Donors are increasingly interested in outputs, outcomes and impact to help them understand what your charity or non-profit organization does and the difference their donation could make. Understanding the terminology is key to writing clear funding applications, as well as helping you to improve the work you do.

So, what do donors mean when they talk about outputs, outcomes and impact? We have provided an explanation below, as well as other key terms you may find in funding applications.

The key terms your charity needs to know for successful grant applications

If you can clearly articulate your project outputs and outcomes, your application is more likely to be understood by a potential donor. In turn, this can make them more inclined to support your project.

Some donors base their entire grant-making criteria (and therefore grant committee decision-making) around outcomes. How well a proposed project can articulate its outcomes will influence the success or failure of an application.

Many donors and funders include useful guidance on their website or grant application to demonstrate how to meet their outcomes criteria. The guidance is relevant when applying to all potential funders.

An output is the services or goods that are delivered. An outcome is the difference the output will make. The examples below provide a quick and easy way to remember the difference between an output and an outcome:

Your charity or non-profit may run a sports club for young people. The output of this project is free 90-minute training sessions for 50 young people at your after-school football club. The outcome is that more young people have increased health and wellbeing and improved social skills.

The output of your charity’s activity may be that you provide 100 bereaved people each year with free counselling services. The outcome is that more people have improved mental health and feel less alone.

A common mistake is to confuse outputs and outcomes with inputs. Inputs are the people, objects, and resources you use to deliver your project or activities. For example, an educational charity may use teachers to deliver training. Here, the number of students receiving training is the output, as they benefit from the activity, and the teachers are the input, as they are helping to deliver the activity.

Grant funders receive many more funding applications than they can support. That’s why it’s vital that your application stands out and that you make every word count. Funders really want to know what the impact of your planned project will be on your community and how will it change people’s lives.

The most frustrating forms to read are those when you get to the end and you’re still not entirely clear what the applicant is asking for money for! What we, as funders, really want to know is what the impact of your planned project will be on your community and how will it change people’s lives; not so much that you had a new boiler installed in 1982.

Just like every other charity, your grant-giver needs to demonstrate the impact of its funding, and you can help them out by showing them what yours will be if you get the money, and how you will measure and evidence that impact. But it’s important not to think of monitoring and evaluation as a fad, or a tick-box exercise just to please funders.
Good impact evaluation will help you refine your vision, motivate your team, generate stories of transformation, and ultimately improve the work you do to benefit others.

We encourage applicants to clearly focus on the impact they want to achieve first and foremost when planning a project and set out in their application how they will go about achieving and measuring the outcomes that will evidence that impact.
That will help us, as funders, to understand what they are trying to achieve and the sort of story they (and, by association as funder, we) will be able to talk about it in the longer term. Sourcing quotes from people who will benefit really helps bring your project to life for us.

It also helps us to know that your project will fulfill a real, rather than simply a perceived, need. Sharing the results of a survey of your local community or the people you help can be a great way of supplying that evidence and showing the likely reach of your project. Evidence that you have explored the potential of partnerships, and learned from the experiences of others, is also a strong persuader.

To want to make a change in the world is admirable, but to evidence that you have, and be able to tell stories of the transformation you’ve enabled, that’s powerful. And if you need more money to keep up the good work, and to ask for more time and resources from your volunteers, that evidence will be essential!

Jeremy Noles

Jeremy Noles

Head of Grants and Relationships at Allchurches Trust

We’re deeply involved in our communities through partnerships, sponsorships and employee volunteer initiatives that help improve the lives of people in need.