Making Measures Work For You

Outcomes and Evaluation


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An outcomes-based approach to evaluation works, proponents say, because it uses straightforward metrics to assess actual impact. How else to know if the work you're supporting is leading to the desired changes? Other grantmakers counter that outcomes measurement should be approached with care. Hasty assumptions or over-confidence in the idea that program impacts can be translated into hard data can skew not only the evaluation but the work itself. This guide looks at tensions that drive the debate about outcomes measurement, as well as common questions about its potential risks and rewards.

  • What are "outcomes"?
  • Measuring intangibles
  • Seven tensions in the debate over measuring outcomes

As grantmakers, we want evaluation and assessment techniques that help document and analyze the work we support in ways that are meaningful to our foundations, grantees, and wider field or community. To help grantmakers weigh the advantages of different approaches, GrantCraft offers Evaluation Techniques: A Series of Brief Guides. Each guide explains the basics of one technique, answers common questions about its use, describes how some grantmakers are applying it and includes a list of resources for readers who want to learn more.


"No numbers without stories; no stories without numbers."

— An evaluator, on how quantitative and qualitative
outcomes can reinforce each other

"Most important to me, as a funder, is that the organizations in which we invest ask themselves — often — how they are doing, and how they know it, and reflect on that information to adjust and improve their program design and delivery. Are numbers part of it? Certainly. But so is client feedback, environmental and economic factors, and so on."

— A foundation president reflects on using outocmes, broadly
defined, to improve program effectiveness

"You have to be interested in outcomes, otherwise you're only looking at process. Setting forth expected results ahead of time, developing indicators to assess success — those things force programs to say what success looks like. But the value is in the doing of it."

— A grantmaker, on how outcomes can benefit a
process-oriented approach to evaluation