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What Is the Difference Between an Objective, Goal, and Outcome?

Objectives, Goals and Outcomes

Every program should know where it is coming from (goals and objectives) and what it is trying to accomplish (outcomes).

Without the direction of goals and objectives there can be no outcomes because outcomes are specific and measurable aspects of your organization’s goals and objectives.  All of these measurable items should be determined during your organization’s planning process. 

The Planning and Evaluation Process

Evaluation is a fluid and ongoing process occurring throughout the lifespan of your organization and your programs.

Starting with goals derived from your mission statement will help you set the direction for your program. Once goals are defined, objectives will help you nail down what must actually be accomplished to achieve these goals.

Outcomes are the third piece of this puzzle, providing the measurable effects the program will accomplish. When outcomes are reached new goals or objectives may need to be set, but when outcomes are not achieved it may be time to reassess.

In the end, the most important practices are staying true to your mission and ensuring that you are meeting your clients’ needs.

Why Do We Need Outcomes?

This fact is inescapable: stakeholders want results! Funders want to know their money is making a difference, volunteers want to change the world, employees want to see their hard work pay off, and clients want efficient and effective services.

Goals and objectives are extremely important, but how will your organization know it has, is, and will continue achieving its purpose for existence? The answer lies in the outcomes.

How to Define Outcomes

Outcomes come in many different shapes and sizes, and while some are quite common (i.e. number of people served) others are extremely unique. Outcomes can be quantitative or qualitative, and the only limitations on creating outcomes are measurability and imagination. Do not shy away from creative outcomes as long as you can develop a method to measure them.

Outcome indicators are valuable tools that help determine when benchmarks for outcomes are being met. These are specific quantitative measures such as number of, percent of, and so on; however, they can be used to represent qualitative outcomes.

For example, if you operate an after-school program about bullying and want to measure a percent increase in students’ knowledge about bullying, your outcome indicators could include the percent of students who reach a specific score on a quiz about bullying. Outcome indicators can also be separated out into different demographic units to help your organization better understand if outcomes are being met within different units of your constituents.


These articles, samples, and resources are offered for informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. If used, your organization should tailor samples to best fit the organization’s specific circumstances. We encourage your organization to seek appropriate professional assistance as needed.

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