By Dylan Levene
A recent report by the Center for a New American Security challenges the not-for-profit service industry that focuses on providing services to Veterans and members of the military. Given shrinking budgets that are available for these types of services, there is going to be increased competition among organizations for scarce resources. As a result, according to the study:
This competition will place a premium on the ability to demonstrate performance (and ultimately success) to potential donors… The most powerful way for nonprofit organizations to show such impact involves the demonstration of a statistically significant effect on outcomes such as longevity, productivity, or wellness for the populations they serve.
But one of the obstacles to showing performance is the lack of data that can in fact report the issues and outcomes that affect Veterans. Typically, each individual Veteran Service Organization (VSO) can’t see or measure the complete impact of services on a Veteran, because they only have a single piece of the puzzle. One VSO might be providing career services, while another might be assisting with finances or housing. Each of these offers a glimpse, yet only when they are viewed as whole is the true picture revealed.
Fortunately, technology is changing that. Today, management platforms such as the one that Unite US developed can tie together all of the service organizations and their offerings in a particular city, state and region. Not only does this technology streamline the process for Veterans, it also for the first time provides the type of data that allows us to look deeply into the challenges facing Veterans as they seek a variety of services. The data, while preliminary and growing, is beginning to provide VSOs with the performance indicators they need to show success. In addition, it gives insight into the real challenges facing Veterans, and allows us to begin asking some of the fundamental questions about how we can best provide for our Veterans during, or after they’ve left the service.
We’ve been tracking data monthly across Unite US powered coordinated networks leveraging our software platform, and there are some trends we’ve pulled out that raise important questions that need to be addressed. This data comes from New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, initiatives catalyzed by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) – but the trends may be universal. As we continue to gather data, we will be able to say for sure how widespread they are.
Housing is the most requested service in New York and Pennsylvania, yet the third most requested in North Carolina. This doesn’t come as a shock in New York due to the limited and costly housing. But with as many as one-third of homeless people in the US being veterans, this issue requires our continued attention.
#2. Long-term Issues
One of the metrics that our data measures is the length of time since the Veteran left the service that he or she is seeking assistance. The natural assumption would be that those who have recently ended their time in the service would be submitting the most requests for assistance. But that’s not the case. Instead, we’re seeing veterans that have been out of the service for over 18 years as the most popular time to request services.
So why, after all of those years, are veteran’s still seeking help for basic needs such as housing, employment, and financial assistance? What is being missed when service members initially return home that is emerging later in life?
#3. Multiple Services Needed
Whether it’s education and employment, medical and employment, or legal assistance and housing – the majority of veterans are requesting multiple services. This is where coordinated networks can really make an impact by streamlining comprehensive care across multiple agencies so that veterans are given the information and resources that they need in a timely, efficient, and trackable manner.
What This Means for VSOs
As noted in the Center’s report, showing success requires real data, and that can now be found when using the technology that views the whole puzzle instead of individual pieces:
Corporate, philanthropic, and individual donors will increasingly demand the measurement of investment or grant performance against objective goals and benchmarks, with such practices eventually becoming the norm in this area of philanthropic activity. Nonprofit organizations that develop efficient, effective, and accurate tools to measure their success will rise above those that can only show the amount of money spent, effort expended, or numbers served.
Technology that focuses on the collective vs. the individual outcome makes a big difference for VSOs as they measure their success with Veterans.