All grant proposals are different. Some have strict requirements and lengthy lists of questions. Others ask very few questions and don’t require much in the way of hard metrics. But regardless of what type of proposals you may be working on at this moment in time, there is one thing I can say with certainty:
You will run into proposals that ask you to write out the goals, objectives, and outcomes for your program or project.
Now, that sounds pretty straightforward, but is it really? Do you know the difference between a goal, an objective, and an outcome? And more importantly, do you know how to set them up logically so that they flow between each other and make sense?
This is something that many grant writers, particularly those who are newer to the field struggle with. I’ve had a few people contact me recently to ask about this very topic so I’m going to give you a quick rundown below on the difference between these three metrics and then give you a tool to help you outline them for any programs, projects, or proposals you have in the works.
Let’s get started.
What is a goal?
Goals are the end result you want to achieve and they usually have one or more objectives attached to them (but we’ll get to that in a minute).
Goals are typically broad in scope. For example, a goal might be for an organization to “increase accessibility for low-income students”. Or an individual nonprofit staffer (like you) might have a goal to “gain a grant writing certification” or something similar.
Asked another way, goals should answer the question “what is the point of this project or program and how does it solve the problem or need you identified in your needs statement?” Don’t overthink writing them. They are meant to be broad. Objectives and outcomes will help you get more specific. Your job is just to make sure that the goals you write are grounded in reality and not so pie-in-the-sky that you have no hope of achieving them.
What is an objective?
Objectives are your workhorses. They are what you will do to achieve whatever your goals are for your program or project.
The best way to approach writing an objective, once you understand what it is and how it relates to the goals you’ve set, is to make sure it fits inside the ‘SMART’ model:
S – Specific (objectives should be clear and unambiguous with enough specificity that you can go out and get it done)
M – Measurable (good objectives should have some sort of metric or measure attached to tell you when you’ve achieved it)
A – Actionable (a good objective will be something you can take concrete steps toward achieving)
R – Realistic (a good objective maybe be a stretch, but it won’t be impossible. It will be something that you can absolutely achieve, or at least come close, if you do the work)
T – Time-Bound (a good objective will have a deadline)
A well-written objective should fit into every category of that SMART model. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a dance education program or project:
“ABC Dance Company will set up new partnerships with at least 5 Title I schools for our City Dance program by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. “
What is an outcome?
Outcomes are the results, or impact, which you want your program or project to make. These will hopefully be the ultimate results of pursuing the goals and objectives you set and just like objectives, your outcomes should be measurable so you can report back later as to whether or not you were able to achieve (or hopefully even exceed) your intended outcomes.
Outcomes can also have differing timelines, categorizing them into short-term, medium-term, or long-term outcomes. Some grant applications will specifically ask you to break down your outcomes into short-term, medium-term, and long-term categories so it’s a good idea to go ahead and do this on the front-end when you are planning the program and how it will be evaluated.
Let’s look at some examples.
Here’s a bad example of an outcome: “ABC Ballet Company will increase enrollment to its City Dance program”
That’s a bad outcome because it really doesn’t tell us much. How do we know enrollment increased? How much did it increase? Did it increase enough that we hit our goals? In what time period did this even take place? We don’t know. The outcome as written doesn’t tell us these things.
Here’s a much better example of an outcome:
“By August 2021, ABC Ballet Company will enroll a total of 500+ new students from at least 5 new Title I schools into the City Dance program. ”
That’s a great outcome because it will help us measure whether or not we met or exceeded our stated goals and objectives. And because it does have a deadline attached to it, it can also be categorized as short-term, medium-term, or long-term (this is done by putting this outcome into context within the larger timeline of the program or project).
How do goals, objectives, and outcomes flow together?
Your program or project’s goals, objectives, and outcomes should not exist in a vacuum. They should all be interrelated and flow from goal to objective to outcome in a way that is realistic and makes sense to anyone reading the grant.
Here’s an example to show you what I mean:
Goal: To increase accessibility to dance education programming for low-income students.
Objective: ABC Dance Company will set up new partnerships with at least 5 Title I schools for our City Dance program by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Outcome: By August 2021, ABC Ballet Company will enroll a total of 500+ new students from at least 5 new Title I schools into the City Dance program.
See how each of these relate to the others and create a linear trajectory from goal to outcome? All of your goals, objectives, and outcomes should be set up this way.
Of course, that last example is pretty simplistic because in reality, most projects and programs will have multiple goals and those goals will each have multiple objectives and outcomes attached to them. It can be a lot to keep track of. So just like everything else I do related to grant writing, this is where I advocate having an organizational system in place to organize and track the goals, objectives, and outcomes which are tied to each program or project for which you are seeking grants.
Don’t worry. I’m not a big fan of reinventing the wheel or wasting time, so I’ve created a tool to help you do this. It’s just a simple spreadsheet, but it gets the job done and is customizable enough that you can use it for any project. I’ve also included some short definitions and examples to keep you or other members of your team from getting confused on how to create great goals, objectives, and outcomes. Plus, it includes an easy-to-understand color-coded key for you to categorize your outcomes into short-term, medium-term, and long-term categories.
Just click below to download your copy!
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