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If You Build It, The Results Will Come

This is the seventh in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change. This post is in response to the recent entry ‘Insight #2: Discipline is Key.” This is the second in a two-part series featuring the Connecticut Association of Human Services (CAHS).

With the Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star game being played tonight, it pays to remember the immortal words from one of baseball’s most iconic films, “Field of Dreams”: if you build it, they will come.

Putting his own twist on this famous line, Jim Horan, Executive Director for the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), believes that if you build it, the results will come.

Specifically, as we detailed in our post last week on CAHS, Jim knew that if you build an organizational culture committed to learning through data, and above all, are disciplined about that culture, you will produce a sound, data-driven enterprise that inevitably yields better social outcomes. Discipline is key to any transformational change, and this insight holds true in CAHS’ story.

But in this challenging and competitive funding environment, sustaining this commitment with additional funds can be difficult. There are obvious challenges, but there are also hidden opportunities—our research shows that funders increasingly value an organization’s commitment to results, while at the same time, these funders are becoming more willing to fund evaluation work.

To take advantage of these opportunities, organizations must become more disciplined, intentional, and creative about sustaining their evaluation capacity, and that’s just what CAHS did.

The effort kicked into gear when Jim and Sheryl Horowitz, the team’s internal evaluator, began including evaluation components into each and every grant proposal they submitted. This fundraising approach produced immediate results, as CAHS raised over $80,000 in evaluation funding starting in September, 2011 through June, 2012.

And each new source of funding demonstrated the progress CAHS made toward sustaining its evaluation capacity.

  • Stage 1: New Funding Received: Right after CAHS began to incorporate evaluation asks into each proposal they sent out, The Grossman Family Foundation funded CAHS to evaluate the effect parent involvement has in how children learn to read. It was just the beginning of being disciplined about putting evaluation funding into every proposal, and it immediately produced results.
  •  Stage 2: Funders Find You: In the past month, the Connecticut Department of Social Services asked CAHS to take additional funds and evaluate its Money School program. The department recognized the need for this evaluation effort and explicitly asked CAHS to take on this work. The funders came to CAHS, not the other way around.
  • Stage 3: Leading Evaluation Efforts: In addition, CAHS was asked by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to convene Connecticut advocacy organizations and has been funded to evaluate the effectiveness of this advocacy work over the next several years. Not only are they being asked to carry out the evaluations, but they are leading these evaluation efforts among peer advocacy organizations.

CAHS turned its vision of a disciplined, data-driven culture into a reality where they are recognized by local funders as a leader in the evaluation community. What a transformation!

In other words, CAHS had completed a virtuous cycle for sustaining its evaluation capacity:

  • Discipline was key to powering the cycle—Jim was dedicated to building a culture of learning and evaluation to improve his practice and social outcomes.
  • This discipline manifested itself in a deliberate effort to include funding for evaluation in each grant proposal, and funders responded to the tune of $80,000 for evaluation and data work.
  • This funding accelerated the organization’s ability to develop and build evaluation capacity.
  • Now, CAHS is seen as a leader in the evaluation community and the organization anticipates receiving more opportunities for evaluation work in the months to come.

Let this serve as a model to other nonprofits: if you are bold enough to build an organization disciplined around evaluation, the results (and the funding) will, most definitely, come.

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About Walter Howell

As an associate, Walter Howell supports strategic client engagements by developing a broad range of solutions for clients through analysis and research, and supporting overall project management. Walter has experience in affordable housing, community development, and microfinance. In addition, he has a passion for youth education and empowerment developed through years of tutoring, youth basketball coaching, and other volunteer efforts. He has researched market opportunities for state-based anti-hunger campaigns, supported community development organizations in sustainability planning and prospectus writing, and led a national non-profit dedicated to childhood health and well-being through a strategic planning process to develop a new transformational bold goal and theory of change. See Walter's full bio

One Response to "If You Build It, The Results Will Come"

  • Isaac Castillo
    July 12, 2012 - 2:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story – I think most people understand the importance of developing evaluation capacity, but are very hesitent to actually devote the resources necessary to get things started.   This story highlights seveal important points.

    First, you have to do an initial resource expenditure to get things started.  This can often be the most difficult step, as it frequently means a nonprofit is forced to use administrative funds for this type of thing.  But in many ways, it is a necessary first step.

    Second, you need to think about sustainability immediately, and the easiest thing to do to sustain evaluation capacity is build in internal evaluaiton funds into every proposal you write. 

    Finally, this is a long term process that will eventually pay off.  Not only will you likely be able to secure funding to sustain your evaluation work, but you’ll also create a good reputation for the organization, which will bring in additional funds that never would have been accessible previously.   

    Well done!

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