Transforming Knowledge into Change

Agency Experiences with Outcome Measurement: Survey Findings

As of January 2000, 400 United Ways across the country were asking programs they fund
to identify and measure their outcomes—the benefits or changes the programs want
participants to experience as a result of their services. United Ways are not alone. Many
state and local government agencies, foundations, managed care systems, and accrediting bodies
have added outcome measurement to the list of performance and accountability measures
they require of nonprofit organizations within their sphere.

Outcome measurement—the regular, systematic tracking of the extent to which program participants
experience the benefits or changes intended—is not easy. It requires a fundamental
shift in thinking, takes time and resources, and often means diverting staff time away from
providing services to participants. The methodology, while not experimental research, still
requires careful design and implementation to produce meaningful data. In addition, some
outcomes are harder to identify, harder to measure, and take longer to measure than others.
While there definitely are challenges, outcome measurement produces rewards for programs
that implement it carefully and use it as a management tool. Because of its focus on results, the
feedback it provides, and the data it produces, outcome measurement offers two primary benefits
for programs: It helps them increase the effectiveness of their services and communicate
the value of what they do.

Anecdotal information from many different types of programs reveals a variety of uses programs
make of outcome information and a number of benefits they gain from it. This report
represents a more systematic effort to determine the extent to which programs have profited
from outcome measurement, as well as to identify barriers to both measurement and use of the

About This Study
The survey of program directors whose findings are reported here was conducted by James Bell
Associates (JBA) of Arlington, Virginia. JBA is the evaluation contractor for United Way of
America’s National Learning Project on Using Program Outcome Findings to Create Measurable
Change. The National Learning Project is a 3-year effort, funded in part by a grant from
the Lilly Endowment, to learn how United Ways can use program outcome findings to improve
funded programs and initiatives, the United Way itself, and the community.
To assist with the survey, six United Ways involved in the National Learning Project identified
all agencies they fund that are engaged in outcome measurement—a total of 391 agencies. To
reduce the burden for agencies that operate more than one United Way-funded program, JBA
used a random-selection procedure to designate one program per agency to be the focus of the
survey. Thus, JBA surveyed 391 programs, each operated by a different agency.

In August 1999, JBA mailed confidential surveys to those agencies. The survey asked directors
of the designated programs for their assessment of both positive and negative aspects of measuring
program outcomes, as well as their experiences with using the findings to benefit the program.
A total of 298 responses were returned, for an overall response rate of 76.2 percent.


Bibliographic Details
Author United Way of America
Publisher United Way of America
Publication Date January 1, 2000
Publication City Arlington, VA
Publication Work
Resource Type
Resource Focus
Submitted to Point K March 5, 2013 - 2:22pm


pdf icon united_way_2000.pdf
209.74 KB
Get Adobe Reader
Login to review this resource