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E25: Refocusing The Conversation Around Outcomes

by Sean Boyce

How can you gracefully push back on measuring output when measuring successful outcomes is really what matters?

What I discuss in this episode:
  • The output vs outcome problem
  • Why money is tied to measuring output
  • How to refocus the conversations around outcomes
  • The questions to ask to gracefully push back
  • The lessons you can learn from Ann Mei Chang’s book Lean Impact (
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Episode Transcript
Hey everyone, Sean here and today what I want to talk to you about is combating this common challenge in the nonprofit world which is focusing on measuring output versus focusing on measuring successful outcomes. 

And what you can do to start making progress against this so that your organization can get closer to measuring and scaling output as frequently as possible. Now, this is a common problem that’s existed in the nonprofit world for quite some time, where a lot of the funding has strings attached, which are pretty directly linked to requiring you to measure output which might be only somewhat related to impact sometimes it’s not related at all. 

I’ll give you an example. Now, in the work that I’ve done helping nonprofits a lot of that has been about helping secure a better financial future for underrepresented populations of people, which might mean helping them improve their credit scores pull themselves out of debt, which is obviously very closely related impact for those individuals for the clients that that program serves. At the same time, there’s other things that are happening related to helping them with that, like meetings for example, or how long those meetings go, or however many forms they fill out, right, whatever insert a bunch of work that goes into trying to deliver those successful outcomes, but the meeting related stuff that is all output, and that’s only somewhat related to driving and scaling impact. 

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Now, donor money depending on where it may come from, but that could be from private sources that could be from grants. A lot of that can be linked to measuring output more specifically as opposed to measuring the outcome. So what I want to talk about is what you can start doing to push back against that and start refocusing that conversation around impact. 

Now, a key part of this is going to be helping them understand why it’s so important to focus on it, successful outcomes as opposed to just output and you have to, you have to try to interrupt that process or start that conversation as early as possible to get them to understand one matters more than the other in terms of what it is you’re trying to do. Now, if you give them those kinds of examples, like I just mentioned before, that should make it a lot easier for them to be able to understand why outcome matters so much more than output. And if you don’t, you can’t necessarily know, if measuring output isn’t directly linked to what the mission and the vision is for the organization, exactly what it is you’re trying to do, and why would you measure it? Right? 

It’s okay to ask these questions and start getting feedback. See what they say see if they agree or see what other reservations they have about switching from one to the other they may welcome the opportunity and just may not have thought about that previously. But if we don’t ask the questions, then a conversation may never happen. So I want you to do that. I want you to do that as early as possible. Whenever someone asks, having been part of some of those conversations before, I believe you’re more than likely to be met or you’re more than likely to receive some positive feedback after you go through helping the individuals involved in the process understand the key differences between them and why they can go likely more direct towards what the overall mission and objective is because we should all be aligned in this and that is ultimately what we’re driving for. Now, if you want to know a little bit more about the history here, what’s been done here, other great strategies, there’s a ton of really valuable information in and one of my favorite books, which is in Ann Mei Chang’s Lean Impact. So if you want give yourself a copy of that if you if you don’t have a copy of it, and read that because there’s a ton of really valuable information in Ann Mei’s book.