What is the difference between an output and outcome in a grant proposal?

The difference between an output and outcome in a grant proposal might not seem quite different at first. In fact, it might feel downright like the same darn thing.

For many grant writers this difference between an output and outcome can feel a little abstract and confusing.

You might be thinking, “What are the differences and why do grants have to be so meticulous?”

Are grant funding sources just trying to trick you with these output and outcome words? Are they chuckling in the background while you scratch your head and think, “to-may-to / to-mah-to”?

Nah, grant reviewers aren’t that bored, although they do have a good sense of humor.

But it’s good for you there is a quick way to know what this differences actually are and a way you can remember outputs and outcomes, and better yet, understand them.

Once you understand what the differences (and similarities) are between grant outputs and outcomes it will make your grant writing SO much better.

Okay, so let’s get down to it.

Defining Outputs and Outcomes

I’ve seen many definitions and I will use the definition from Alta Alonzi and then give you even a shorter version answer.

From Proposals for NGOs:

Outputs

  • Directly produced by the project; as long as you completed the project activities, you will create an output
  • Typically tangible and easy to measure
  • Not the reason why the project was necessary

Outcomes

  • Produced from the project outputs; just completing the project activities does not guarantee that the outcomes were also achieved
  • Typically more intangible and harder to measure
  • The reason why the project is necessary

Here are my succinct definitions:

  • Output: The quantitative and tangible result of the project and can easily be measured.
  • Outcome: The qualitative and behavioral result of the project.

Examples of Grant Outputs & Outcomes in a Grant Proposal

Let’s go ahead and look at some examples of outputs and outcomes as this is where you might have the ‘Aha!’ factor…

Outputs and outcomes are items, or elements, that will result from achieving objectives.

Not to confuse you with another ‘O’ word, remember an objective is SMART and needs to be achieved in order to fulfill the goal of the project.

Let’s reflect on our objective from episode #167: How to Write Objectives for Grant Proposals.

Objective Sample (also taken from The Beginner’s Guide to Grant Writing):

100 disadvantaged youth in Rocking Socks will receive sports scholarships by the end of twelve months. 

Now what did I mean about being able to measure the outputs? Well, it can be quite simple.

Measuring Outputs and Outcomes in Grant Proposals

Will 100 scholarships be awarded?

That is something you can easily and tangibly measure. That’s either a yes or no.

Now let’s look at the outcome: improving confidence and test scores. This might not be an immediate behavior change to be able to measure. This will take a bit more time to reflect on and need a good evaluation strategy.

Yes, the outcome can be measured but it’s not as tangible and also includes a shift in attitude and behavior. This is where real change happens, as well.

The outcome is what you are really wanting. 100 soccer scholarships might not result in this outcome change, but it’s what the grant project is aspiring to do.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t think your output will result in achieving your outcome, you might want to change the output.

Summary of Grant Outputs and Outcomes in a Grant Proposal

I hope you can see here that outputs and outcomes are not exact opposites. It’s not really an output versus an outcome, but it’s more a trajectory and relationship. You will see them side by side in logic models and this causal relationship is why.

The output will hopefully result in the outcome.

Now you know why there are both outputs and outcomes in a grant proposal and how they complement one another. Remember it’s not just a ‘to-may-to / to-mah-to’ differentiation. These really are two different concepts that work together.

It’s too bad they didn’t start with different letters to not confuse grant writers, but alas, that is what we got!

Links and Resources:

  • Episode #167: How to Write an Objective for a Grant Proposal: Click here.
  • Proposal for NGOs: What’s the Difference? Project Outputs vs. Outcomes. Click here.
  • Episode #6: Write Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes for Your Grant Proposal. Click here.
  • Episode #143: 5 Most Popular Grant Writing Questions. Click here.
  • Episode #141: Grant Writing Made Easy: 5 Hacks to Write a Grant Proposal. Click here.

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