You’re buzzing along through a grant application. You’ve written a fantastic description of your organization’s quality program. You’re feeling terrific about your proposal.
Then, there it is. The Outcomes Measures section.
You can hear your brain’s breaks screech and your fingers stop flying across the keyboard. You’re going to have to give that question some thought.
You get up from your desk and go talk with your Program Director. “What are our Outcomes Measures?” you ask.
“We measure the number of youth who graduate from our program,” The Program Director cheerfully says. She’s excited that you’re writing a grant.
Oh no. That’s a problem. ‘Number of kids graduating from your program’ is an output, not an outcome. What do you do?
Instead of launching into a long, dry explanation of the difference between outcomes and outputs that will make your Program Director’s eyes glaze-over and turn tale and run every time you’re working on a grant application in the future, here are four questions you can ask to get to the information you need:
- How do you know a client is ready to graduate/finish our program?
- When a client graduates or finishes the program, how do you know (or guess) if she or he will be successful after graduating?
- How are our clients different as they get close to graduating (finishing the program) from how they were before they started the program? What changes have you seen in them while you’ve worked with them?
- If you had to guess whether the client would end up back here or not (assuming the client would be eligible), how would you guess? What’s the difference between the clients who do well after they leave and the clients who don’t?
It can be helpful to ask these questions more than once and to ask more than one program staff person. It’s also helpful to ask them conversationally, over lunch, for example, out of genuine curiosity so that they’ll open up and expand on their answers, rather than to ask them as if you are interviewing them and there is one correct answer.
As program staff members share about the changes they’ve seen in the clients they’ve worked with, you’ll find that their answers will reveal your program’s outcomes and indicators. For example, a program director who says something like, “Well, over the course of counseling, we see the teens we work with are a whole lot less frustrated, angry, and anxious. They’re less depressed. They make better decisions.”
In those 3 sentences, that program staff member just offered you several possible outcomes indicators. To keep things from getting overly complicated, you might choose just 3. You might choose decreased depression, anxiety, and hostility. In your model, these indicators would give you insight into whether or not your teenage client was ready to live independently (if that’s your program goal).
Of course, as a grant writer, it’s a great idea to circle back to the program staff to see if you’re on the right track after you’ve heard what they have to say and developed a draft of your logic model. It can be very helpful to share the model with them and ask for their feedback.
You can ask: Did you capture the program successfully? What’s the best way to measure these outcomes?
BONUS: As you as your program staff questions like these, you’ll find you might end up hearing some wonderful success stories that can make for great material in other fundraising writing such as appeals, newsletter articles, blog stories, enews articles!
No one knows the program better than the program staff. Approaching them ‘grant writing questions’ might not be productive, but asking them real-world questions always will be. They’re the experts on your clients.