In modern Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and professional philanthropy, there is specific language—as with all sectors—used to describe its line of work. While some industry-specific vernacular is used to describe complex concepts, some of the jargon may unintentionally obscure meanings to the detriment of transparency. In the case of the words ‘outcome’ and ‘output,’ there is a clear distinction between the two terms that is not widely understood.
Outputs are what is counted
Outputs include numerical counts of actions and products that a program produces, creates, or delivers. For instance, an education program that a company has provided may report that they helped 150 high school students graduate from their school. Other examples may include calculating the amount of money invested into a program or a number of people served through. These outputs are easily measurable and readily determined.
At first glance, outputs will seem like they are sufficient in terms of a company’s need to report CSR data, but organizations should try to achieve a higher level of efficacy in social change that goes beyond just outputs. Through an outputs-based approach, companies are able to settle for ‘done’ rather than doing the more difficult task of targeting success. Just because tasks are being completed, it does not mean that those tasks will create value. If we want to talk about success, we need to talk about outcomes, not just outputs.
Outcomes are what is being achieved
In contrast to outputs, which embody what the company is quantitatively doing, CSR outcome data is focused on what impact or changes a company is having on society. An outcome is a change that occurred because of your program. It is measurable and time-limited, although it may take a while to determine its full effect. They are defined as meaningful changes for the population served, such as anticipated changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, behavior, condition, or status (1).
An example of an outcome-based goal that would directly contrast with an output-based goal would be achieving a higher high school graduation rate rather than simply reporting the number of books donated to a school library. These outcome-based goals, when grounded in data and defensible assumptions of causality, serve as better indicators of significant contributions because they indicate a more sustained and thoughtful commitment of time and resources.
At Corecentra, we recognize and understand the differences between output-centric goals and outcome-centric goals. With our Impact Measurement & Management software, we help other organizations not only report and track their output for CSR, but to also track and report their outcome-related data and goals, which allows these organizations better represent the holistic impact of their initiatives and programs. In a world that is becoming increasingly cluttered with insignificant data and information, Corecentra’s tool aims to bring clarity and greater success to the high-impact initiatives undertaken by our customers.
If you’re interested in learning more about Outputs VS Outcomes, please feel free to reach out to Anish Nagar (email: anishnagar [at] corecentra.com). Anish is the CEO of Corecentra Solutions, a software company providing purpose-built digital solutions for socially conscious and outcomes-focused companies, foundations, nonprofits, and frontline government agencies.
Corecentra provides advanced digital tools for organizations to manage, monitor, and report their social performance and impact. We help socially-conscious companies, impact investors, foundations, nonprofits, and frontline government agencies manage portfolios and programs, aggregate and analyze data, and easily report outcomes to key stakeholders. By seamlessly integrating program management, budgeting & finance, stakeholder engagement, predictive analytics, and impact assessment, our products empower organizations to increase their social impact and deliver a quantified view of social performance to investors, donors, beneficiaries, employees, and communities.