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Getting SMART About Outcomes

When I first started out as a grantwriter, “Funders are getting smarter about impact!” seemed to be a new, running theme. More than 15 years later, this has not changed and in fact has become common knowledge: to be grant-ready, organizations must be able to measure, analyze, and report meaningful outcomes. 


Building SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic or relevant, and timely or time-bound) outcomes into a proposal has several benefits. By using this framework, a grantwriter will help program staff shape projects, in many cases taking a concept from vision to reality. Using SMART outcomes makes post-award reporting and funder stewardship easier. While funders generally put outcomes and evaluation plans at the end of a list of proposal requirements, in many cases reporting against these outcomes is the first item that funders want to see in a grant report. Perhaps most importantly, SMART outcomes help us to abide by the GPA Code of Ethics, ensuring proper use of and reporting on grantors' funds.
Using the SMART framework will help you define meaningful, reportable outcomes.
Is the objective precise and well-defined? Is all the necessary context in place? Do not just state, “Young people will benefit from our programs.” Instead, state, “At least 200 youth aged 6-12 will enroll in our science education curriculum and experience an increase in their yearly science test scores.”
How will the organization know when the task has been completed? What evidence is needed to confirm it? Instead of saying, “Young people will increase their understanding of science,” try saying, “Young people participating in the curriculum will experience at least a 20% increase in their yearly science test scores.” Provide the funder with information about how you will gather the evidence to measure and analyze results. It is not enough to say what change you anticipate. You must include how you will gather the evidence to substantiate that change.
Is the project within the organization's capabilities? Are there sufficient resources available to help it happen? Does your budget fit the outcomes you are trying to achieve? An outcome such as “national science education will be improved,” while compelling, is likely not within reach of most organizations. Focusing in on what is attainable—“At least 200 young people in Boston will participate in the curriculum, resulting in at least a 20% increase in their yearly science test scores”—will help align an outcome with the organization's capabilities and budget.
Relevant or Realistic
How sensible is the outcome in the current organizational or policy context? Does it fit into the overall pattern of the organization's work? It would be enticing to say that “Young people aged 6-12 participating in the curriculum will be more likely to graduate high school and get into Harvard,” but this might not be realistic within the scope of your organization's mission. Instead, try a more realistic outcome—“young people…will experience at least a 20% increase in their science test scores.”
Timely or Time-Bound
Is there a deadline and is it feasible to meet the outcome within this timeframe? Can this outcome be achieved within the grant period or fiscal year? State when you expect to reach these results: “At least 200 young people in Boston will participate in the curriculum by the end of FY17, resulting in at least a 20% increase in their yearly science test scores.”
By being SMART about outcomes, you can create a meaningful and—best of all—fundable project proposal.
How do you work with program staff at your organization to create meaningful, SMART outcomes?
What tools do you use?

Laura Katz Leacu is currently the Secretary of the Board for the Massachusetts GPA Chapter and Director, Institutional Giving at Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, MA.