January 2013 Newsletter

In This Issue:

Welcome to the PerformWell Newsletter

From Counting to Measuring to Growth
by Sam Cobbs, CEO, First Place for Youth


In the last six years, First Place for Youth has grown tremendously, from serving 500 to more than 2,000 at-risk foster youth annually in five California counties. Our budget has grown from $1.9 million to $11.7 million and most importantly, we now lead policy discussions throughout the state. Government agencies rely on our outcomes data to set benchmarks and allocate funding for services beyond housing, including education and employment.


It started during a leadership transition in 2005. First Place for Youth began to ask itself some critical questions: who do we serve, what is it that our youth need, and what does success look like? At the same time, foundations were asking us for more than heartwarming stories of young people overcoming the odds. They wanted hard numbers, proof that their investments were paying off. When we realized that we couldn’t answer our own internal questions, or those from our external stakeholders, we started a journey to become more data-driven.


From the beginning, First Place has always collected data. But we didn’t know how to use that data in order to make real-time program improvements. By strengthening our performance management infrastructure and better understanding what we do, First Place could improve program services and youth outcomes. Just as importantly, we knew First Place could play a larger role in critical policy discussions that could lead to system-wide changes to how foster youth are supported when they are turned out of the foster care system at age 18.


Our shift began with a critical investment from a long-time funder, Tipping Point Community, which provided support for general operating costs and database implementation, including purchasing Social Solutions’ performance management software Efforts to Outcomes (ETO). While social workers at First Place were used to collecting data, the implementation of ETO meant that, for the first time, every direct service staff could see how data could be used to help them become better at what they did, by tracking how their youth were doing based on the goals that they had set together, as well as making adjustments based on service trends. We now had a system but still did not know what to put into the system or how our work led to greater outcomes.


With support from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, we were offered the opportunity to work with David Hunter to develop the organization’s Theory of Change. I knew that this work with David would be helpful but I didn’t know how it would transform First Place. By developing a clear, well articulated Theory of Change and integrating it into our business planning, we formed the blueprint for how and what data we would collect. First Place began to focus all of our efforts and resources on those things that our Theory of Change indicated would drive positive impact.


As we began to better understand our data and why we were collecting it, we were able to track the activities we needed to undertake to make program improvements that increased youth successes. For example, looking at the data around our employment services, we realized youth needed a prescribed amount of time each week with their employment staff, focused on jobs, not general case management. We began to train our employment staff to focus on these areas when they engaged with youth. In the last three years, we have seen a 30 percent increase in our employment numbers.


Hear Sam Cobbs speak in our upcoming webinar featuring performance management expert David Hunter, author of soon-to-be-released Working Hard – and Working Well.


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New & Noteworthy


The first nine months of PerformWell have seen exciting and steady growth in our audience as word spreads throughout the nonprofit community. A visitor passed through our website’s virtual doors for the 50,000th time in mid-December, and someone downloaded a PerformWell tool for the 16,000th time on Christmas Day. Our webinars have been a big hit, highlighted by more than 1,600 registrations each for our Introduction to Performance Management and Creating a Performance Culture webinars.


Other highlights include:

• Visitors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and 168 countries.
• 136 different tools downloaded at least ten times.


In December, we launched content on civic engagement for youth (see the Toolbox for more). We will be releasing new content in the areas of Child Care and Parenting this spring, with more to follow throughout the year. As always, we welcome your feedback and input as a part of the PerformWell community! Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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Making Performance Management Happen on February 7: Learn from ChildTrends’ Isaac Castillo & Omni’s Leah Galvin how to implement the performance management cycle. Register now!


Lives on the Line: Why and How Mission-Driven Leaders Are Embracing Performance Management on March 7: David Hunter has worked with some of the most performance-driven agencies in the country. Register to hear him speak about his soon-to-be-released book.


Fundraising with Performance Data on April 11: Wings for Kids CEO Bridget Laird joins Isaac Castillo to discuss how she uses data strategically to raise funds. Register to learn how you can, too.



Missed the last webinar? Click here for the archived webinars.





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Performance Management in Practice


Managing Performance for Youth Civic Engagement Programs
by Krysten Appelbaum

Last month, Teresa Derrick-Mills, Research Associate with the Urban Institute, and Zenub Kakli, Chief Program Officer of the United Teen Equality Center (UTEC) led a webinar in connection with the launch of new youth civic engagement content in PerformWell. We followed up with Dr. Derrick-Mills and Dr. Kakli recently to get further insight into UTEC’s use of performance data, and how PerformWell can help others develop a framework for performance management.


Zenub and Teresa, if each of you could give one piece of advice to organizations who want to manage the performance of their youth civic engagement programs what would it be?
Zenub: For agencies that have many programmatic elements, start out small when it comes to data collection. It’s given often and it is some of the best advice. Starting with a single programmatic element as a pilot project in performance management allows you to work out the kinks and problem solve rather than find out later you have many problems in the several areas you are measuring.

Teresa: Begin by thinking about what kind of difference you want to make. What perceptions, attitudes, knowledge or behaviors do you want to change? Reading the outcomes area of the PerformWell site could help you reflect and decide among the possibilities. To decide how you will measure the changes, you can also find that information in PerformWell. Think about who you want to make this difference with, how much service they will need, and how your program will engage with those youth. PerformWell’s Improve Service Delivery section can help with making decisions about the who and how. Once you make these decisions, you can track how well your program is doing what it set out to do.


Zenub, UTEC has used data to improve its programming. How did developing an agency level theory of change help UTEC get to the point where they could use data in this manner?
Zenub: One important way we use data is to make sure that the services we want our target population to receive are being delivered with fidelity to the model, which is outlined in our theory of change. Developing our theory of change helped us get a lot of buy-in from staff at all levels of the agency. Many staff members from across the organization and with different responsibilities helped us develop the model. As a result, direct service staff are invested in these larger program performance management questions and the translation to practice is much easier. The development of the model also helped our staff understand that this process is iterative and they aren’t hesitant to point out areas for improvement or take a new approach to measurements. Our staff is really excited about the new PerformWell content and we have already begun applying it to UTEC’s assessments, for example.


Teresa, how can others use PerformWell to help them develop a theory of change?
Teresa: A theory of change is a description of who your program is targeting, what activities or strategies your program provides, and how those activities and strategies lead to the changes you hope to make in attitudes, knowledge, and/or behaviors. Each organization needs to develop their own theory of change specific to their program, and then use that theory of change to help in making decisions about what data to collect and track to determine how well they are succeeding in what they set out to do. Through the Improve Service Delivery tab of PerformWell, we provide guidance on how to think about many elements of a theory of change, like your target population, determining how much service is necessary to achieve the outcomes you want, and examining the importance of particular elements of program environment and activities.


How are you using PerformWell? Do you have any measures that should be included or any other suggestions? We want to hear from you. Let us know at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The Toolbox

Civic Engagement for Youth

In December we launched new Civic Engagement content with a webinar. Civic engagement is important to the health of a democratic nation. Well-functioning democracies are highly dependent on active participation of their citizens. PerformWell has tools to help your organization measure outcomes and tools to help your organization manage service delivery.


To find information on Civic Engagement for Youth from the PerformWell homepage:

  • Select “Improve Service Delivery” from the toolbar.
  • Select “Child and Youth Development” from the drop-down menu → Civic Engagement for Youth.
  • You can select a tool from the right hand side, below Surveys / Assessments.

Go to the Identify Outcomes tab on the PerformWell home-page.

  • Click on Civic Engagement for Children and Youth
  • You can then select “Civic Efficacy and Community Empowerment”
  • Or “Civic Engagement and Community Involvement”
  • Or “Volunteerism and Engagement”

On the next page for each outcome, there is a set of outcome measurement tools.


Used any of these tools?
Be sure to leave your review for others to see what you think. It's easy. When you are on the download page of any tool, scroll to the bottom, rate it from 1-5 stars, submit a review, or share it with a friend.


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What We're Reading


Data for good – what can data do for philanthropy? Larry McGill, The Foundation Center.


Five Hurdles to Nonprofit Performance Assessment. Lauren Gilbert. The Center for Effective Philanthropy.


How is investing in “what works” working? Social Innovation Fund Experience Suggests Advocacy Is Needed to Move Performance-based Nonprofits Forward. The Bridgespan Group.


How Nonprofits Can Use Data to Solve the World’s Problems. Victor Luckerson, Time Business & Money Online.


Myths About Performance Management. Ray B. Williams, Psychology Today.


Recasting the Relationship Between Foundations and Nonprofits. Dan Cardinali. The Center for Effective Philanthropy.


Which Data? And Who Will Pay For It? Phil Buchanan, The Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Advisory Board


Diana Aviv, Independent Sector | Viki Betancourt, World Bank

James Firman, National Council of Aging | David Hunter, Hunter Consulting

Irv Katz, National Human Service Assembly | Mike Lawson, Performance Management Consultant

Jeff Mason, Alliance for Effective Social Investing | Jon Pratt, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

Cynthia Strauss, Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund | Nick Torres, Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania

Fay Twersky, Hewlett Foundation | Jane Wales, Global Philanthropy Forum


Executive Committee Contacts


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This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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