The nonprofit taxonomy of outcomes: Creating a common language for the sector

This paper from the Urban Institute provides basic, generic outcomes and performance indicators that are easily adaptable for any program.

The outcomes are focused around four areas: Program-centered outcomes; participant-centered outcomes; community-centered outcomes; and organization-centered outcomes.


"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 voluntary sector, major gaps exist in the coverage of indicators that have been developed. The attached taxonomy attempts to provide a way to help reduce this gap – for those programs for which indicators are not yet available.

The first step used in developing this taxonomy was to choose a number of specific program areas and then identify program outcomes and indicators already in use and/or recommended. It is often difficult to measure outcomes directly; therefore, many indicators are proxies. For example, while tracking the extent to which avoidance of a certain kind of behavior has occurred can be difficult, a client can be tested about the client’s level of knowledge about why someone should avoid that behavior. However, the degree to which increased knowledge leads to the desired change in behavior needs to be known before this increased knowledge can be deemed a “good” indicator of the desired change in behavior. Without documentation that when knowledge increases, a behavioral change follows, a proxy may not be a useful and appropriate indicator of the outcome."


The Urban Institute and The Center for What Works (2006). The Nonprofit Taxonomy of Outcomes: Creating a Common Language for the Sector. Retrieved from:

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