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From: Barry Shaffer
Subject: Tracking Down Outcomes Date: Tue, 1 Jun 2004 15:25:48 -0500
Here's an interesting article forwarded to me by Heather Cox at the Minnesota Literacy Council. Thanks, Heather.
Client Outcomes -- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!
By Bob Wittig
Has this ever happened to you in your agency?
John is homeless and has been attending your programs and working with staff for several months. He is making great progress. He has been interviewing for jobs and actively looking for permanent housing. The last conversation he has with your program's case manager is that he thinks! he found a job. All of a sudden John doesn't come to your program any longer. Staff has no way to contact him and therefore has no idea if he got the job, found housing, or if he is back on the streets again.
For many social service organizations, it is a great challenge to track client progress and successes for grant reporting. Clients move to new apartments, have phone numbers disconnected, change jobs, etc -- all of which can make continued contact very difficult.
It can literally be like a client is here one day and totally gone the next. So the challenge is how to capture data in a meaningful manner that can be used for reports and other fundraising purposes.
I certainly struggled with this dilemma while working for smaller nonprofit organizations. As I gained more experience and grew tired of trying to write reports with little to no information or stalking program staff for the data, I realized tha! t I would simply have to figure out other ways of gathering inform ation.
Part of the solution was to enlist the help of program staff to collect the information -- after all it is program staff that typically has the most contact with clients, not the development person.
I also learned that another part of the solution was to try and get as much outcome information as possible while the client is still coming to the program. Gathering outcome data after a client exits a program is next to impossible.
When I was executive director or an adult education program in Washington, DC, we had to think of creative ways to encourage our clients to keep us updated on life happenings and accomplishments.
Here are a few ways that we did it (we used all of them with the theory that the more opportunities clients had to share information, the more likely that information would be shared!):
Client Surveys -- on the
3rd Tuesday of every month we surveyed all adult learners and as! ked
questions like who got a job, who rented an apartment, who helped their
children with homework, and who registered to vote, etc. We chose this day of
the week because that was a day when typically more students were present. The
survey was done with the entire group and it was a random survey because we
never really knew who would be present when the survey was conducted. Over
time the numbers started adding up. All of the accomplishments were put on an
Excel spreadsheet cross tabbed by month. Many of the survey questions were
grant outcomes that we were tracking for one grant or another. We did the
survey orally but it could just as easily been given in written form. Because
the spreadsheet was by month, I could easily sum outcomes for different
reporting periods. Quite handy!
Wall of Fame -- we transformed
a regular bulletin board into a showcase of student accomplishments called the
"Wall of Fame." Again many of the "accomplishment categories" were outcomes we
needed to track fo r our funders. Blank slips of paper were kept in a pouch on
the bulletin board for students to fill out and tack near the appropriate
accomplishment. So when a client found a job (for example), she would put her
name and other basic info on the form and tack it next to the "Found a Job"
category on the wall. Then once a month or so, a staff person would enter all
of the new accomplishments onto our computer data base and Excel spreadsheet.
The bulletin board is a great idea as it is encourages students to post their
accomplishments and is a gentle reminder to staff of some outcomes that are
important to the program's funders.
Incentives -- sometimes
offering an incentive motivates clients to share successes and
accomplishments. We had a student store that students frequented often. What
we did from time to time was offer a dollar coupon redeemable for a soda and
snack when a student shared a success or accomplishment.! So, for example,
around election time, we would give out $1 coupons to any student who could
show that he or she registered to vote or voted in the election. The students
loved this and it also helped us to gather more outcome data for grants.
Phone Surveys -- once every two years we did an extensive phone survey of our graduates to see how they were faring after leaving our program. We didn't do this too often because it was so labor intensive. However, the results were very impressive as many of our graduates had better paying jobs, owned homes, and were more involved in the community. Plus, some graduates were able to provide feedback on how to improve programs given their experiences since leaving the program. These results were put into a nice brochure and were also highlighted in grant proposals and final reports. For all of the above ideas it is important that a staff person is made responsible for the activi! ty to ensure that the data is collected and entered onto the compu ter as required. The downfall to any data collection process is when everyone thinks someone else was supposed to be doing it and therefore no one did anything!
Over time, staff became
accustomed to collecting the data and we had a good set of numbers that we could
share with all kinds of funders -- foundations, government, individuals,
churches, corporations, etc. As I always say, the information collected for can
be used in many other ways.
An organization that can confidently speak about outcomes or share insights into client successes stands a much better chance of not only getting refunded but attracting new source of funds.
I am sure that there are many other creative ways to get outcome information from clients. But I hope that the few I have shared will spark some thought on how to gather data and possibly make it somewhat fun for your staff and clients.
This article can be found at: http://www.charitychannel.com/article_11114.shtml
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