When counting numbers can actually matter to a church-based ministry
As a reminder of my previous articles, I am writing a series about our strategic direction and vision at The Salvation Army Toronto Housing and Homeless Supports (www.torontohhs.org). That vision is summed up in one word; H.O.M.E. (Housing, Outcomes, Mission, Excellence). We are all on a journey home. There is no such thing as ‘us’ and ‘them’, as we are all in this together.
My last piece focused on our Housing first initiative. Now I will focus on the ‘outcomes’ side of things.
I have to admit, I was a tough sell on this one. I needed to be converted to the idea that outcomes measurement was extremely helpful in this ministry amongst folks who are homeless.
In the back of my mind there’s a quote that is often attributed to Einstien that says:
“Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.”
In my experience, this quote has proven true over and over again. Sometimes we feel the need to prove our worth by counting numbers that don’t matter.
In churches we are as, or perhaps even more, guilty of this than anyone. We feel important by printing in our bulletins or posting online just how many people come to our services every Sunday, how many programs we run, how many volunteers we have, etc. But these numbers say nothing of the health of the church. They are simply ‘outputs’ and not ‘outcomes’.
When I was director of our Gateway shelter, I was a big fan of outputs. I printed every number I could think of, from the number of meals we served, to the number of men that we housed, to the number of counselling sessions we did.
I still don’t think there was anything terribly wrong with keeping track of these things, but the numbers said nothing of the lasting impact we were or were not having on the lives of the men using our shelter. That would be ‘outcomes’ measurement.
Even though I still believe that there are many ‘successes’ that happen in our shelters that cannot be quantified and don’t read well to a government funder, there are important things that can and should be measured.
So due to there being some hesitation on this word ‘outcomes’, we’ve decided to simplify our outcomes measurement to just two things: Getting people housed and keeping people housed.
That’s it. That’s all we care about in terms of numbers.
Now it’s important to note that there are many factors that have to be considered in order to achieve these outcomes. So there are many ‘sub-categories’ to these two listed goals. But at the end of the day, this is what we care about.
Up until just a few years ago, we almost spent none of our time and energy on that second outcome. We were mainly concerned about what happens to a resident when they were with us, and we almost completely lost track of folks once they moved out. So we really had very little idea of whether or not the work we did had a lasting impact on people once they left.
That’s all changing now. We have staff members that are exclusively dedicated to following up with folks after they've been housed. We have programs like Causeway (ww.thecauseway.ca) that attempts to help folks connect to their community after they leave.
We have changed our focus from quantity to quality and as a result our ‘outputs’ are significantly lower as we attempt to have better ‘outcomes’. We have people whose entire job it is to research, survey, and produce data as to how we are doing with these two outcomes that we care about.
So quite honestly, I am proud of the work we are doing and am excited to be witnessing lives being changed - including my own.
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