Building a common outcome framework to measure nonprofit performance

This guide from the Urban Institute outlines core indicators for 14 categories of not for profit organisations and then provides a common framework that can be used by all nonprofit programmes.

Details of the outcomes and performance indicators for these 14 specific program areas are available on this Outcomes Indicator Project page.

The aim is to provide support in understanding what to measure and how to measure it.


"While there is no shortage of outcomes and their indicators in some program areas, there is no centralized grouping of them or assessment of their quality that could serve as a resource for organizations that wish to develop outcome measurement systems. And because of the vast range of programs in the social sector, major gaps exist in the outcome indicators that have been developed. This project took a first step in attempting to provide a resource for quality indicators and also provide guidance for nonprofits on the development of good indicators, if indicators for their specific programs are not yet available.

First, we chose a number of specific program areas and identified program outcomes and indicators already in use and/or recommended. Outcomes are defined as the results of a program or service that is of direct interest and concern to customers of the program. Outcomes are distinguished from program outputs, which while important to the program, are primarily of internal use and not of direct concern to customers (such as the number of training sessions provided to staff).

It is often difficult to measure outcomes directly, so many indicators are proxies. For example, while tracking the avoidance of a certain kind of behavior can be difficult, a client can be tested about a level of knowledge about why someone should avoid that behavior. However, evidence that the degree to which increased knowledge leads to the desired change in behavior must be strong before this increased knowledge is deemed a “good” indicator of the desired change in behavior."


  • About the Common Outcome Framework Project
  • About This Report
  • Project Approach
  • Candidate Outcomes, Outcome Indicators, and Outcome Sequence Charts for Specific Programs
  • Draft Common Outcome Framework
  • Common Framework of Outcomes Excerpt: Participant-Centered Outcomes
  • Tips on Using the Common Framework Project Materials


The Urban Institute and The Center for What Works (2006). Building a Common Outcome Framework to Measure Nonprofit Performance. Retrieved from:

'Building a common outcome framework to measure nonprofit performance' is referenced in: