Assessments Uncover New Funding Opportunities
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
While working in a human services organization and since then, consulting with human services organizations, I discovered an untapped opportunity to fill funding gaps. Not surprisingly, I found there are great people doing great work in these organizations. Surprisingly, some of this great work was being performed essentially for free. That is, value-added services were delivered without corresponding reimbursement. Why?
There are three main reasons:
The people performing these services do not recognize them as services, but rather just “things they do” for clients that are related to other services.
The people most closely tied to funding administration for the program do not realize the services are being performed.
There is no data collected to demonstrate that these services are prompting measurable, positive outcomes for clients.
Let’s look at each of these three reasons in more detail.
Not recognized as services
Well-meaning, direct and indirect support professionals want to make a difference in their clients’ lives. Many of these professionals chose their career for precisely that reason. Their first and highest priority is providing the support their clients need to thrive. This person-centered passion is fantastic, very much appreciated, and highly endorsed! However, along with that passion comes a generosity that often ignores the opportunity cost of providing excellent support that is disassociated with any incoming revenue.
If a staff member spends an hour conducting activities that are not specifically reimbursed by a funder, that is one hour that could have been spent on activities that are specifically reimbursed by the funder. The staff is going to get paid regardless. So, the organization is paying the staff’s hourly wage but is not going to receive reimbursement to cover the cost of that hour. Translation: increased expense and lost revenue.
Recommendation: Educate your staff.
Staff need to understand the basic funding dilemma that faces many non-profit organizations, especially in human services. These organizations have limited freedom – a problem I call “no cushion of creativity” – within which they can provide service according to each person’s unique needs. If the needs of the people they are serving are greater than the dollars available to serve them, organizations typically either provide limited service to a limited number of people, or serve the people anyway and don’t get paid for it. The former means many people are unserved or underserved, and the latter is not financially sustainable. In either scenario, vulnerable and at-risk people who do not have the support to meet their goals will remain disadvantaged and will cost more to serve.
Whether they know it or not, staff who are only concerned with serving clients are likely contributing to this problem, putting the organization at a disadvantage that ultimately could result in financial distress and an inability to fulfill their mission to serve those who rely on their help.
The solution to this problem is not to tell staff to stop providing the “free” service. The answer is to find a way to get paid for it, assuming it truly adds value to the client.
Acknowledge the “free” service as separate – albeit related – and distinct from the paid service it is likely already associated. When you extract the activity, it can be evaluated in its own right. When it is bundled with an existing reimbursed service, you cannot identify its impact and you will not get a higher reimbursement rate just because you enhanced the services with additional activities. That’s not how funding works.
Not aware services are being performed
Now that you’ve established the need to recognize these special activities as bona fide services, you must ensure the right people are aware of what’s happening. There must be an open communication culture and mechanism that encourages and expects staff to keep leaders informed about how they are providing direct service to clients.
My role at Continual Care Solutions includes project management, and I sometimes have the privilege of interacting directly with front-line staff. One on such project, the full staff was present for our requirements analysis session, during which we outlined their current process in order to identify best practices and opportunities for enhancement as we implement our imPowr workflow and database technology solution. In order to fully understand their requirements, I asked many follow-up questions each time a new process step was revealed to me.
It was in this conversation that I discovered activities were being performed that were not captured in the existing process. Staff were just doing them because they seemed helpful to the client. This specific program was focused on securing employment for clients, and the funder reimbursed for certain services associated with this aim. The activities I stumbled upon were not captured in the reimbursed services. For example, conducting a preparation call before each interview or transporting the client to the interview. In some cases, these were reimbursable – but only once. The staff were doing it as many times as the client needed, even if it wasn’t reimbursed. To be clear, it appeared the staff was unaware that their generosity had financial implications.
The leaders of this team weren’t fully aware this was being done either. Based on my past experience as a leader in human services, I believe this was because the staff wasn’t inclined to toot their own horn about the good work they were doing and/or they were fearful they would be told to stop doing it.
Recommendation: Explicitly encourage and set the expectation with your staff that they consistently keep you informed about the wonderful things they are doing for clients.
In the project meeting referenced above, we spent some time talking about these “free” services, at which time it occurred to me that they were potentially sitting on a significant opportunity.
Not collecting data to demonstrate outcomes
How do you know if something your staff or organization is doing is making an impact? You must have data! And, the data must demonstrate outcomes. To demonstrate outcomes, you have to know the extent to which you moved the needle. Analyzing needle movement means you need to know where the client started and ended, with the intervention of your service in the middle. How do you determine the before and after?
First, the most straightforward method. Measure the outcome! In the employment program example above, it would be important to keep track of how many people were placed in jobs after they participated in a pre-interview preparation call as well as placements for people who did not participate in the prep call. There will likely be a more positive trend for those who participated. If that is true, and you can show it with data, now you’ve got something to show a potential funder. An enterprise system like imPowr can be very useful in tracking and analyzing this data but regardless of your tracking approach, you’ve got to capture the data!
But what if it’s not that straightforward? What if you are focusing on the interim goal of readiness rather than just the ultimate goal of job placement? In this case, the best tool is an assessment.
When your aim is to turn a “free” service into a paid service, the assessment should be as specific as possible. Again, returning to my employment program example above, if the proposed service is conducting a prep call before interviews, then a pre-assessment might look something like this:
I created this assessment in under 10 minutes using our imPowr system. To keep it simple, I chose just four assessment dimensions and three ratings.
In the screenshot above, the assessment results suggest the person is not familiar with interview etiquette/protocol, hasn’t practiced answering typical interview questions, and has low confidence in his/her ability to do well in an interview. The person may dress professionally but doesn’t necessarily understand what is expected in an interview.
Perhaps a second assessment is conducted after the person has spent some time reviewing interview protocol and practicing interview questions. The results may look like this:
And finally, ideally the preparation has resulted in the person and staff believing that success is imminent:
If you were to conduct this assessment on all clients in the employment program, and the assessment results indicated that interview preparation was very beneficial, then this data can be the basis for an argument to receive funding for this service.
Now that you understand the concept, it can be applied to any service in any program that is currently provided without reimbursement, to test the hypothesis that the service is having a positive impact on clients making progress toward meeting their goals. Assessments can provide evidence to support the indications that were previously only anecdotal.
If you are able to demonstrate outcomes via tracking and/or assessments, then you are opening your organization up to more funding opportunities. Grants that seemed previously not applicable are now more realistic to pursue. A grant application that has documented evidence based on insightful data is much more likely to be accepted than one that omits the clear demonstration of outcomes or is never received because the organization didn’t acknowledge or wasn’t aware of the value-added services the staff was providing to the clients the organization exists to serve.
Going further with assessments
To further illustrate the concept of assessments, please enjoy a free download of our Self-Sufficiency Assessment. Continual Care Solutions created this assessment within our imPowr software, based on a combination of assessments used by some of our customers. This is just one example of an assessment. We have created several others in imPowr, to assess client progress in a number of dimensions, and also organizational progress in areas such as compliance innovation, enterprise risk, board governance, etc.
The options are endless. Creativity will go a long way toward identifying specific client or organization attributes you want to analyze, which can set you up for more funding opportunities that will enable you to accelerate the fulfillment of your mission.
Download your free Self-Sufficiency Assessment here.