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The Holy Grail of Grant Writing Success: How to Write Goals, Outcomes, and Outputs

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

If you have not yet had any “ah-ha moments” when it comes to learning how to write grants, you are in for a real treat.

Learning the difference between goals, outcomes, and outputs is key to writing competitive proposals. This is the holy grail of grant writing. The problem is that many nonprofit leaders and some grant writers do not have a clear understanding of the difference between goals, outcomes, and outputs. To make it worst, some funders don’t know the difference either. This is especially apparent in how funders pose questions, how you inadvertently don't accurately respond to the question because of how it was posed, and how your responses are incorrectly evaluated as the result.

Let’s get to it. Here is the plain, no-nonsense explanation of the difference between goals, outcomes, and outputs.


A goal is a broad statement of what you are looking to accomplish. Goals are most commonly tied to needs-based statements.

Some examples of goals include:

  • Reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in Nassau, County.

  • Increase access to STEM courses for students living in low-income communities.

  • Help women-owned businesses gain improved access to business capital.

Goals are often broken down into smaller steps called objectives. We will discuss objectives in more depth in a future article.


Outcomes are the changes you expect your programming to have on those you serve. These are commonly changes in attitude, behavior, etc.

Some examples of outcomes include:

  • Increase GPA’s

  • Improve financial literacy

  • Decrease obesity

  • Lessen social determinants of health

Most outcomes start with words like increase, improve, or similar action verbs.

Our team at Think and Ink Grants Consulting® uses S.M.A.R.T. outcomes in our logic models. We feel they help make applications more competitive and make it easier to complete evaluations. Check out additional information about what S.M.A.R.T. outcomes are here.


Outputs are countable items that your activities are producing. For lack of a better term, they are “widgets” that you can measure year over year.

Some examples include:

  • # of children served

  • # of women supported

  • # of partners engaged

  • # of jobs created

  • # of people feed

Outputs do not include anything regarding changes in the attitudes or behavior of those you serve. (Save this for the outcomes).

Let me know if this article was helpful. Try implementing some of these ideas and notice how your grant writing improves. It was purposely written in a simple and straightforward way for clarity and understanding. Our next article will bridge this information and communicate how goals, outcomes, and outputs inform logic models, so stay tuned.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Think and Ink Grants®, visit our website at

- Shavonn


About Shavonn Richardson, MBA, GPC

As a former nonprofit leader and grantmaker, Shavonn has over 18 years of experience delivering practical, real-world advice to nonprofit leaders across the county. She is one of only 17 Grant Professional Certified (GPC) grant professionals in Georgia. Shavonn serves on the Board of Directors of the Grant Professionals Association and is a Sustainer member of the Junior League of Atlanta.

Shavonn earned the GPC (Grant Professional Certified) credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute in 2020 and is a Grant Professionals Association Approved Trainer. Shavonn earned a BBA from Howard University in Washington, DC, and an MBA from Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

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