The SmartyGrants team is currently rolling out the Outcomes Engine to beta users. (Want to be a beta user? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Here’s a little snapshot of what we’re learning as we work towards the holy grail of grantmaking.
1. You have to start at the end
Many people have trouble getting started in shifting to outcomes-focused grantmaking. We’ve found that the best way to get “unstuck” is to start at the end; that is, think first about reports.
If you were reporting to the community/ministers/peers/grantees about the outcomes and impact of the work you are funding, what would those reports look like?
Sketch out your reports, then work backwards through your acquittals, final reports, assessments, applications and guidelines to make sure you have in place all the data points you need to feed into your reports.
2. You know more than you think you do
You don’t need to start from scratch in shifting to outcomes-focused grantmaking – you probably already have some defined outcome goals. The problem is too many grantmakers don’t reference these in their application forms!
What are the goals of your program that are referenced in your guidelines? What about your strategic plans? Your outcome goals don’t necessarily need to be about curing poverty or saving the whales; “Increasing capacity in community groups” is a perfectly good outcome goal.
3. Your grantees hold a lot of wisdom – use it!
If you don’t have outcome goals defined yet, or you don’t necessarily want your grantees to have to track against them, you can still get started.
The Outcomes Engine includes “grantee outcomes” and “grantee metrics” standard fields designed to help you collect information from your grantees about what they’re working towards, and how you (and they) can tell whether they’re making progress (or not).
Some of your grantees may be well along the path towards impact evaluation; if you’re not sure, you can make these fields optional and collect this information only from those who have put some thought into this already.
4. Rubbish in, rubbish out
The Outcomes Engine allows you to upload an outcomes framework into your SmartyGrants account. You can include domains, outcomes and metrics. You can, but you don’t have to.
If you’re not sure (yet) what key performance indicators or metrics will provide you with some good data about progress towards your outcomes goals, leave this field out. You’re better off collecting no numeric data than rubbish data.
5. Don’t do nothing
Tracking towards outcomes doesn’t have to require a 12-month program of expensive work (although it can look like that, if you have the time and the budget). You can get started right away by starting small. Pick one or two outcomes and start asking your grantees how their work aligns with those. Learn and refine.
6. We are all learning
The team behind the Outcomes Engine has spent several years now looking into the subject of tracking outcomes and we are 100% confident in saying that no one has cracked this nut. There’s no magic bullet so we all have to make it up as we go along, at least to some degree. Consult the experts, sure; but also be aware that there is no magic formula that will make everything fall into place, and that no one can entirely do the work for you. You have to be prepared to give it a dip.
The Outcomes Engine is, in part, designed to help shift grantmakers out of a compliance mindset in favour of a learning mindset. This is the key to progress. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as powerful as knowing what does work.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Make 2021 the year you take the first.
If you would like to chat to SmartyGrants about becoming a beta user, or learn more about the Outcomes Engine, please email email@example.com.