Client Outcomes -- Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!
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 that I would simply have to figure out other ways of gathering information.
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 asked 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 for 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 activity to ensure that the data is collected and entered onto the computer 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.
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