Setting goals

Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

Goals, objectives, and outcomes are the core of a quality program and delineate defined measures of the project for which funding support is requested. Goals, objectives, and outcomes are not interchangeable. They are sequentially linked and serve different purposes.

To understand the nuanced differences, let’s review a possible real-life example—a high school leadership academy focused on college readiness.


The Goal
Holly Thompson, Principal at Holly Thompson Coaching & Consulting, explains that goals are broad umbrella statements about what you hope to accomplish through a project. Goals flow directly from the needs statement and capture the larger vision of what long-term change will result from the proposed initiative. Renanit Levy, Principal at R. Levy Consulting, suggests asking this question when framing goals: What is the greater social good you are hoping to achieve through your work?

Example: To increase the number of overage, undercredited youth who enroll in college.


Achieving the Goal: Objectives
Objectives demonstrate how you will achieve goals by stating—using action verbs—what will be accomplished in a set timeframe. Objectives are specific and measurable, and emerge from the problem the project will address.


  • One hundred overage, undercredited youth will prepare for and take the SAT by the fall of their senior year.
  • One hundred overage, undercredited youth will visit colleges and universities during their junior and senior year.
  • Seventy-five overage, undercredited youth will apply to college.

According to Thompson, objectives do not necessarily need to be stated in terms of quantity because outcomes can provide the specific numbers required to show extent of impact and achievement.

Example: Design and implement a leadership academy focusing on college-readiness skills, such as test taking, interviewing, and extracurricular support, for high-potential teens from low-income, New York City families.


The Results: Outcomes
Outcomes are measureable, quantifiable changes for participants that result from the program. Outcomes represent a program’s bottom line and are specific. In order to define a realistic outcome, consider the measurable impact you hope to achieve through your organization’s work or the proposed project.

Example: Eighty percent of 60 overage, undercredited youth who apply to college will enroll in college.

Levy advises grant writers to first consult with individuals who will manage and evaluate the program to ensure that outcomes are achievable and measureable. Once a grant is awarded, review expected outcomes with program staff so they understand what they are responsible for tracking and measuring.


Additional Considerations
The most crucial consideration is ensuring deep familiarity with the needs, desires, interests, and circumstances of the people or communities you plan to serve. Thus, program expectations are realistic and have a greater chance of being met.

Also note that some funding sources may ask for methods used to address the problem and achieve stated objectives and outcomes. Methods should be as detailed and structured as possible to highlight how the program will reach desired results.


Additional Resources
3 Types of Objectives for a Winning Grant Proposal
This article outlines three types of objectives to demonstrate how program goals will be achieved.

Grants: Outputs Versus Outcomes
This piece underscores the differences of outputs and outcomes that communicate process and results in a grant proposal.

An Easier Way to Write Goals and Objectives
This article demonstrates how to use a chart to frame goals and objectives.

Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes
This piece offers a succinct overview of the difference among goals, objectives, and outcomes.

How to Write Goals and SMART Objectives for Your Grant Proposal
This article describes how to write convincing goals and objectives that are necessary to demonstrate a program’s potential impact.


About the Author: Michele Israel owns Educational Writing & Consulting. She works with large and small educational, nonprofit, and media organizations to bolster products and programs. Her career spans more than 25 years of experience creating educational resources, generating successful grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development.


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