Charity Works: Impact Measuring

November 13, 2012

Best practice: Impact measuring.

Nonprofit: Montgomery Housing Partnership.

Type of work: Affordable housing, empowering families and strengthening neighborhoods.

Location: Silver Spring.

Number of staff: 28 total.

Annual budget: $3.2 million.

In the early 2000s, Robert Goldman had been in his job as president of the Montgomery Housing Partnership for only a couple years when donors began quizzing him on his outcomes.

That’s when he knew the tide of philanthropy had turned.

The days of checkbook philanthropy had given way to a new kind of strategic giving. According to philanthropy experts, the late 1980s saw donors, especially corporations, demanding to see the impact of their charitable dollars.

Nonprofits found themselves scrambling to present IRS forms and statistics quantifying the good they were doing in order to compete for funding.

“Impact measuring” became the hot topic at nonprofit conferences and meetings, spurring popular books such as Douglas Smith’s “Make Success Measurable.”

To compete for charitable dollars and maintain the organization’s viability, Goldman, who took over in 2001, knew he had to adjust or get left behind.

After enrolling in a program that trained nonprofit leaders on impact measuring, he gathered his senior management and asked each department to develop a list of goals that were specific, measurable, aggressive, relevant and had a time frame. Salaries would be affected by performance, he told them.

Half his team expressed excitement about the new system.

Sulema Middleton Stewart was in the other half. As director of community life programs, she worried quantifying impact would not be easy. Her team is in charge of bettering communities in the organization’s affordable housing developments by holding activities such as homework clubs and after-school programs.

“How do I do this when I have over 200 children and not enough staff to track this info?” Stewart recalled.

Taking the plunge, she sat down with her team to develop outcome-based goals for the youth programs. Among the goals they set were boosting attendance, raising reading knowledge within eight months, and achieving comprehension of multiplication tables by the end of the year.

In order to meet the goals, Stewart and her team recruited volunteers to increase the teacher-to-student ratio, hired a foundation to run academic assessments with the students and established partnerships with local schools to secure the students’ grade data.

Two years later, she received a call.

“One of the parents called to say that her daughter made the honor roll,” Stewart said. “That’s when I knew that it was working.”

This year, MHP announced to donors that the Community Life Program raised its students’ grade point average to 3.2 from 2.8, and attendance increased to 90 percent from 70 percent. The Community Life Program attracted Capital One, the Community Foundation of Montgomery County, Bank of America and the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Fund as donors. At its first fundraising breakfast this year, the organization raised $400,000.

Goldman said that even with its successes, the organization is still perfecting the impact-measuring approach and setting new outcome-based goals. It is currently looking to double the number of affordable housing units to 2,400 from 1,200.

“I wouldn’t say we’re done,” said Goldman, who was recently honored by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. “It’s a work in progress, but I think we’re beginning to get there.”

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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