ARTICLE • 5 min

The difference between an Output and an Outcome

A nonprofit that delivers a job readiness program to incarcerated youth reports an average 85% completion rate for each cohort intake. They use this metric as a measure of success. 

But we know that COVID-19 has constricted the funding that is available to nonprofits, and funders have become increasingly more astute in their investments by choosing to deploy already limited capital to areas that would have the greatest social and environmental impact. 

So, would an 85% completion rate pass as indicator of program success, and unlock the door to more funding for our job readiness program?

Unfortunately, not in today’s funding climate. 

Astute funders are now demanding proof on how social programs are making an impact. It is no longer about outputs – how many people have completed the program. It is now about outcomes – how many lives have been changed as a result of the program. 

An output tells us what the numerical results of a program is. For example, program completion rate, number of beneficiaries served, number of staff hours it took to deliver the program, and so on. 

An outcome provides deeper insights into how a program has changed the lives of its beneficiaries, even years beyond program completion. 

Just because a young person has completed the job readiness program, does not indicate that they would not continue making the same bad choices when they are released from detention. 

Program success is achieved when it can be proven that grassroots change has occurred. In other words, that the attitudes, beliefs, and value systems of program beneficiaries have been changed so that as these beneficiaries re-enter the real world, they would be equipped with the necessary skills required to navigate right from wrong. 

However, many nonprofits are challenged with the lack of reliable data to indicate whether their programs have been successful in delivering outcomes. Most struggle with how to define measurable outcomes that would indicate change in beliefs, attitudes and quality of life. And many organizations lack the necessary infrastructure to continue engaging with their beneficiaries beyond program completion, in order to track progress

This is where Socialsuite’s mission comes into its own, helping nonprofits get started and gain confidence at every step of their outcomes journey. Our Resource Centre gives you free access to numerous articles, practical tools and simple tips on how any nonprofit can get started in becoming an outcomes first organization.  

Over 90 public companies and 70 non-profit organizations use Socialsuite for tracking and reporting on their impact. With the help of our ESG software and expert team, businesses can easily get started on impact reporting, disclose faster, and save money compared to traditional methods. Whether you're new to impact reporting or looking to enhance your current practices, Socialsuite offers the tools and expertise needed to achieve your sustainability goals. Contact us to learn more about our solutions.

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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