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Grant Outputs vs Outcomes: What's the Difference?

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

I was speaking with a client who brought up a great question. The client began the conversation as follows:

"Shavonn, we have done all this great work. We have 350 volunteers engaged, work across three locations, and have a massive following of over 500,000 active donors and supporters. Why aren't funders seeing the value of all of our hard work?"

As a grant professional, I smile when these opportunities for "ah-ha" moments arise. This is a classic misunderstanding of the difference between outputs and outcomes.

The most common outputs in the nonprofit world are similar to the items my clients raised: # of volunteer hours, # of locations, or # of followers. I specialize in grants supporting women, children, health, and education, so some of my clients' outputs are similar to # of health training sessions provided, # of women helped, or # of students taught.

In logic model language (check this out to learn why logic models are essential), outputs are the direct results of your activities. For example, if one of your activities is teaching students, a potential output of the activity of teaching students is the # of students taught. If you are serving meals in the community, a potential output is the number of meals served. Outputs are what your activities are creating. They are no-frills, unfancy "widgets." They are usually expressed as "numbers of" or a similar metric.

On the other hand, we have outcomes. Outcomes are the heart of what funders want to know. Outcomes are essentially the desired change in the community your program is seeking to achieve. It is typically measured by changes in attitude, beliefs, or behaviors.

Here is an example of a S.M.A.R.T. outcome statement:

"By December 31st, 80% of all participants will increase their financial literacy by 50%".

It is vital that your outcomes are S.M.A.R.T. to drive home the impact of your program to funders.

What makes this outcome statement S.M.A.R.T. is it is:

Specific- it specifically references how many participants will benefit ("80%") and what they will gain ("increase(d) financial literacy")

Measurable- it includes a measurable metric of success ("increase literacy by 50%"). This success metric will be compared to a baseline number to see if literacy did increase by 50%.

Attainable- by your organization's standards, does helping 80% of participants align with your organization's capacity? Can this work be done within the given time frame?

Relevant - does this outcome align with the goals and mission of your organization?

Timebound- the outcome statement includes a target date to achieve the outcome ("By December 31st").

The truth is, clearly defined and communicated S.M.A.R.T. outcomes win grants. It isn't easy to write a competitive proposal without them.

If you need more help to walk through what this could look like for your organization, talk to us or sign up for our newsletter for more information.


Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC is Founder and CEO of Think and Ink Grant Consulting™. She is a grant professional, an active speaker, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Grant Professionals Association.

Shavonn earned a BBA from Howard University and an MBA from Emory University. She earned the GPC (Grant Professional Certified) credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute in 2020.

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