Most nonprofits are eager to tout the number of people served, so it probably wasn't the greatest news that when Congreso de Latinos Unidos started more carefully measuring its results its client numbers actually went down.
"The number of people we served actually shrunk dramatically when we started doing it, because we started to catch the duplicates and how many times they were served by Congreso," Cynthia Figueroa, Congreso's chief executive, said during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Inquirer.
Nothing wrong with that, obviously. It doesn't hurt clients to get more help.
But the drop in the numbers was an unforeseen result of an effort started a dozen years ago by a board member who said, `Well, that’s great that we reach all these people, but how do we know that we are making a difference in any of these people’s lives. Outside of feel good work, what can we really say about who we served?'" recalled Figueroa, who was then a board member.
Now, she said, everything is counted. Demographics, number of clients who use multiple services of the North Philadelphia nonprofit, neighborhoods, zip codes.
But still, that doesn't address the question of whether any difference is made in a client's life.
"We have goals that families are working for whether it is gaining a GED or graduating to the next class or saving for a house or obtaining a home and then we actually track them. We have a very sophisticated software system and we actually direct progress related to those goals, with a supervisor doing observation on a six-month interval about how the client is faring," she said.
"When I was a case manager and I was going to meet with my supervisor, I’d have a stack of what were the problematic or complex files," she said. "I’d come into my supervisors' office [to get advice] and I’d have to start by telling the story. Here, the supervisors can pull up the case managers' case load. So instead of having to wait for the staff to say I’m having a problem with XYZ, a pro-active supervisor can say, `What’s going on with this case. It can work both ways.'"
With all this data does the staff feel as if it is constantly being monitored, I asked her.
"Nobody says I want to go into social services so I can input data," she said. "We work very hard to have staff try to understand that this is a benefit to overall results."