Outcomes matter. Just ask a Tampa Bay Rays fan. Likewise, if I buy a pair of those “Not Your Daughter’s Jeans” jeans for over $100 a pop, they better not make my muffin top look worse. Outcomes may be even more critical to non-profits – even small ones – as pressure to achieve results increases from donors.
Recently, I had the opportunity to review a draft grant proposal for a small not-for-profit that provides emergency assistance. In communications terms, food aid isn’t a very sexy topic. Short-term assistance isn’t going to fix poverty, the root problem. And it isn’t surrounded by the buzz enjoyed by new attempts to provide systemic relief, like microfinance.
Lacking tens of thousands of dollars for a well structured longitudinal study, what’s a small non-profit to do? Most list their outcomes as what I would call process or activity measures: e.g. how many received food supplies. As one online resource suggested, in the case of emergency relief programs, outcomes may simply equal the outputs. Food distributed, food received.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that cuts the mustard with many grant-makers or with younger donors who expect non-profits to compete for their dollars and attention. Call it a beauty contest if you want to, but the fact is that non-profits will have to do more to point to long-term benefit.
So here’s the suggestion. While a small non-profit may not have the resources for “elegant” evaluation studies, they can pore over the wealth of research that is now available online. Government sources are a great place to start (in the case of food aid, USDA has an extensive research program). Academicians publish studies in peer-reviewed journals that are often available on a website.
While these evaluations may not specific to your program, they serve as a valuable proof point to your non-profit’s claims that you make a difference.
A study by Forrester found that Gen X and Y go to the web first (by text or computer) as they seek information about causes they might support. These audiences, in particular, want to give their money to a cause or organization that can assure them it is making a difference. Market research conducted in late July by Grizzard Communications Group shows that younger donors (age 25–34) planned to actually increase giving while other age groups planned to give the same or less.
Yes, this holiday giving season will likely be painful for charitable organizations, but keep in mind that there may be opportunities to reach new markets – if you’ve got a message that compels them to pick you. I’d love to hear what you’re doing to sharpen up your messages about outcomes.