An Outcome Plan is an invaluable tool for any organization looking to successfully achieve a desired end result. For non-profits in particular, it can provide clarity for both individuals directly involved in the success of the organization and donors that are considering supporting the organization. It also helpful compared to other plans in that it keeps the focus on the future, rather than only evaluating what has already passed. Later in this article we will also look specifically at how an Outcome Plan can be used to leverage efficiency (and even innovation) within an organization and how it can be used by development staff to more effectively communicate with donors. First, consider the different factors that make up an Outcome Plan.
Before we can begin to develop our Outcome Plan it is important to understand and differentiate the components that lead to a successful outcome:
We must start by looking at Inputs, which represent the resources that are used to support program efforts. Inputs can come in many forms but are often represented by staff, time, financial resources, etc. Next are Programs, which represent what an organization does in order to influence a desired end result. An example of a program may be an after-school training class designed to help at-risk teens prepare for job interviews. The class itself represents the Program, whereas the Teens that complete the class are examples of Outputs. Outputs represent what the program produces – in this case our program is producing teens that are prepared for a potential job interview. It is important to note that an output may or may not lead to an Outcome. Outcomes are the intended end result of an organization’s efforts. In our after-school training example, an outcome would be the percentage of teens that actually get a job after completing our program.
Impact should also be evaluated to the extent that we have the ability and resources to do so. Measuring impact can be particularly difficult because the factors that make up Impact measurements may not be able to be credited directly to our outcomes. However, our outcomes should have a direct correlation to the Impact in a supportive manner. In our example, we may not be able to prove that our program is solely responsible for a lower crime rate among at-risk teens in the area we serve, but we should be able to show a correlation between crime among at-risk teens that go through our program vs. those who do not. Perhaps another example would be the overall crime rate in the area we serve before starting the program vs. after the program has been implemented for a period of time.
Keeping a constant pulse on the overall process is very important if we want to be able to communicate that our efforts are actually making a difference, among other very important factors such as eliminating or changing outdated or wasteful programs.
Expert Tip: When creating your Outcome Plan, start with the Impact and move left on the figure above to determine what is required to be successful at each step. Once complete, you will be able to communicate the process from beginning (Inputs) to end (Impact).
Using an Outcome Plan to Leverage Efficiency and Evoke Innovation
Efficiency is paramount for non-profits. With limited resources and pressure from donors to reduce wasteful spending, non-profits can find themselves in an environment that seems to shy away from innovation. Innovation plays an important role to the success of many businesses, for profit and non-profit alike. Because a properly designed Outcome Plan begins with the “end in mind” it can help create an environment where those who traditionally opt against innovation begin to welcome it; or are at least more open to the idea of taking calculated risks to fuel progress.
In order to leverage efficiency for an organization, an Outcome Plan should be shared with all individuals working within the organization. The complete plan should be a hierarchy of the organization’s overall target outcomes, followed by outcomes for each program, completed with outcomes for each individual responsible for working within each program.
Efficiencies are created through autonomy and unity. By having clear communication on what everyone in the organization is working towards, we decrease the confusion around what each individual is working on. An Outcome Plan allows each team member, as well as executive staff and board members, to more easily discern who is responsible for contributing all of the factors that lead to successfully fulfilling organizational outcomes.
Invoking innovation happens when autonomy is embraced, which is often the case for organizations that believe in their outcome plan. Google is often credited with the “20% Time” concept, which gave employees the opportunity to dedicate 20% of their workweek towards innovating projects that did not fall within their regular job responsibilities. The idea is that as long as what is expected of you (outcomes) are being produced, then you have the freedom to work freely on projects that you think can take your organizational efforts to the next level. Freedom invokes innovation; an Outcomes Plan can create an environment of freedom within an organization. It has been rumored that Google has put the kibosh on its “20% time” however the policy has been copied into the cultures of mega firms such as Apple, Microsoft and LinkedIn. Google’s 20% is gets credit for about 25% of the company’s revenues thanks to projects such as Gmail, Google Transit and, Google News, all of which were born out of “20% time”.
Donors Love Outcome Plans
Outcomes Plans are transparent and comprehensive. When used properly as a part of the developmental efforts an outcome plan can be used to align donor passion with the practical necessities of any non-profit. Outcome Plans start with the desired end result and work backwards to determine what is needed to achieve success. In other words, Outcome Plans begin with donor desires and communicate what is necessary to fulfill those desires. I generally recommend keeping the Outcome Plan “open-sourced” to encourage contributions from both internal and external influences. Regularly updating the plan (one or twice per year) will welcome feedback rather than scrutiny, and create a sense of ownership for contributors. By using an outcome plan as a part of the “ask” we invite any unease the donor feels about an organizations strategy to fulfill outcomes and will create an opportunity for suggestions on how to improve or further explain existing strategies.
Resources: The best, most comprehensive resource that I have found in developing your own Outcome Plan is The Nonprofit Outcome Toolbox written by Robert Penna, PhD.
About the author: Matthew Moses is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP®) and Advisor Consultant for Independent Financial Advisors. He regularly works to bring the non-profit community together with financial professionals in an effort to create additional giving capacity for donors by using advanced charitable and investment planning techniques.
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