Stanford Social Innovation Review : Informing and inspiring leaders of social change


Nonprofit Management

Programs Aren’t Everything

For decades, the dominant framework of nonprofit outcome evaluation has focused on a single unit of analysis: the program. Yet those who work in nonprofit organizations achieve positive outcomes for participants in ways that lie outside the context of programmatic activity. Here’s a look at what it means to take frontline work seriously.


In 2003, the Greater Ithaca Activity Center (GIAC), located in upstate New York, received a letter from a funder that expressed concern about the outcome measures that GIAC had presented. The funder suggested that GIAC—a multi-purpose community center that has served culturally diverse young people and families since 1972—could achieve greater impact by narrowing the scope of its programs and services. About this interaction between GIAC and the funder, one observer later said: “Programs...

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