Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Outcome Data Can Have Many Uses

Outcome measurement is not just for program staff. Although the most popular and important use of outcome data - the data collected from outcome measurements - is to assess how the programs are doing and whether improvements are needed, there can be many other uses as well. And all of them contribute to a more efficient and effective nonprofit organization.

Program wise, the uses of outcome data are numerous: it clarifies the purpose of the program to staff, identifies areas that need improvements, and brings good practices to the staff's notice. In all these instances, the grant professional can put the data to good use by showcasing results in grant proposals and reports. 

But outcome data also has other secondary, yet no less important uses. It can be used to train and motivate staff, especially those who may not be totally involved in the programs. Grant professionals for example, can become highly motivated by understanding the data and "seeing" the results of the grants they help obtain. For program staff, this data can be instrumental in guiding their future interaction with clients. Similarly, for board members, the data can be a source of great motivation as well as a source of information about the internal workings of the organization.

Outcome data can also help compare different programs or locations within the same organization, thereby helping identify strengths and weaknesses not only in inputs but also staff. Even more critical, this data can be used in the budgeting and planning process which all organizations go through once a year. Program budgets as well as overall agency budgets can be better prepared with outcome data in hand, because they reflect more realistic scenarios of resources that will be needed. The grant professional therefore can make good use of the data when participating in budget and proposal planning.   

Externally, outcome data can be a way to increase accountability to funders as well as the general community - something grant professionals are forever encouraging. In addition to grantee reports, the data can be showcased in annual reports, community briefings, newsletters etc. and may also be used in marketing campaigns. As such this type of data can be crucial for attracting a clients, volunteers, staff and board members. And lastly, by sharing outcome data with other agencies, the entire field can benefit - learning lessons, hearing about best practices, and reducing costs across the sector.

Grant professionals can do their part in utilizing outcome data for the variety of purposes mentioned above... and reducing to a certain extent the fear of outcome measurement and the burden it is assumed to place on already overworked staff. Here's to a more cheery outlook on this key data! 

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