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Client Outcomes Strategy

Your fulfillment of the promise your nonprofit makes in its mission statement in part is what establishes your nonprofit’s value to your community.  Your clients’ outcomes are the embodiment of that promise.  A client services strategy is important to the process.

It is easy to confuse an operational plan with a client services strategy.  The operational plan tells the staff how to implement the strategy.  However, if all anyone knows is the plan, the strategy is likely to have limited success. This often explains why nonprofits choose outcomes that are actually the results of completing the program.

The outcome is the meaningful, measurable, and durable changes in the client’s life, which is unlikely to be obvious until many months or years after the client completes the program.  The operational plan focuses on the completion requirements, which sometimes prevents the outcomes from receiving the attention they deserve or require.

Stating the client services strategy is easy “Enable and empower each client to reach the desired outcome in the shortest time while ensuring the client experiences the fewest difficulties.”  (You can restate the strategy to make it specific to your mission.).  The challenge is translating the strategy into practical activities that will produce the desired results and lead to the desired outcomes.  The key elements of a client services strategy are:

Client First – This is more than good customer service.  It means ensuring the clients receive all of the services and help they need regardless of the cost.  This in turn means that you must trust the donors to provide the resources and give the staff the latitude to succeed regardless of cost or time.  When cost or time controls the decision-making, the clients lose their first place status.  Client first means that success is measured based upon the client’s ability to achieve the desired outcome.  In other words, the client is second only to the mission when decisions are being made. Since the outcome is the fulfillment of the mission’s promise, the clients and mission are almost co-equal.

Engaged Clients – Part of client engagement is ensuring clients’ goals are unified with the desired outcomes.  When the clients’ goal is to have a job, most clients will give very little attention to anything other than what is necessary to have a job quickly even though the nonprofit’s desired outcome is stable employment.  Very few of those clients will achieve stable employment and those who do are likely to think the nonprofit only catalyzed the process rather than enabled it.

Client Intake – Identify the client environment.  This includes understanding how clients interacts with their surrounding environment, the challenges and opportunities their environment offers, clients’ priorities and values and why those are chosen, the needs of the clients’ support systems, and understand clients’ decision-making processes.

Analysis – Quantitatively and qualitatively analyze the information you received during intake.  Determine how what you learned fits with your processes then outline the necessary adjustments to your processes.  Determine the success indicators for each client based upon what you know about the client.  Determine how to customize your process to meet each client where they are and how to carry them to the necessary endpoint.

Sustain – Determine how to sustain the client’s engagement with your program to ensure the client’s potential for success is maximized. Determine how to sustain a relationship with the client after the client completes your program.  This will allow you to determine when the client reaches the desired outcome, the challenges the client overcame during the journey, and how to enhance your program to raise the probability of success for the next group of clients.

Once you build the detailed plans for each of the preceding elements, you will have a framework for modifying your current programing.  The programing that emerges will only be a template for services (service delivery model) because each client will receive a customized version of the template.  The template eliminates using the average client as a proxy for what every client’s needs.  The efficiency of your services will decline.  The effectiveness of your services will be significantly higher.  Since effectively serving your clients is at the heart of your mission, your nonprofit’s sustainability will be increased with the increase in effectiveness.  Your donors will respond positively because they care more about effectiveness and donor success than anything else.

Next Step:

Create a client services strategy

Ask your board to adopt the client services strategy

Use the breadth and depth of each client’s success to determine the success of your client services strategy

Using clients’ success to determine your success once again places clients at the center of your activities.  When the client’s success dominates, it places the emphasis on what your client accomplishes rather than what your staff was able to accomplish or what it cost.  Since the clients’ accomplishments are important to your donors and your community, you will have data that makes a strong case for support.  As support increases and your community better understands the value of your nonprofit and its mission, there will be less budget pressure and higher sustainability.

With a client services strategy, it is easier for your clients to achieve success, which makes it easier for your nonprofit to receive the recognition it deserves.

Take It Further:

Use the same process for fundraising to create the engaged donors you need to keep money from preempting clients and mission

Ask your board to evaluate how using a client services strategy will affect its discussions, goal setting, budget discussions, and decision-making

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