Outcomes Program: Good to Great
How do we know if what we are doing is working?
"How do we know if what we are doing is working?" is a common refrain heard among non-profit organizations. Anecdotal evidence is abundant: a homeless client transitions into a new apartment, a child from a low-income family enrolls in nationally accredited child care, or a senior citizen receives a new pair of dentures. Statistics and reports are also available: audited financial statements, IRS 990 forms, and numbers of clients served. But all too often, the question remains.
For many stakeholders in the non-profit sector, measuring performance is elusive. But with resources becoming scarcer, we must focus on what works.
Funders are increasingly concerned about high performance, and at the same time, the organizations they fund recognize that they need regular feedback to improve their services to clients.
Last year, the Tulsa Area United Way selected six of its partner agencies to participate in a new program titled "Going from Good to Great." The program will help these agencies develop a system of outcome measurement, including methods of continuous improvement and ensuring clients are receiving the best possible services delivered in the most efficient manner.
Outcome measurement, while not new to most non-profit organizations, is often restricted to monitoring and reporting information such as number of clients served, quality of services, number of volunteer hours and the amount of donations. This program will help them take their performance measurement to a new level.
The first cohort completed the nine-month program in September 2012 and included the Boy Scouts of America – Indian Nations Council, Camp Fire Green Country, Operation Aware, Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma, Youth at Heart, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Salvation Army.
Each agency was asked to select one of its programs that focus on youth development and develop a method to evaluate its effectiveness. Participants follow a continuum that leads them from provider to high performer, which includes six major steps.
"The first thing we do is determine how they define success," said Chris Pautler, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Liquid Compass LLC. "Next, we ask them, how do they know when success has been achieved?"
The third step - halfway through the program - asks the agencies if they have enough time and money left to reach the success they've defined. The final three steps include communicating success with internal and external stakeholders, revising organizational strategies through innovation to reach higher results, and continuously integrating staff and client feedback to improve results.
"This is not just theory. Well researched and soundly applied outcome measurement processes help us ensure that what we're doing makes a difference for those we serve, while assuring funders of the effective utilization of their investments," said Bobbie Henderson, Executive Director of Camp Fire Green Country.
Discovering service overlap among agencies and forming new collaborations is another important aspect of the program.
Two participants in the first cohort, the Boy Scouts of America and Operation Aware, learned they were offering very similar services. As a result, they've formed a new collaboration to use their resources more efficiently and provide better results for the community.
The second set of cohorts came together in January, and includes Mental Health Association in Tulsa, Goodwill Industries of Tulsa, The Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, The Bridges Foundation, Ability Resources, and A New Leaf in one group. The other group is comprised of Credit Counseling Centers of Oklahoma, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Palmer, Tulsa Court Appointed Special Advocates (Tulsa CASA), Circle of Care - Frances E. Willard Ministry Center, and Community Service Council.
The United Way's goal is for each of its 60 partner agencies to complete the program and fully adopt state-of-the-art outcome measurement procedures.