Originally, social services were meant to serve as emergency rooms for society's most vulnerable. They took in orphans and the homeless and fed the hungry. As the twentieth century wore on, social work expanded services to all segments of the less fortunate population, and nonprofits as well as government social agencies began to define their missions by identifying the quality-of-life outcomes their clients achieved. For example, social workers engaged in drug and alcohol addiction began to measure success, not by how many addicts they admitted to their clinics, but rather by how many addicts had remained clean and sober, and for how long, after being discharged from the clinics.
The Evolution of Mission
In other words, the mission of social work evolved over the 20th century to a more sophisticated understanding of how the collective society could impact the quality of life of the less fortunate. Let's examine this evolution through some of nonprofit's best current mission statements:
- The Women's Center: "The mission of The Women's Center is to significantly improve the mental health and well-being of all members of the community through counseling, education, support and advocacy."
- The American Lung Association: "The American Lung Association's mission is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. We do this through education, advocacy, and research."
- Make A Wish America: "Together, we create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses."
- Habitat for Humanity: "Seeking to put God's love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.
- Feeding America: "To feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger."
The challenge for all nonprofits and government social service agencies is to evaluate the effectiveness of their organizations in carrying out these noble goals. "It is easy to count how many meals you serve each day in a food bank, but not so easy to measure how effective your organization is at improving the mental health and well-being of all members of the community..." said a social work professor from St. Louis we interviewed. "Funders often require information on client outcomes in order to determine whether they should continue to fund a particular service or organization. While this is often the first thing people think about when talking about outcome measures, social workers also use outcome measures to reflect on their body of work as well. As the missions of social service agencies have evolved and broadened over the years, it has become more difficult to measure whether these agencies are impacting individual lives or simply concocting high-minded ideals."
Let's examine how the five leading nonprofits cited above define and measure outcomes in their organizations.
- The Women's Center: These wonderful people collect data, not only on how many women they counsel, but also on how many of their clients go on to live productive lives after treatment and support.
- The American Lung Association: This noble organization analyses the trends in lung disease in relation to the number of clients they have impacted through education and advocacy. They are interested in evaluating the efficacy of their interventions on occurrence of lung disease in the high-risk segments of the population they target.
- Make a Wish America: This nonprofit wants to know how effective their interventions are in easing the psychological burden of disease on young children. Not only do they measure how many cases they complete each quarter but also the on-going psychic health of the children they have already impacted.
- Habitat for Humanity: This wonderful organization goes beyond counting the houses it donates to needy populations around the world by evaluating the social impact their efforts have on the various communities they serve. In other words, they realize that although their intentions are good, their actions can sometimes be inappropriate, and they work tirelessly to understand this and correct their mistakes.
- Feeding America: Measuring outcomes for this organization is a little more straightforward. They count the numbers of food deprived people their network serves every year but also evaluate how healthy each of their member food banks are in terms of continued funding, management, and available volunteers. They measure outcomes for the ultimate client and their member food banks. Their job, as they see it, is to ensure that the network of agencies is robust and can continue to serve hungry people across the country into the future.
Focusing on outcomes keeps these wonderful social service organizations on point and insures they don't get lost in their own marketing.
Global Vision Technologies has been helping organizations like these manage for better outcomes for over two decades. We invite you to learn more about the incredible clients we serve or to read these incredible stories from the FAMCare Blog Case Studies...