Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said, “An effort in one problem area is almost worthless. A program for housing, without simultaneous programs for jobs, education, welfare reform, health, and economic development cannot succeed. The whole community must be involved as a whole.” After recognizing the relationship between poverty, race relations, and rising crime in New York City neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Senator Kennedy made fighting poverty a major focus of his tenure as the junior United States Senator from New York in the 1960s. These efforts led to the creation of the first Community Development Corporation (CDC), an organization designed to promote job creation, improve housing options, expand educational opportunities, and provide recreation that would make the neighborhood a better place to live.
In the more than fifty years since the founding of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, thousands of CDCs across the country have worked to revitalize communities and create environments where individuals and families can thrive. Though each individual CDC is different, most focus on individual neighborhoods or communities as they strive to address challenges and tear down barriers. Some do this by providing a variety of programs, while others work with social-good organizations and government entities. Either way, these specialized nonprofits provide bottom-up holistic services that are tailored to the communities they serve.
Though their mission of addressing poverty through community-wide development has not changed, community needs, available resources, and recommended strategies have evolved over the decades. What worked twenty years ago, or even two years ago, may not work now. In addition, there is the important question of how impactful these previous efforts have been. Like many social-good organizations, the primary focus of the data collection and reporting for Community Development Corporations has been tracking outputs. How many meals have you served? How many counseling sessions have you provided? How many affordable housing units have you developed? And what did those units cost? These types of metrics can be useful when running a nonprofit, but they are no longer adequate. If you strive to build communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, you must focus on how your participants are better off as a result of your services.
Creating Positive Impact
The value of impact measurement for Community Development Corporations is two-fold. The first is understanding if and how you are creating a positive impact in your community. For decades, the traditional model of reporting on affordable housing for nonprofits was to measure the number of units provided and the amount of money spent. Though understanding how many people are served is necessary, it says nothing about the social and economic impact of individuals and families having stable housing. Additionally, using dollars as a measurement of success is unreliable at best and misleading at worst. The wide variety of housing and construction costs between different cities and states means that a higher cost program might actually have a lower social impact than a similar program in a different community.
Having access to real-time, quality impact data helps you see both the strengths and weaknesses of your programs by looking at the improved outcomes of participants. Instead of asking how many families were placed in affordable housing, you have the ability to see how having stable housing impacted the educational success of the children in those families. Or if a veteran with complex medical needs experiences improved health outcomes because of reliable refrigeration for their medications. Other possible impact measurements for housing focused CDCs could include:
How does affordable housing provide economic improvement for the community?
Does this affordable housing program help the individual community members create wealth?
Does affordable housing lead to safer living conditions for individuals and families?
Beyond just housing, impact measurement can help CDCs understand the impact they have on all of the diverse needs in an impoverished community. And when working in collaboration with other organizations, real-time data gives all of the participants insight into what is working, what is not working, and when to make changes in order to achieve the best possible results.
The second value of impact measurement is financial. The programs and services provided by CDCs require a significant amount of funding to succeed long-term. Starting with Senator Kennedy’s efforts, many early community development projects were government funded. In recent years, funding sources have become more diverse and now include private foundations and the philanthropic arms of for-profit corporations, as well as local, state, and federal grants. Each of these funders have different missions and reporting requirements, but they all want to know that their resources are being used wisely.
Proving your impact with measurable data has become even more important with the transition to outcome-oriented philanthropy. Outcome-oriented funders support programs and services that provide the most efficient and effective services with their investment. They seek results, not just good intentions. The ability to demonstrate your results is key for developing an ongoing relationship with these funding sources, which then helps your organization achieve financial sustainability.
Community Development Corporations play a vital role in revitalizing communities and giving individuals and families the best chance to thrive. To accomplish this mission, they must understand and articulate how their services work towards this mission. By collecting, analyzing, and reporting useful, mission-relevant data, CDCs can enhance overall knowledge, improve outcomes, and make a more compelling case for funders and other stakeholders about the importance and effectiveness of their work.
SureImpact shares your passion for driving social change. We are proud to partner with multiple Community Development Corporations in their efforts to transform their communities. SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure to meet the unique needs of social-good organizations as you work to achieve your organization’s mission all year long. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools make what was once impossible, remarkably simple.
To learn more, see our About SureImpact overview video.