3 Steps to Launch an Outcomes-Focused Strategy the Right Way

September 13, 2017 Michelle DiSabato

It’s probably not most people’s first choice to face a new situation with a feeling that you’re going in blind. I think of those reality TV shows where someone is plunked in the wilderness and has to survive the elements. The amateur-survivalists-slash-TV-cast-members have a lot to figure out before the episode ends: Which trail to take? What’s in the weather forecast? Is that spider poisonous? Am I headed in the right direction? All without maps or Wi-Fi. Most of us wouldn’t sign up for that.   

As the giving sector and funders in particular become more and more results-focused, maybe you sometimes feel like you’re being plunked into unfamiliar territory. ‘I know outcomes measurement and impact stories are becoming more important,’ you may think, ‘But how do I make sure I’m starting down the right path so I don’t feel stranded?’  

To get started on your social impact adventure, you don’t have to go in blind, and you don’t need to feel like you’re a castaway off the grid. When you’re looking to launch a new outcomes-centered strategy, start with these three steps and sample scripts to ensure you’re heading in the right direction.  

Vet your strategy with key grantee partners.  

Making a shift from a more traditional philanthropy model to a results-focused, outcomes-centered strategy could feel like a big change, not only for you, but for your network of grantee partners. It’s important that you involve your nonprofit partners early and often so they can provide insight and help shape the strategy from the beginning. If your key grantee partners don’t see themselves in the vision you’re outlining or don’t have a voice in building it, it can become more challenging to get on the same page later. A strategy centered on impact and outcomes measurement should never feel punitive or like a decree from a foundation to its grantees – vet your strategy with some trusted partners to start things right for everyone involved. 

Don’t go in blind. Here’s your sample script for Step 1: 

We’ve begun a revamp of our strategy, and we would like your input and insight to make sure it’s going to be successful when it’s in practice. As we’re moving to a more outcomes-focused model, take a look at how we’ve begun outlining what success looks like for the program. Do you see your organization being able to track to this? What’s your perspective?

Measure progress along the way.

As you’re vetting your outcomes-centered strategy with key grantee partners, you will also need to make sure you have the tools to measure whether the execution of that strategy is successful. Instead of getting stranded in an outcomes measurement wilderness with nothing but a survival mentality, you can go into this new strategy confident that you have the systems and tools you need. With the right technology in place to provide for collaboration between you and your partners and an ability to calculate and analyze data against the outcomes you define, you’ll be well-equipped to take on your journey to outcomes and impact.  

Don’t go in blind. Here’s your sample script for Step 2: 

Can old tools support a new strategy? What can we actually measure and analyze with what we’ve got? If we’re putting all this effort into revamping our strategy and refining our approach, we can’t overlook the fact that we may need to revamp our technology systems, too.

Emphasize training and transparency.

In the wilderness, you will likely fare better if you complete some training beforehand. The same is true for your outcomes-centered results-focused giving strategy. The better trained your staff and grantee partners are on the ins and outs of the strategy, how you’ve defined outcomes, how you will measure success, how to use the tools to track progress, etc., will help everyone to align around common goals with a common approach. And even after your strategy launches, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and provide transparency at every step of the journey. Foundations and nonprofits both need to be open and honest about progress and discuss the why’s and how’s along the way. For instance, when you initially defined an outcome and vetted it with a partner, maybe you both expected that the nonprofit would have hit a certain milestone within a particular timeframe – and they’re only at 20%. This is a reason to come together and discuss why the results are different from the expectation and how to collaboratively get back on track. Especially when an outcomes strategy is still new, an open dialog is critical for long-term success.   

Don’t go in blind. Here’s your sample script for Step 3: 

Don’t be afraid to come to us with results that aren’t 100%. If something feels off to you in the field, be open about what’s happening and let’s put our heads together to come up with a solution. With a new strategy that emphasizes tracking outcomes along the course of the program, we’re bound to face some indicators that hit us with something we didn’t expect pre-launch. Remember, this is a learning journey for all of us.

When you’re launching a results-focused giving strategy centered on outcomes measurement, you don’t need to feel like you’re out in the wilderness without a compass. With these three steps – and some “script” ideas to get you started – you can feel ready to take on your outcomes journey with the input, systems, and training you need to not only survive, but to achieve a measurable impact.  

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