The Evaluation and Quality Improvement Team at The Fortune Society

When The Bottom Line Isn’t The Bottom Line

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It’s easy to measure how successful a company is.  Take a look at “the bottom line”—or a company’s profits.   What happens, however, when a company’s “profit” is social change and its “investors” are the government, foundations, and private donors?

That’s where the Evaluation and Quality Improvement (EQI) department comes in.  While there is general agreement in the for-profit sector about what success looks like when it is measured financially, there is less agreement about what success looks like in non-profits.

While The Fortune Society’s “investors” aren’t looking for rises in stock prices, they are looking for something in return—a positive impact on the lives of the people we serve.  As such, EQI works with programs to answer “How do we know we made that change?”  Once we answer that, then we can start to ask “How do we make more change?”  It’s an exercise in accountability and innovation.  We need to be accountable to our funders, but also to fellow staff and, most importantly, clients.

Each member of the EQI team is assigned a portfolio of programs to work with.  “I really enjoy the level of collaboration that goes on with program staff at all levels to utilize data as much as possible in better understanding our programs, not only for contractual adherence, but most importantly to ensure quality services to our clients,“ says Alison Kaminski, Senior Program Analyst for Treatment Services, the Better Living Center, Education, and Family Services.  This collaboration starts at the very beginning of a grant or contract when the assigned EQI team member works with program staff to develop a monitoring plan.  One major step in this process is identifying what are referred to as “Critical Indicators,” a series of metrics which programs report on monthly.  These monthly critical indicator reports are reviewed by the EQI team, analyzed and summarized in the TOM (Transparent Outcome Management) report.  The TOM report gives agency management a snapshot on how programs are doing.  It also helps the EQI team create dialogue with program staff—talking about what is working and what isn’t.  “As an agency, we are relentlessly thinking about how we are achieving our mission and what we could be doing to be more effective,”  stated Nicole Whittaker, Senior Director of EQI.

One of the key benefits of a team like Evaluation and Quality Improvement is a level of objectivity that results from focusing on data.  The EQI team can look for patterns that indicate that a program may be slipping and quickly gather a team to discuss options on how best to move forward.  In this way, the team acts as a type of safety net—to help programs avoid getting into a danger zone.  The combination of perspectives from programs and the EQI team is powerful.  Brandon Close, Program Analyst for Admissions, ATI, Court Advocacy, DRCPP, ICAN, Single Stop, Health Services and Drop-In Center has a background in both Criminal Justice Policy and Social Science Research. Brandon noted, “I am aware of how data-driven exploration can be influential in bringing about political and social change. Being supportive of Fortune’s mission of ‘Believing in the power of individuals to change,’ I can utilize my skills in a way that can directly and positively impact the lives of others,“ says Brandon.

Another benefit of the team is a diverse mix of backgrounds and experiences.  For instance, Nanette Matthews, Program Analyst for Housing Programs, has several years of experience as a program administration professional.  She’s also a former client. “As a former Fortune client, having the opportunity to return to this arena in a professional capacity has helped in creating a unique synthesis of ideas, experiences, and competencies,” says Nanette. “Our team’s passion for effective evaluation and quality improvement of not only program outcomes but program processes as well, is infectious… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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