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Outcomes for Basic Human Needs / Emergency Services Agencies

Nonprofit, Food Pantry, Emergency Assistance, United Way


The United Way has been pushing agencies to go through a process of defining and measuring the outcomes of their services.  Makes general sense.  The outcome is the "so what" of the service (e.g. the output provided is the service).

This seems to be quite difficult to do for services that meet short term or emergency basic human needs.  These would include short term food/groceries, rent money to avoid eviction, utility money to avoid utility shutoff and money for prescriptions.  There are probably many other examples, but the above are the services provided by my clients.

For such services, the outcome seems to be almost the same as the output.  For the service of "food for the family for 3 weeks" the outcome is "the family will have nutritious food for the next 3 weeks". 

Some people think there should be a more grandiose outcome and sometimes, you can engage a consultant who will work with you through a process of coming up with outcomes.  While the process is not in of itself bad, it can cost quite a bit ($4,500 for one agency) and take a lot of time (12 months in one case).

The information below is to assist other similar agencies  who are addressing outcomes for the first time.


The best reference for outcomes is the book produced by the United Way:  Measuring Program Outcomes:  A Practical Approach.  It costs $5.00 plus shipping.  You can order it from here:

http://www.liveunited.org/Outcomes/Resources/MPO/index.cfm  <--- link now dead - see below for current link


It includes a good definition of an outcome on page xv, which you can also see online at the above link.  I have copied it below:

"Outcomes are benefits for participants during or after their involvement with a program. Outcomes may relate to knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, behavior, condition, or status. Examples of outcomes include greater knowledge of nutritional needs, improved reading skills, more effective responses to conflict, getting a job, and having greater financial stability. "

page 76 of the book states:

"The assistance is very short-term. Programs such as disaster assistance and emergency food, shelter and utility assistance provide immediate and short-term assistance to participants.  In effect, the mere provision of these services can be said to be an important outcome, and for some programs their sole purpose.  In these cases, the program outcomes may equal the outputs:  the amount of service and number of people helped...."


Other references of interest would include:

http://www.uwex.edu/li/learner/q-a_outcomeb.htm  <--- link now dead - see below for current link


"    Q5. What about situations where clients outcomes and agency outcomes are different? E.g., a client may want to eat a meal . The agency may want to increase the skills and tools to make the client more self-sufficient.
    In the example you cite, if the mission of the organization is to increase self-sufficiency of individuals that are experiencing hunger, an appropriate initial outcome meeting participants' immediate need would be that participants have adequate food for a defined period of time. "  (my underlining)



http://www.chs.fsu.edu/family_institute/homeless_outcome.php?display  <--- link now dead - see below for current link



The Goverment's HUD website has a document on outcomes:

Results-Oriented Management and Accountability(ROMA) Training for SuperNOFA Grantees

In it it refers to "Proxy outcomes" and includes the following:


Proxy outcomes are surrogates or stand-ins for the actual outcome.  

Simply stated, a proxy outcome is when the activity, service or intervention is also the same as the outcome.

Proxy outcomes may be used when it is not practical to measure certain key program outcomes, it is not yet certain what the specific outcome is or that it is the best that can be undertaken until better data collection procedures can be developed. For example: 

        Provision of a daily hot meal is a proxy outcome for nutrition. The number of people receiving a daily hot meal is the activity and also the outcome. The daily hot lunch is the only nutritionally balanced hot meal available to many seniors. Congregate meals also contribute to other outcomes including increased socialization, maintenance of independence, and the stabilization and reduction of depression.  Research studies have shown that these are the benefits of a daily hot meal for seniors that meet eligibility requirements."


If you have other references that should be added to this listing, relative to outcomes for these kinds of services, please contact the author at

bobalston9     AT   yahoo    DOT    com