Outcomes vs. Outputs
It is fairly easy to determine the outputs of your home repair work. For starters, count the number of volunteers who served with you, how many people you helped, and the number of homes you repaired. You can also tally how many specific projects (roofs, wheelchair ramps, etc.) you completed in a given time frame and the satisfaction rating of the homeowners. While this information is important – your donors will want to know these numbers – it doesn’t describe the full impact of your work.
It is more time consuming to determine your outcomes but it’s also more rewarding. Imagine being able to say that because of your repairs, families saved an average of $50 per month on their utility bills, allowing them to afford medicine or clothes for their children. Or, you could discover that the relationships formed between homeowners and your volunteers positively impacts mental health – reducing depression rates in both groups. It’s possible that your repairs improve the indoor air quality of a home, creating a healthier living environment that results in fewer missed days of school and work for the occupants. By tracking outcomes, you can better share the impact of your work. This could open up new funding opportunities, as this kind of information is highly valued by foundations. Knowing your outcomes could help you secure a grant that provides you with the resources to transform the lives of even more people.
So, how do you begin to track outcomes? If you believe that your program inspires your volunteers to become more active in their churches and communities, for example, you might start with a survey. Faith-based nonprofits could reach out to volunteers six months after their service experience and ask them about their church involvement and spiritual practices (prayer life, time spent reading the Bible, etc.) and community volunteer activities. You could ask whether these areas of their life have been impacted by their experience with your organization, or you could be more scientific and offer a pre-trip survey with which to compare post-trip responses. In order to confirm that any changes were caused by their experience with you and not something else, you could have a control group of people who did not volunteer with you also complete the surveys. Another approach would be to collect qualitative data. The impact of your organization likely ripples beyond the individuals who serve with you; to document this, you could interview the parents of volunteers about the changes that they have seen in their youth after their experience repairing homes with your organization.
Other outcomes listed above could be explored by communicating with the residents of the homes you repair. Prior to beginning any renovations, you could ask about monthly utility bills, the comfort of the home in various seasons, etc. You could add these questions to your home repair application in order to streamline the process. It is more difficult but not impossible to address issues of physical and mental health. If you choose to do so, you’ll need to figure out a way to ask these questions in a sensitive manner. Reassure applicants that their answers will not affect your decision of whether or not to work on their home. It may help if you explain that you explain that their answers will remain confidential and that they will not be singled out in any reporting. Just like with your volunteers, you’d also need to collect information after your work has concluded in order to document changes.
You may be overwhelmed by your current responsibilities and feel that you don’t have the time or staff to undertake an effort to track outcomes. If this is the case, you could partner with a local college or university to assist with your research; many schools are eager to provide service-learning opportunities. Students studying psychology or statistics could conduct surveys and analyze the data for you, for example.
Association members can access sample surveys to assist with tracking outcomes in our resource library. You’ll find a pre-work survey for families that includes some questions from the World Health Organization Quality of Life project. There’s also sample pre-trip and post-trip surveys for volunteers that have some questions from the Christian Faith Practices Scale developed at Duke Divinity School. Not a member? Join today to access this information!