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Output, Outcome, Impact or Purpose?

Much has been written about the need for Social Enterprises and Non-Profits to distinguish and be clear about Output, Outcome and Impact.

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Output is what you get for the “input” you provide whether its a service, product or both. This is one of the easiest and fastest metrics to measure.

Outcome answers the next question – “So what…if you got that output, what else did that change?”. Outcomes are relatively slower but equally easier (as output) to be measured.

And lastly Impact answers the BIG question – “If these outcomes are achieved, what happens to the community, society or nation or the planet as a whole?”. These are usually the slowest to notice and most difficult to measure.

But then 3 years into this sector, I learnt more.

Every social organization needs clarity on these questions PLUS “funds”. And its is this last component that can create a chain of terrible ambiguity in the definition as well as pursuit of the very purpose for which the organization was setup.

The need for funds to sustain and grow coupled with need for showing “impact” disguises itself masterfully towards a “vanity” syndrome where every success becomes a celebration.

The social media starts getting flooded with pictures of compelling story of women, children, animals and practically anyone deprived of necessities and how an organization or its volunteers spent an hour or week or months with these “beneficiaries” and thereby started “creating change in their lives”. Soon enough it starts growing on you so much so that you no longer can differentiate your post as well as others.

And this is when the lines between output,outcome, impact and more importantly the purpose starts blurring!

Did those wonderful spiked intervention really change anyone’s lives other than the ones who volunteered and subtly established themselves as a selfless heroes? Was that intervention or its “picture” a evidence of output, outcome, impact or none of them? For whom are we collecting these evidences for? Does number of lives “touched” means anything when we don’t know if it “changed” anything?

We at Shifting Orbits Foundation have seriously started dwelling over these questions.

Would love to hear comments and possible answers to these from your perspective.

Visit us @ to know more about our dreams!


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