When organizations talk about their results, they focus on the direct activities they carry out. They talk about meals served, or students taught, or trees planted. This puts the focus on the work they do – their activities and their projects. These are an organization’s outputs: the products they make or the services they provide.
However, the work they do (the “what”) is done for a reason (the “why”). Organizations don’t serve meals and teach students and plant trees just for kicks. They do those things for some desired impact – to make a difference, to solve a problem, to change a system. And a change in the behavior of a system is called an outcome. So outcomes, not outputs, are our desired impact. And outcomes are why people support the work you do: they believe that what you do will actually make a difference and solve a problem.
If you want to communicate your impact to your supporters, you need to start talking in terms of outcomes (changes in the system) rather than outputs (the products or services you provide). Talking about how you’re changing the way things work in the world will be far more compelling – and it will differentiate you from the many others who are still talking about their outputs. Moreover, learning to talk about the outcomes you’re achieving can start shifting the conversation away from output-focused project-specific support to broader support for your organization. It’s a win-win situation: the supporter gets to hear about their desired impact and the organization can solicit support for their cause instead of a specific output.
Yes, measuring impact can be challenging (another topic for another day) but those who monitor and articulate their impact are more effective at building support for their causes. Why? Because at the end of the day, we care about outcomes. After all, it’s why you produce your outputs.
Does your organization talk about its impact in terms of outputs or outcomes? What would it take to talk about your outcomes? Are there challenges to talking about outcomes?