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Key Steps in Outcome Management

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Document date: May 09, 2003
Released online: May 09, 2003

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



What Contributes to Success
About This Guidebook

Section I: Setting Up
Step 1: Select Programs to Include
Step 2: Determine Who Will Be Involved in Developing the Process and How
Step 3: Establish an Overall Schedule

Section II: Deciding What and How to Measure
Step 4: Identify the Program's Mission, Objectives, and Clients
Step 5: Identify the Outcomes of the Program
Step 6: Select Specific Indicators to Measure the Outcomes
Step 7: Select Data Sources and Data Collection Procedures for Each Indicator
Step 8: Identify Key Client and Service Characteristics to Link to Outcome Information
Step 9: Pilot Test the Procedures, Make Needed Modifications, and Implement

Section III: Analyzing the Outcome Information
Step 10: Examine the Outcome Data
Step 11: Report the Findings
Step 12: Seek Explanations for Unusual or Unexpected Findings

Section IV: Using the Results
Step 13: Use the Outcome Information to Improve Services



Like the leaders of private companies, nonprofit executives and managers need to know whether their programs are providing satisfactory results. Outcome management enables organizations to define and use specific indicators to continually measure how well services or programs are leading to the desired results. With this information, managers can better develop budgets, allocate their resources, and improve their services.

A successful outcome management program includes a process to measure outcomes plus the use of that information to help manage and improve services and organizational outcomes.

This is the first in a series of guidebooks from the Urban Institute. It covers the necessary steps for nonprofit organizations that wish to implement outcome management (also known as "managing for results"), and includes guidance on establishing an outcome-oriented measurement process and practices for using the information internally.

Additional guides in the series will examine in more detail some components of outcome management, such as undertaking client surveys. Please check http://www.urban.org to see what guides are currently available.

What Contributes to Success

A nonprofit should have certain characteristics to successfully develop and implement an outcome management process. They include the following:

  • Leadership support. There must be visible support from top management in the organization.
  • Commitment of time and staff resources. Initial development and introduction of the process often requires the time and effort of many staff members. Once the process is in place, the effort required typically decreases, as outcome management becomes part of basic program management.
  • Program stability. Programs that are undergoing major change in mission or personnel are not good candidates for introducing performance measurement. A stable organizational environment is needed.
  • Computer capability. Even if the organization is very small, the capacity to use computers to record data and prepare reports is very desirable. What is needed is hardware and software (even if rudimentary) as well as staff with the necessary expertise.

About This Guidebook

Funders, including local governments, United Ways, and foundations increasingly ask, and sometimes require, reports that include outcome information, in order to demonstrate that their services have value. The United Way of America with its 1996 manual Measuring Program Outcomes: A Practical Approach became a major impetus in encouraging the measurement of outcomes. Other national service organizations have also created materials and provided resources to help their affiliates move into this area. This report and the others forthcoming in this series build on these sector-wide efforts and are intended to provide assistance to nonprofits that wish to collect outcome measurement data and use the information to help improve services to clients.

Exhibit 1 lists 13 key steps to implement outcome management that are detailed in this guidebook. The steps are grouped into four sections:

Section I: Setting Up includes steps 1 through 3, the initial organizational tasks.

Section II: Deciding What and How to Measure includes steps 4 through 9, what is needed to develop the outcome measurement process.

Section III: Analyzing the Data includes steps 10 through 12, reviewing and reporting on the information collected.

Section IV: Using the Results includes step 13, the potential uses for outcome data, focusing on how outcome information can be used to improve services.

These steps can help create and maintain a meaningful outcome management process. But remember, it is impossible to measure perfectly all ideal outcomes or even any particular outcome. The goal for nonprofit organizations is to develop, at least roughly, outcome information that can be used by program managers and staff to improve services on a continuing basis. When managers make decisions based on outcomes, the result is more effective programs with increased benefits to clients and the community year after year.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

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