Keeping your ear to the ground – how to track your progress when resources are tight

When you’re running a not for profit it can be hard to find the time to take a breath and track your progress throughout the year. The good news is that there are a number of ways to check in with your clients and stakeholders on a regular basis even when resources are tight. The right feedback can allow you to course correct and save you time, money, and headaches in the long run. Often a good place to start is with a conversation. We recently spoke to Ian Cox, CEO of the Hutt Street Centre, about how Ian’s team gets feedback from clients, staff and volunteers.

Conversations with clients, staff and volunteers

According to Ian, ‘It’s so critical in innovation to continue to speak to your friends, to find out the positives and the negatives, and that feedback will sometimes change the way you do things. We talk to our friends [Hutt Street refer to their clients as friends]. We talk to our staff and our 650 volunteers. We talk to our board, and we talk to our donors. We’ve now got those five levels of feedback.

‘Our feedback approach is more organic rather than structured. Many of our friends don’t particularly like writing, so a lot of our feedback is through conversations. One good thing is that as a day centre we get feedback every day. I hear the feedback through my office because I’m right in the middle. They do let you know. I like having a coffee with our friends – they’ll tell you what’s going on in their life and you can pick up things, so I’m never disconnected from the group.’

Hutt Street has also looked at new feedback tools as part of the Aspire Program, funded by Australia’s first homelessness social impact bond. ’As part of the Aspire Program we had to get a new database. Part of the new database is that our friends can track and tell us how they’re travelling and how they think the work is travelling with them. At the same time, our workers can provide feedback as well. We can measure what the worker is thinking in terms of the progress they’re making, we can also see what our friend is thinking and how that progress is tracking. We’d like to roll that out into our other programs over the next year.

‘We can track how many people are getting into housing and staying in housing, then providing those wrap around services for employment, education and training. We also know sometimes we can push hard and sometimes we need to hang back a bit as well.’

 

Surveys

Even if you don’t have a custom database with client tracking built in, you can use tools like Typeform and Survey Monkey that allow you to produce online surveys for free or at low cost. When working with a large number of clients, surveys are a great way to keep your finger on the pulse and check in on how clients are going.

At CBB we’re using surveys as one of the ways we track client feedback. We have feedback surveys that clients fill out at the end of our events and workshops, and providers who are part of our NDIS transition program undertake surveys at key milestones in the program. We conducted an initial in depth survey to gauge provider progress in preparing for NDIS transition, so that we could plan our program to suit their needs. We then have short follow up surveys at the midpoint and at the end of the program to gauge progress and identify any opportunities for improvement. The online surveys go to all providers in our program, and we also phone a random sample of providers at key stages to get more qualitative feedback, and to dive into some of the details that are harder to pick up from online responses.

 

Asking the right questions

There are certain questions that are particularly powerful for tracking feedback. When measuring client satisfaction, one of the best questions is to ask is the Net Promoter Score: How likely is it that you would recommend our organisation/product/service to a friend or colleague? It’s a useful way to track customer satisfaction in a single question.

Another two useful questions are known as Pluses and Deltas:

  1. What are the pluses, the top three things we should keep doing?
  2. What are the deltas, the top three things we could do differently?

At CBB’s workshops we often use Pluses and Deltas to get immediate feedback from participants at the end of the workshop – no need to print up survey questions, just give everyone two sticky notes:  one for the pluses, one for the deltas. The limited paper size forces people to be focussed in their answers, and it’s a great way to get a quick snapshot as it only takes a minute at the end of the workshop.

 

Feedback at your finger tips

Of course, you can also tell a lot from looking at the data at your fingertips, whether it’s your own internal data about your clients, or public data about your sector. For more on the potential of data, you might want to check out our Big Data article, with lessons from laundry tubs and eighties rockstars.

 

Taking it to the next level

Ian and the team at Hutt Street are taking measurement to the next level by measuring social impact across all of their services, not just the Aspire program. According to Ian ‘One of the benefits of the Aspire program has been that we’ve been able to employ our first data analyst, which has absolutely transformed the way that we provide reports to the board.

‘We now have televisions in our staff and volunteer rooms, and they can see throughout the day how we’re tracking across our different programs. We can track the nuances, are we seeing more men, more women or more families through our different programs. We can see whether we have more new friends coming through or more regulars. In the past you’d have to sit down and trawl through the data to find the trends, and you might be two or three months late in finding out about trends. We can track whether people are going to hospital, or using crisis accommodation, or (hopefully not) ending up in the justice system.’

If you’d like to find out more about how Ian’s team is working towards zero homelessness, you can check out our article on Implementing Innovation.

Whether you equip your team with a cup of coffee, sticky notes, a free online survey or a custom database, there are feedback methods to fit every budget and every NFP. Regular feedback will alert you to issues early, so that you can course correct and avoid major headaches – saving you time and money in the long run.

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