Anyone who has ever set foot in a nonprofit organization understands that the work done by staff members extends beyond the simple task of program delivery. Nonprofit workers spend time getting to know the people they serve. They take time to adapt services to meet particular needs. They work with participants to identify outcomes that will be relevant and meaningful to those participants. They connect participants to resources that are available outside their own organization. Not only is all of this work instrumental to achieving program outcomes, but it can also lead to beneficial outcomes that program-centric models are ill equipped to anticipate.
To understand nonprofit performance fully, we need to broaden
the lens through which we view the work that staff members do to achieve outcomes for participants. Programs and program outcomes matter a great deal, to be sure. But an outcome measurement model that relies exclusively on “the program” as its unit of analysis will miss a good portion of the work that staff members do. Not surprisingly, many nonprofit staff members come to view outcome measurement as a burdensome funding requirement, rather than as a practical tool to help improve their work.
Why did the standard outcome measurement framework for nonprofits come to rely on the program as its primary unit of analysis?
For decades, the dominant framework of nonprofit outcome evaluation has focused on a single unit of analysis: the program. Yet those who work in nonprofit organizations achieve positive outcomes for participants in ways that lie outside the context of programmatic activity. Here’s a look at what it means to take frontline work seriously.
THE LEGACY OF PROGRAM EVALUATION
VARIETIES OF FRONTLINE WORK
PRINCIPLES OF OUTCOME MEASUREMENT
Measuring relational work
Accounting for adjustment work
Recognizing codetermination work
Acknowledging linking work