Voices from the Field

PHP’s partnership with nonprofits includes a focus on organizational capacity building, supporting the efforts of grantees like Nationalities Service Center to enhance service quality and integration.

May 2019

At PHP, organizational strength is one of our guiding principles. We are dedicated to building the capacity of nonprofit organizations to fulfill their missions and to provide quality care and services that promote health and well-being. Core to PHP’s commitment is a focus on continuous learning in order to achieve better results for individuals and communities in Philadelphia County. We support our grantees in developing the knowledge, skills, processes, and systems they need to define, assess, and communicate:

  • Why they do their work;
  • Who they engage in their work;
  • How their work is designed and delivered to make a difference;
  • How they define success in terms of quantity, quality, and impact;
  • What capacity they need to assess progress and apply learning to adapt practice over time.

Over the past two years, PHP has incorporated a focus on capacity development into our partnerships with immigrant- and refugee- serving organizations in Philadelphia. Our grantees are trusted community builders who deliver culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate services to diverse populations of foreign-born residents living in our City. We believe they are uniquely positioned to gather and share information about the priorities and needs of their constituents, while striving to assess the difference that their programs and services make to their community members’ health and well-being.

For agencies that serve refugees and immigrants, the rapidly changing public sector environment has made honing a data-informed narrative even more important as organizations strive to diversify and expand their funding bases. The last two years have brought significant changes in federal policy and funding streams related to refugee resettlement and immigration, with corresponding impacts at the state and local levels. As our grantees seek to make the case for their work to new audiences, they have a particular need for flexible resources that can be used to build their capacity to gather and analyze data – to inform both internal practice and external communications.

In the following reflection, PHP grantee Nationalities Service Center (NSC) offers one example of the importance of capacity building resources. NSC is a comprehensive provider of refugee and immigrant services in the Greater Philadelphia region. In October 2017, PHP provided NSC with a rapid response grant to help them buffer the policy and funding uncertainty injected by the new Administration—including reductions in the number of refugees approved for admission to the United States. In October 2018, PHP renewed our support to NSC with another general operating grant that could be used not only to sustain existing services but also to build new capacity. In the following article, NSC Director of Program Operations and Quality Assurance Gretchen Shanfeld reflects on the organization’s decision to invest in a new knowledge management system that is supporting staff in generating learning from practice to promote service quality and integration.

From Past to Present: Evolving to Meet Changing Needs

Originally founded as the International Institute of Philadelphia, Nationalities Service Center (NSC) was started in 1921 to assist immigrant women in acquiring language proficiency. During our initial years, the organization provided English classes and assistance with employment and housing problems. As the landscape of immigration has changed over time, NSC has expanded and transformed to meet the needs of the vulnerable immigrants and refugees we serve. Though we are sometimes best known as a refugee resettlement provider, we provide a diverse array of services, including health and wellness supports; immigration legal services; comprehensive case management for survivors of torture, human trafficking and domestic violence; and English and employment supports.

For each of our programs and services, NSC had long tracked many funder-specific outcomes. In 2015, as part of the Scattergood Foundation’s Building Evaluation Capacity Initiative, we developed a Self-Sufficiency Indicator Tool to be used across case management programs to track client outcomes.  However, we were still tracking a host of client demographics, service metrics, and outcomes data with LOTS of Excel worksheets. When we wanted to analyze or share simple measures such as how many clients we were serving from a particular country or zip code, we spent hours pulling and analyzing data. We knew that lack of real-time data was affecting our ability to provide high quality, integrated services to our clients. Moreover, lack of a unified data system was not only preventing us from tracking a client’s participation across programs and departments at NSC and connecting them more quickly to services but also was holding us back from analyzing and communicating who we were serving as an agency and their needs.

We prioritized the launch of an integrated Client Relationship Management (CRM) system in 2016 as part of our agency Strategic Plan. Simply defined, a CRM is a technology for managing relationships and interactions with clients in order to improve these relationships. We began conducting due diligence of CRM providers including interviews with prospective firms and garnering feedback from our peers around the country on various CRM systems. Then as a refugee and immigrant service agency, our world changed dramatically with the 2016 election, and we were forced to put this critical initiative on hold.

In Federal Fiscal Year 2016 (October 2015 to September 2016), the United States admitted 84,994 refugees of which 3,679 were resettled in Pennsylvania and 770 in Philadelphia County (for Pennsylvania and Philadelphia refugee data, click here). That number dramatically decreased under the Trump administration. In Federal Fiscal Year 2017, the United States admitted 53,716 refugees (most arriving prior to Inauguration Day in January 2017) of which 2,698 were resettled in Pennsylvania and 643 in Philadelphia County. By Federal Fiscal Year 2018, that number had further decreased: the United States admitted 22,491 refugees of which 1,065 were resettled in Pennsylvania and 232 in Philadelphia County. The impact on NSC’s operations and other refugee resettlement agencies was profound. While a significant amount of public funding is tied to new refugee arrivals, we recognize the continued needs of newcomers and continue to provide services and supports to recent refugees after their arrival.

Without knowing how many refugees we could expect to resettle, we faced significant variability in a key funding stream. Moreover, changing policy directions related to immigrant services more broadly raised questions about the sustainability of resources from other federal and state grant programs that support our programs and services. While we developed contingency plans and worked to increase our reserves with support from philanthropic foundations like PHP and other generous donors, we focused our efforts on sustaining core services.

In early 2018, we began to re-examine our previous CRM research and to seek funding to support the project. As we sought new donors to complement public funding sources, we knew that it was more important than ever for us to understand more fully the background and needs of each client who walks through our doors. We wanted to gather and analyze data that would strengthen our ability to tailor and adapt our services in response to changing client and community priorities. We also wanted to hone our approach to communicating with funders about the value of what we do. Flexible support from funders like PHP allowed us to build in ongoing costs for CRM implementation into our current grant funding, but we knew we needed additional support to finance start-up costs. We sought funding from several local foundations, including the Impact 100 Giving Circle, the John and Margaret Post Foundation, and the McLean Contributorship.

Only seven months after securing needed funding, we launched our new CRM system, Apricot by Social Solutions. There are many effective CRM systems on the market, and the choice of platforms is dependent upon what each organization is looking to build. At NSC, we selected Apricot for its user-friendly interface and the fact that our staff could serve as on-site administrators to make real-time adjustments and generate reports. Our relatively quick on-ramp to launch was possible because we had already been thinking about what data we wanted to track along several different dimensions, as illustrated by the learning measures framework that PHP uses with its grantees. We knew that we wanted the capability to assess the scope and scale of what we do (quantity), the standards of practice that we apply to implementation (quality), and the difference our services make for the community members we serve (impact).

Our new system gives us access to real-time data in one click. For example, one of the questions we get asked often is, “How long are clients usually enrolled in your case management services?” We had conducted a previous estimate of about one year. When we analyzed data from the past five years imported into Apricot, we discovered the average length of enrollment to be 364 days! Our estimate was right, and now we can analyze and report this quantity metric on a regular basis.

Related to quality, Apricot provides us with a platform to better integrate our multifaceted services. For example, our recently developed client snapshot allows us to track a client’s involvement with the agency across time, including key metrics about participation in various programs such as any financial assistance provided. From a quality assurance perspective, we aim to ensure that 95% of clients receive a comprehensive needs assessment within 30 days of enrollment and that 95% of clients receive 2+ referrals to a needed service (internal or external). We have now begun to implement the use of individual outcomes and larger data trends into our case manager supervision and team meetings. We also prioritize gathering direct client feedback on the quality of our services. For instance, through the use of surveys such as the Reception and Placement Home Visit survey, we have collected data on the initial resettlement experience and garnered feedback on how to improve services for others.

Finally, we are using Apricot to collect real-time impact data from our Self-Sufficiency Indicator tool. This will allow case managers and program managers to target client services to those with lower Self-Sufficiency scores for additional support in real time. As we are also collecting information on time spent by NSC staff, we have begun to analyze trends. For example, a supervisor and case manager might examine why a client with a high score continues to receive a large amount of service delivery time. Are there other resources or services that could provide ongoing support? This process has led us to assess what success looks like in our work and to ensure the services and supports we are providing are advancing that goal. It is leading us to examine how we can go beyond integrated records and truly provide integrated care between our case managers, therapists, and other teams. In the next year, we hope to launch integrated treatment teams using client snapshot data from the CRM to synergize services, target resources, and coordinate care.

Whether first developing a central database in Excel to making the more recent investment in a formal CRM system, the process of collecting data that allows us to assess the quantity, quality, and impact of our interactions with clients has really informed our services. The process has been long and complex, but truly transformative. Next, we are looking forward to connecting with other immigrant service agencies in our region to explore outcome measures. We are currently examining the potential to refine, or even validate, the Self-Sufficiency Indicator Tool in hopes of creating more standard, consistent metrics across agencies and programs for evaluating program impacts for immigrants and refugees. Our experience continues to reinforce that capacity building is an iterative process that drives learning and continuous improvement over time.