Looking Beyond the Metrics

| by Shannon Williams

Non-profit funding has been increasingly tied to measurable outcomes. This trend is positive. Understanding the hoped for impact of a program or service is an important part of the donor decision to fund an organization. And, learning whether the impact was achieved is an appropriate expectation of the donor. However, somewhere along the line, we got so enamored by metrics that we forgot the bigger picture of what we hoped to achieve as donors and as service providers.

That is why I was so interested to read about the Medina Foundation in Washington State and their approach to funding the Domestic Violence Stable Housing Initiative.

You see, addressing homelessness is one of the Foundation’s top priorities and domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children. In their community 25 domestic violence survivors were turned away for every 1 who could be housed in a local shelter. “I imagined a survivor suffering years of abuse before secretly researching ways to escape, waiting for the right time to risk everything and finally finding the courage to drive away in the middle of the night to the safety of an emergency shelter—but instead facing a daunting waiting list,” wrote Jennifer Teunon, Executive Director of the Medina Foundation in an April 21, 2016, post in Philanthropy NW.

How did Medina respond to the lack of emergency shelter available in their community? They studied the Domestic Violence Housing First model that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Essentially, it pares a survivor with a trained advocate who can help assess and pay for whatever a family needs to maintain or obtain permanent housing. It keeps families out of shelters and puts them on a path to regain control in their lives.

And then, Medina created their own Domestic Violence Stable Housing Initiative. What did the initiative mean for the eight organizations that the Foundation funded as part of this project? Flexibility.

All of the funded organizations are aiming toward the same outcome, survivors in permanent homes, but they have autonomy to decide on an individual basis what is needed for each family. Pretty cool.

In the era of restricted funding and directed dollars, it was refreshing to see a project that allows advocates to use common sense approaches to help survivors.

The results? Impressive. “Of the 228 survivors supported through the initiative, none of them ever entered a shelter and 164 (72%) were able to stay in their own homes (with new locks and alarms). The average cost of helping a survivor through this initiative was $476. While this figure doesn’t include the critical role of the advocate, it is still striking compared to the cost of a survivor moving through shelter to transitional housing and eventually back to permanent housing.”  In Medina’s community, providing shelter alone can cost $8,000 per family.

As Teunon said, “The key to this model is that it is survivor driven.” It allowed the recipients to be treated as people not as metrics and in the end, the desired outcome was achieved! Love it. Program directors, fundraisers and donors can all learn from this great example of flexible funding.

Read the full story as it was written Philanthropy NW. Enjoy!

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