In 2014, Social Venture Partners Portland and Dialogues in Action (DIA) convened leaders from early childhood organizations in a Project Impact cohort. The cohort’s goal was to increase capacity to design and improve evaluation, as well as to collect, analyze, use, and share data to understand early childhood impact and inform program improvements. The cohort also aimed to facilitate shared learning and collaboration amongst early childhood leaders.
Several SVP’s Community Partners participated in this cohort, including Adelante Mujeres, Children’s Book Bank, KairosPDX, Latino Network, Metropolitan Family Service (MFS), and the Native American Youth & Family Center (NAYA). As with all of SVP Portland investments, the goal was to build sustained capacity of the organizations to prove as well as improve their impact.
At the 2019 Project Impact Oregon Summit hosted by DIA and the Nonprofit Association of Oregon last month, we had the opportunity to hear reflections from Anne Morse, Grants Specialist at Adelante Mujeres, and Brendon Bassett, Director of Innovation and Strategic Development at Metropolitan Family Service. They spoke to how their organizations have continued to leverage Project Impact to evaluate and improve their early childhood programs.
When MFS did quantitative and qualitative evaluations of their Ready, Set, Go! program, they discovered that kindergarten readiness—the stated outcome of the program—was closely linked to family strengthening and parent engagement. Approaching service delivery with a whole-family lens increased motivation to participate and continued learning and growth for caregivers, which was instrumental in achieving impressive kindergarten readiness outcomes. This realization impacted how MFS and Ready, Set, Go! thought about their internal culture, what they were doing right, and where they could improve. It also helped the organization talk about the impact and value of the program to a broader audience of potential supporters.
Adelante approached the Project Impact cohort with a team that included executive leadership, development staff, and a Board member. The report reaffirmed the importance of “involving and engaging the parents as full partners in their child’s education,” and proved that the Adelante model supported both parents and children. More than that, the Adelante team found that the project impact model worked well for their needs. As they started in their report, “…we now have a body of qualitative evidence that supports our quantitative measures, and backs up our belief that we are on the right track with our efforts.”
Over the past five years, both organizations have leveraged their learnings through Project Impact and applied them to services beyond early childhood programs. Brendon stated that MFS learned to use evaluation “to create a link between all their programs and the higher level vision.” According to Anne, Adelante has used the Project Impact model four times since 2014 and worked with DIA to create a “Who We Are” document, which includes underlying premises to guide their organizational mission and ensure alignment across staff for each program’s intended impacts.
The fact that MFS and Adelante have continued to build upon their learnings from the Project Impact cohort and expanded the evaluation strategies to multiple programs demonstrates how a small SVP Portland investment can result in significant, sustained return.