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November 21, 2016 – Communicating the True Value of Your Programs

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds everyone well.  For many of us, preparing for the holiday season also means preparing for a year-end fundraising campaign.  Each of us has powerful anecdotal information to sharethe stories of the children we serve and the services we provide.  But today, I’d like to turn your attention to a resource that can assist you with creating a Cost Analysis (CA) so that, in addition to the anecdotal information, you can provide your donors with data about the true cost of your programs and the true benefits, specifically, the costs we avoid down the road by engaging in the work we do now. 

The resource, “The Practitioner’s Guide to Cost Analysis,” was produced by the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships & Research for the FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention.  For anyone who’s ever considered conducting a CA, and even more so, for anyone who’s never thought about it, this Guide is for you.  It is divided into three subsections: (1) Creating Stakeholder Buy-in; (2) Data Collection and Processing; and (3) Communicating and Using Results.  Id., p. 4.  But even before you dig into the subsections, the authors provide a flow-chart to help you identify where you are in terms of conducting such an analysis, and which specific sections of the Guide are most applicable.

A CA sounds great in the abstract, but as we all know, every exercise in gathering and analyzing data has costs.  So the Guide cautions organizations to start with facilitating stakeholder buy-in.  To do so, organizations must consider the impact that conducting such an analysis will have on current services, the way the data will be used (including decisions about who will have access to the data), and the resources that will be required to conduct each step of the analysis.  The Guide provides action steps to accomplish this, but also examines some of the stumbling blocks to stakeholder buy-in.  For example, one concern the authors address is the worry on the part of the service providers that collecting data while providing services may diminish the effectiveness of the work and may interfere with the relationship between client and provider. While acknowledging these concerns, the authors also suggest that the best way to address them might be to reframe the issue, such that the data collection process is viewed “as a form of “shared decision-making for their clients, thereby transforming the process from a burdensome obligation to a collaborative and empowering part of program services.”  Id., p. 7.

Step two of the CA process is data collection and processing, which in involves both streamlining and extracting data.  The authors caution organizations to “carefully consider how any and all existing data might be used to analyze costs, and only implement new data collection procedures when necessary.”  Id., p. 12.  And, if you do need to implement a new procedure, “do not start from scratch – review which existing tools are available to collect the data you need to perform cost analysis.”  Id

The challenge in conducting a CA is in capturing outcomes and in being able to show a benefit beyond simply “the absence of bad.”  Id., p. 13.  To truly have an effect, a CA must use “a thorough accounting of all costs associated with a program.  Often, obvious costs such as employee salaries are taken into consideration while less obvious figures (e.g. volunteer training time, training-related expenses, or language translation services) are left unrecorded.  A complete cost analysis takes into consideration both direct and indirect costs.”  Id., p. 14. 

The question then becomes how to communicate and use results of a CA.  Using a CA has some obvious benefits.  But there is an inherent risk of oversimplificationthat is, the reduction of the full human experience into a mathematical formula.  The key is to use the CA as “a complementary piece to the larger story of your program, one that encompasses cost, measurable outcome, personal stories, and other kinds of qualitative information.”  Id.   Additionally, a powerful tool that the authors suggest using is what they call “social math,” or storytelling through numbers.  Social math is nothing more than “making vivid comparisons and presenting numbers in a familiar context, [to] help people understand the story behind them.”  Id., p. 18.  Not only does the Guide provide concrete examples of social math, but it also provides a link to a step-by-step guide on getting started with social math.

For CACs, the good news in all of this is that you are already one step ahead.  You are already collecting data, through NCAtrak, OMS and various other mechanisms that can assist you in completing a CA and in using social math.  I urge you to download this guide and use it to help you conduct a complete CA and tell the full story of the impact your services have on the communities you serve.  Your stories are compelling and important, and using a CA may help in making them heard and understood.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families. I wish you all a peaceful and a happy Thanksgiving.

Warm regards,  
Teresa

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