The Hierarchy of Guideline Terms

Terms used by funders vary. There is no set of standard definitions. While this makes responding to application guidelines tricky, most people quickly learn to decipher the changeable lingo and go about the business of winning grants.

“There’s one aspect of grants terminology that can confound even experienced grantseekers,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum at The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “The terms vision, goal, objective, outcome, result, and impact mean different things to different grantmakers. And to make matters worse, some funders throw all of the terms together into one question with no definitions attached.”

Floersch advises grantseekers to focus on concepts rather than terminology. “Every funder wants to know what you expect grant-funded activities to accomplish and what you expect that accomplishment will lead to in the long run. They also want to understand the amount of service you’ll provide in relation to what you’re trying to accomplish,” she said.

    Keeping these four very basic concepts in mind will help you understand what funders are requesting even when they use varying terms. “Think of it as a hierarchy of concepts,” said Floersch. “The terms used may differ, but the concepts remain the same.” From highest to lowest, Floersch describes the hierarchy of concepts as follows:

  1. Improved reality to which the grant-funded program will contribute. This concept is often called vision, goal, purpose, or long-term impact. Some funders use terms such as outcome, results, or objective.
  2. Direct results of the grant-funded program. This is the change that will be accomplished during the period of grant funding. This concept is often called outcomes, results, or short-term impact. Some funders use terms such as goals or objectives.
  3. Indicators that the grant-funded program is on track, showing that you are completing the expected activities and achieving the expected changes. This concept is often called benchmarks or progress indicators. Some funders use terms such as performance targets or interim measures.
  4. Quantified activities you will provide to accomplish the desired changes, such as the number of people who will complete a three-month smoking cessation program. This concept is often called outputs, activities, or deliverables. Some funders may use terms such as objectives or program plan.

When you’re confused about terms in application guidelines, first reach out to the funder for clarification. If you can’t get help, sort the terms into a sensible hierarchy and tell the funder how you are using the terms – define them for yourself and your reader. “Translating the terms into common, core concepts is a helpful approach to interpreting application guidelines,” said Floersch. “Terms change but the concepts don’t.” © Copyright 2018 The Grantsmanship Center.