Millions of at-risk Americans rely on government and nonprofit human services organizations for support. In the United States, populations at risk include minorities, victims of abuse, people with disabilities, the homeless population, and families living below the poverty line. Human services organizations play a crucial role in advocating for these groups while also preventing and addressing the challenges they face.
Nonprofits, public sector government agencies, and private sector organizations can all serve society through a variety of approaches by providing life-changing services. Overall, these organizations aim to help Americans improve their health and well-being. But are they achieving their goals? How should human services organizations measure impact – especially when progress in individual cases can be so nuanced, personal, and subjective?
In this article, we’ll overview:
- Why Should Human Services Organizations Measure Outcomes?
- How to Track Outcomes
Why Should Human Services Organizations Measure Outcomes?
1. Funding Sources Expect to See Good Data
Local, state, federal, and private funding sources all have one thing in common: They want to hold grant recipients accountable.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – the largest grant-making agency in the country – provides states, communities, universities, research entities, and eligible nonprofits with billions of dollars in funding annually. Many human services organizations apply for grants from the Administration for Children and Families, a branch of HHS that promotes economic and social well-being in communities across the country. Other organizations – such as those providing homeless assistance programs – may apply for funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Each grant has different requirements, but they are all highly competitive to attain and limited in supply. Organizations applying must meet eligibility criteria and provide a well-researched narrative that defines a community’s service needs, and a demonstrated record of success in addressing those needs.
But applying for a grant is just half the battle. Once the awards are distributed, organizations need to provide regular financial and program reporting. Some grants are allocated in portions, which means if an organization doesn’t meet the criteria mid-term, then it won’t receive subsequent payouts from the granting agency. Private donors may have less stringent requirements than government agencies, but they expect to see results too.
Tracking outcomes not only helps human services organizations secure new funding streams; it helps them maintain positive relationships with the private and public funders they rely on.
2. Tracking Success Metrics Helps Organizations Refine Programs and Maximize Outcomes
Government and nonprofit human services organizations tend to operate on bootstrap budgets, which means they need to be nimble, lean, and adaptable to changing market conditions. Without guaranteed funding, these organizations need to be highly competitive and operate at maximum efficiency to stay profitable while upholding their missions.
There are numerous key performance indicators (KPIs) that nonprofit and government agencies track to analyze success. Managers and leadership use these metrics to evaluate program effectiveness, operational efficiency, resource allocation, and the return on investment for specific expenditures. Periodically checking in on success data helps organizations understand their strengths and proactively address their weaknesses, enabling them to serve more community members while producing better outcomes.
How to Track Outcomes in Human Services Fields
When gauging nonprofit, human service, and public health program success, there’s no shortage of attributes to evaluate and metrics to track.
Not sure where to begin? Many nonprofits, human services, and public health organizations use logic models to create a shared, visual framework that defines strategic priorities, programs, resources, and outcomes. Get started on a logic model, if your organization doesn’t already have one, with our quick guide, “How to Create a Logic Model.”
6 Key Performance Indicators That Human Services Organizations Commonly Track
Examine the diversity of the populations your organization serves. Collecting demographic data sheds light on social disparities so you can address the needs of vulnerable community members.
2. Total Clients Served
Quantitative metrics – such as the total volume of clients served over a quarter or year – help organizations evaluate program growth and effectiveness. If fewer clients are served, it’s an opportunity to examine why. Were there staffing changes? Did programs or policies change? Was there a lack of funding? Or were there uncontrollable, external circumstances that negatively impacted workflows? These macro-view data points can prompt a closer analysis of daily operations to see what’s working well and what needs to be improved.
3. Individual Program Outcomes
Each organization has different program outcome goals they strive to meet. For example, homeless assistance programs measure “safe exits,” or how many clients successfully transitioned from homelessness to a stable housing position. They may also measure bed occupancy percentages, overflow, and waiting lists, or the number of clients contacted through on-street outreach.
Related Reading: What Would It Take To End Homelessness?
4. Client Testimonials
Qualitative insights, like a firsthand account of how a program changed someone’s life, are powerful. Client testimonials greatly enrich nonprofit impact reports and are particularly important for engaging with donors.
5. Fundraising and Donor Data
From cumulative private donations raised each year, to comprehensive donor lists, it’s crucial for human services nonprofits to transparently track and report on fundraising efforts.
6. Marketing and Outreach
Marketing and outreach efforts can also be tracked and yield valuable insights regarding how you’re connecting with your clients and the community at large. From in-person event participation to digital social media engagement and website traffic, there are a variety of metrics you can evaluate. Google Analytics, social media platform reporting, donor engagement software, and customer relationship management tools can help you build comprehensive reports to gauge your organization’s promotional and philanthropic initiatives.
Once you’ve defined the metrics that your organization will track, the next steps are to specify how often you will measure them (monthly, quarterly, or annually), and select the data collection tools you’ll use.
Where to Collect Data That Demonstrates Need
Effective grant proposals demonstrate need. Organizations can look to population data, policy reports, and public records to collect macro-level data – such as poverty levels, geographic boundaries, and demographic data. Peer-reviewed research published in high-impact journals can also help substantiate requests for funding for new programmatic approaches in grant applications. With the right tool, your organization can glean insights on your specific community members served and provide that data as well.
The Best Tools for Analyzing Program Data
Case management software, like CaseWorthy, is the premier tool for measuring the success of human services programs. Our flexible software solution allows organizations to create customized workflows, case notes, and reporting capabilities tailored to unique programmatic needs. Most organizations without case management software tend to rely on spreadsheets. While spreadsheets get the job done, they are cumbersome to manage across teams, may not meet security and compliance requirements, and simply don’t have the same level of reporting capabilities as case management software. CaseWorthy’s new Power BI Embedded feature uses business intelligence to drastically simplify custom reporting with just a few clicks.
How Human Services Organizations Track Outcomes and Define Success
Measure Trends In:
- Clients Served
- Individual Program Outcomes
- Year-over-Year Growth
- Grant Funding
- Financial Data
- Marketing and Outreach
- Population Trends
- Peer-Reviewed Research Articles
- Qualitative Data Collection
- Case Management Software Reports
- Human Resource Metrics
- Fundraising Reports
- Marketing Platforms
Evaluate programs and track outcomes with ease with CaseWorthy.
CaseWorthy’s customizable, intuitive, and secure platform enables easy reporting, case logging, data collection, and program workflow management.