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Outputs, Outcomes, So What?

Valerie Jones | Published on 1/20/2023

Headshot of Valerie Jones smiling. She

Valerie Jones is the executive director of alumnae relations at the College of Saint Benedict and has been a VILT trainer with MAVA since 2016.

Click here to see details for MAVA’s next Volunteer Impact Leadership Series in May 2023!

For better or worse, we live in a world that evaluates and judges all day long. From the thumbs up and the heart emojis to random nameless comments filled with hate and vitriol, we are constantly evaluating things. What we eat, what we see, what other people do, what our favorite celebrities wore to the Golden Globes. 

But how many of us take the time to learn to evaluate well? To make critical assessments that matter and provide useful feedback that helps a person, or an organization grow and improve? 

The seventh module in MAVA’s VILT series is called Evaluating and Measuring your Impact. While only a brief introduction to the myriad number of ways the nonprofit community evaluates volunteer programs, it is an excellent introduction to one element in particular: outcome measurement. 

So often our evaluation efforts stop with a basic accounting of the things we have accomplished, the things we can count, the statistics we can gather, and the tangible results we can prove. Harder to demonstrate, but often more to the mission point is the impact of our work  the way our volunteers create new skills for program participants, set conditions for new behaviors to emerge, help influence a person’s condition, and improve lives beyond a simple intervention. These are program outcomes; this is the “so what” of our work. And they are evaluated differently, but no less importantly. 

In the VILT Evaluating and Measuring your Impact module, volunteer managers learn the difference between a program output and a program outcome. And they begin to gather and work with the tools that help them evaluate their own programs' outcomes so that they know with greater clarity not just how much of something they are doing, but how deeply is it changing the lives of the people they serve. 

I have taught the Evaluation module about a dozen times. And every time, my favorite moment is using the “so what” activity to dig deeper into understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes and seeing that moment when it happens — when a new class of evaluators grasps the beauty of volunteer program outcomes and can craft an outcome statement for their own program that they promise to return to their organization to evaluate. 

And that’s a powerful training outcome too. As long as we’re evaluating things. 

Click here for more information on MAVA's May Volunteer Impact Leadership Training Series!