profit organizations 

  • Lack of access to established outcomes measurement metrics and tools 
  • Lack of funding and access to resources 
  • Lack of staff capability 
  • Limited capacity and time 
  • Lack of support and buy-in from all staff 
  • Lack of participation from clients/beneficiaries to provide data
  • Lack of interest or support from board and senior management 
  • Diversity in service delivery and funder reporting requirements

Where is your organization on its journey to outcomes readiness? 

Stage 1: Awareness 

This is the first step of your organization's journey to starting outcomes measurement.

Is an outcomes-driven culture already embedded within your organization? Or is there still work to be done to seed that culture?

Having your Board and/or senior management team initiate an outcomes narrative within the organization is important, but not an essential starting point.

As long as there is a spark of interest within the organization, this can ignite conversations across teams. You’ve come this far in the handbook, so will you be the one who sparks that conversation?

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are:

  • Board and Senior Management is aware of the importance of outcomes measurement
  • There have been conversations within the team (and across teams) about outcomes measurement

Stage 2: Internal Alignment 

After you have sparked interest within your team around outcomes measurement, the next step is to get internal alignment and buy-in. 

Getting organizational buy-in is crucial to the success of any outcomes measurement project. 

Having the Board or senior management mandate outcomes measurement across the organization might get things moving at the start. But not having support and enlistment from staff can lead to drawn out and incomplete measurement projects, due to lack of ownership in the process. 

Likewise, without the leadership team sponsoring an outcomes-driven culture, staff will soon become fatigued and lose motivation to continue driving the process through the organization. 

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are: 

  • Staff understand the importance of outcomes measurement
  • There is staff buy-in and support to measure outcomes
  • We have earmarked a dedicated resource(s) to oversee our measurement project

Stage 3: Commitment

Commitment is an action in itself, and simply committing to becoming an outcomes-driven organization is a massive leap in the right direction.  

It could be as simple as going public with an outcomes narrative, through the sharing of impactful stories, case studies and committing to being an outcomes-driven organization on platforms like social media, website, annual reports and internal strategic plans. 

Commitment can also be more invested and hands on, such as creating opportunities for staff to attend training, webinars, workshops etc to build capabilities around outcomes measurement; or engaging a consultant to help define desired outcomes at an organization-level.  

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are: 

  • Organization shares an outcomes measurement / impact narrative on its website, annual reports, internal strategic plans
  • Opportunities have been created for internal capability building
  • Support has been enlisted to help the organization align its mission with org-level outcomes that can be measured over time

Stage 4: Select Measurement Project 

Once your organization is ready to give it a shot, the next step is for you to select a Measurement Project – a program or initiative that you would like to measure the outcomes of. 

For example, your measurement project might be to measure the outcomes of a youth mentoring program that has been running for the last two years. 

Once this has been defined, it is time to list down what outcomes to measure and formulate a plan of how to measure. A good starting place is to jot down the benefits that the program is meant to deliver to its beneficiaries.

For our mentoring program example, the outcomes to beneficiaries would be: 

  • Provide a role model for building self-esteem
  • A greater sense of purpose-
  • A greater understanding of desired training and career pathways
  • Increased social networks

It can be daunting to develop a measurement plan from a blank canvas. You are not alone. Did you know, at least one-third of not-for-profits say not having a measurement plan and key metrics is a barrier to them starting outcomes measurement. This is why we have created a curated library of outcome measurement templates to help organizations get started easily.

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are: 

  • A measurement project has been defined
  • The key benefits and outcomes of the measurement project have been defined
  • A plan is in place on how the outcomes would be measured
  • We have a rough sketch of this plan; or
  • We have developed a plan-inhouse; or
  • We have engaged a consultant to help us with this plan.

Stage 5: Data Collection 

Being at this step means that you have already defined a measurement project, you have a measurement plan in place, and your frontline staff is out collecting the data. 

While this step is a key milestone in the readiness journey, it is also the one where measurement projects can fail or come to a premature halt. This is due to factors such as: 

  • Lack of participation from beneficiaries to provide required data 
  • Significant investment of staff time and effort to collect the data 
  • Staff becoming fatigued with an arduous data collection process
  • Low response rates, leading to lack of staff motivation to see out the process 

To make sure that these data collection challenges do not jeopardise your organization's outcomes journey, it is important to ensure that there is staff ownership and buy-in to support the process, alongside an adequate level of trust from beneficiaries to provide the required data.

Click here to read our article for more guidance on how to overcome data collection hurdles.

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are: 

  • Data collection is humming along
  • There is staff ownership of the data collection, and staff are generally supportive of the process
  • There is beneficiary buy-in to provide the data - i.e., beneficiaries trust your organization enough to provide the data being asked of them

There are a number of great tooling options available to help automate and streamline the data collection, hence simplifying the entire process and not adding to your staff’s workload. For example, the Socialsuite platform automates data collection by automatically sending out follow-up surveys and reminders to beneficiaries with minimal manual effort.

Stage 6: Unlocking Insights 

As you start to see valuable outcomes data coming in, through the effort you’ve put into the earlier stages, take a pause and reflect upon whether your organization is putting this data into good use. This is an important step towards embedding a sustainable outcomes-driven culture within your organization. 

There are both internal and external uses of outcome findings: 

Internal uses include:

  • Provide direction for staff
  • Spotlight program issues and improve program design
  • Support the organization in its planning
  • Guide budgets and justify resource allocation
  • Suggest benchmarks for future program performance targets 

External uses include: 

  • Identify other agencies / partners for collaboration
  • Enhance the credibility and reputation of the organization and its program(s) 
  • Achieve greater support for the organization's cause 
  • Retain and increase funding 

Some of the crucial checklist items to work through at this stage of your journey are: 

  • Outcome reports are being shared with all key stakeholders, including funders
  • Outcomes findings are shared with beneficiaries through closing the feedback loop - i.e., how has the organization acted on their feedback and inputs
  • Program and services are being improved based on outcome findings

Are you ready for Action? 

Getting your organization ready for outcomes measurement is already half the battle won. 

The simple act of demonstrating to key stakeholders, including your funders, that you are committed to the process is tremendously valuable in its own right, and already sets you apart from organizations who are not prepared to take the first steps. 

To help you get started, we have designed a simple Outcomes Readiness Measurement Project that you can roll out within your organization. It is simply a short survey that you can send to your CEO, managers, and co-workers to reflect upon. It measures perceptions of where the organisation is at across the six stages we just discussed, and provides great visibility on where the organization sits including the areas that need further work. 

So that the intention to get started does not fall by the wayside, it is recommended that this survey be completed on a regular monthly or quarterly basis. 

More tools and guides: 

Download Outcomes Readiness Toolkit 

Download Outcomes Readiness Survey

Understanding your Readiness Score

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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