Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes in CSR

95 million pairs of shoes donated must be a good thing, right?


TOMS shoes became a household name by donating a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. By the end of 2019, TOMS worked with hundreds of shoe-giving partners to donate 95 million pairs to children around the world.

95 million is an impressive number. But how much good did the shoe donations actually do? 

TOMS wanted to know. The company contracted a team of researchers to study the impacts of the donations in El Salvador on both the local shoe market and the kids who received the shoes.

The results: The negative impacts on the local market were minimal but so were the positive impacts on the children. The kids liked the shoes and wore them frequently, but there was no increase in overall health, foot health, or self-esteem. School attendance only slightly increased for some. Meanwhile, the kids were significantly more likely to feel dependent on external aid, an unintended negative effect. 

In short, the donations didn’t make a real difference.

So, as CSR leaders, how can we ensure that our philanthropic efforts are actually making a difference? By measuring what matters (outcomes), not just what is easy to measure (inputs and outputs). Understanding the difference is the key to ensuring you’re collecting the right data. The following sections provide guidance.


What are inputs?

Inputs are the resources needed to deliver the program. These investments are typically the easiest to measure: money, equipment, volunteer time, and more. These metrics can help quantify your level of generosity or commitment but not the value they ultimately produce.


What are outputs?

Outputs are the goods and services a program generates. Typical examples of outputs include students taught, meals served, resources donated, trash picked up, medical treatments delivered, and—in TOMS’ case—shoes provided.

But how valuable are the outputs to the people they’re delivered to? They may be extremely valuable, not valuable at all, or somewhere in between. It’s impossible to tell without assessing the result of the outputs.


What are outcomes?

Outcomes are the ways a person’s life or well-being has changed as a result of a program. Common outcomes of philanthropic initiatives include improved health, higher income, improved school performance, a cleaner environment, and increased safety.

Outcomes tell us how our philanthropic donations improve society (i.e., created social value). And by measuring the outcomes of alternative programs, we can figure out which interventions work best, so we can guide our future donations and program management decisions to improve our impact and help even more people.

When working with nonprofits to determine their social impact, we often ask, “And then what?” You run classes to teach youth about eating nutritiously. And then what? Those youth learn about cooking and growing food. And then what? Those youth eat more fruits and vegetables at home after class. And then what? Their health is improved as a result of eating healthier. 

That is your social impact. Outcomes are the end result of the various inputs and outputs of a program. 

Schedule a demo with the True Impact team to get your corporate citizenship programs to outcomes in just three months.


Examples of Inputs, Outputs, and Outcomes

Whether your philanthropic funding strategies involve capacity building, policy change, or direct operating support, focusing on outcomes (and being able to differentiate them from inputs and outputs) will help ensure your donations are actually creating social value. Here are some typical examples.


Cause area




Disaster relief

$35,000 donated in emergency COVID-19 relief funds

10,000 PPE distributed

150 people protect or improve their health


$500,000 given to endow a new scholarship program 

15 first-generation students receive scholarships

12 students graduate from post-secondary school who otherwise wouldn’t have


A company provides $75,000 in funding to train farmers in sustainable planting techniques 

50 smallholder farmers are trained in sustainable planting techniques

4,500 trees planted by smallholder farms

750 metric tons of CO2 reduced from the atmosphere

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

A company’s DEI staff provides 50 hours of training for teachers in equity and inclusion best practices

Students participate in equity and inclusion workshops 

Students report feeling safer and experience fewer acts of violence in the community

Hunger and nutrition 

$15,000 donated in cash and food; 500 hours donated by volunteers

3,000 meals served to children in need

Increased food security reported across 90% of recipients


A Change in Strategy, an Increase in Impact

In 2021, TOMS abandoned the one-for-one charitable model. They now donate one-third of the company’s profits to “grassroots good,” offering cash grants and engaging in deep partnerships with service organizations addressing critical community needs. 

Not only does this model drive more impact, but it offers more flexibility for the company in meeting the needs of the communities it cares about, such as improving mental health, increasing access to social and economic opportunities, and eliminating gun violence. 


Are you planning on adapting your corporate citizenship strategy this year? Do you want to make sure that your social impact metrics are in line with your goals? Schedule a free strategic planning consultation with our measurement experts to get on the path toward successful outcomes and meaningful impact.


References: Across Two Worlds Across Two Worlds (2) Forbes Public Health Notes Retail Wire TOMS World Bank

Image: CC BY 2.0

Related Posts