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Why Increased Impact Starts with Putting Your Participants at the Center

No matter your social good organization’s specific mission, it has people at its core. You aren’t providing services, designing programs, and fundraising just for the sake of your organization. Your organization exists to serve individuals with a variety of social challenges (i.e., unemployment, substance use disorder, housing instability) and help them improve their lives. This aim is best achieved when you put people at the center of your focus.

In a recent article, The Stanford Social Innovation Review said “Being motivated to make a difference for participants is not the same thing as placing participants at the center of managing and leading. This distinction is critical because placing participants at the center requires rethinking how they are affected by the management of these organizations, not simply by the social change strategies adopted or the programs delivered.” But how do you do that? How do you place your beneficiaries at the center of how you manage your organization? In this blog, we will discuss three proven strategies for placing your beneficiaries at the center of all you do:

  1. Include the feedback of on-the-ground experts in your program design.

  2. Make participants an active part of their own lives.

  3. Aligning organizational goals with individual outcomes.

Include On-The-Ground Experts

Every community, demographic, and at-risk population has their own specific needs and challenges. Though some barriers to progress exist at a national or state level, others vary from city to city and even neighborhood to neighborhood. Understanding these unique circumstances is critical to developing programs that create a positive impact.

To understand the specific conditions and circumstances of your program participants, you must work with the people who know. Talk to individuals who live in the community or are part of the demographic you serve. Coordinate with other nonprofit leaders who serve the same community. Communicate with civic government leaders who have a broad view of the local challenges. And, most importantly, include your program participants in their own planning.

On-the-ground resources are valuable during the program creation phase. They can provide you with critical information that you can use to tailor your programs and services to meet the unique needs of your participants. But the value of their insight and experience does not end with program implementation. These same experts can help you understand the ever-changing circumstances of your community as you pivot and adjust your services to best accomplish your mission.

Encourage Active Participants

Your program participants are the reason you serve. Yet too many nonprofits treat their enrollees as what Leah M. Benjamin of the Stanford Social Innovation Review calls “passive targets of program interventions.” Providing services is only part of the process in creating positive impact. People need to be active participants in their own lives. Social-good leaders need to look at their beneficiaries as “people who engage nonprofits to make changes in their lives” rather than simply being “the targets of an intervention.”

Yet, your organization and the services you provide cannot force individual change. You can only provide the resources and opportunities needed to support people as they choose to change their lives. And what that change looks like must be determined by the participants themselves.

Encouraging active participation means making people full partners in their own services. Much like the trend of person-centered care in healthcare, social-good organizations should consider the needs, values, and desires of program participants as they work together to achieve the best outcomes in the social determinants of health.

Aligning Organizational Goals with Individual Outcomes

Organizations who successfully put participants at the center focus on aligning measurable organizational goals with the outcomes their participants wish to achieve. Another way to think about this is aligning the organization’s “why” with their participants’ “why.” Your organization’s whys and your participants’ whys, while they certainly overlap, are distinct and unique from one another. And maintaining a sort of dual-vision throughout your work—looking from the inside out, as well as the from the outside in—is essential to reflect upon and to align both perspectives to each and every aspect of your organization’s programs and services.

The core of an organization’s why lies in its mission statement. The core of the participants’ why is the reason they are engaging with your organization in order to better their lives. Understanding your participants’ whys and integrating their voices into all aspects of your proposed solutions will add the depth and the “what’s in it for them” component that is needed to ensure you are meeting their needs and achieving the best outcomes.

Move to Prosper

An organization who is successfully aligning their whys and their participants’ whys is Move to PROSPER. Move to PROSPER is an innovative program to improve life outcomes for children and their mothers in Central Ohio by creating opportunities for residential and financial stability. Move to PROSPER was developed through a partnership between The Ohio State University’s City and Regional Planning Program, community partners, and feedback from individuals in the community. Move to PROSPER makes affordable rental housing available to single moms in neighborhoods that offer access to opportunities, such as higher-resourced schools, safer neighborhoods, and employment. Life coaches assist program participants in increasing their personal, educational, health, and employment stability.

Move to PROSPER uses SureImpact to simplify the process for measuring individual and family life outcomes, and to prove they are better off as a result of their programming. SureImpact is a purpose-built impact management solution designed for social-good providers by social-good providers. CEO and Founder, Sheri Chaney Jones spent 20 years as a program evaluator for social-good organizations before launching SureImpact. SureImpact has an Outcomes Measures library with over 200 best-practice outcomes to help you track and manage the progress of your unique beneficiaries. SureImpact also enables you to create your own outcome measures as you work with your beneficiaries to continuously improve the services you provide for them to help them thrive.

To learn more about how to put participants at the center of your programming, download our Ebook “Expanding Your Social Impact: A Guide for Transforming Your Organization with Data.”

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