Multi-service agencies urged to focus

Multi-service organizations
Multi-service organizations

Nonprofits that provide services across multiple categories, such as substance abuse, housing and education, aim to offer integrated, long-term services but too often are limited because they are organized around services they deliver rather than clients’ needs, a new paper says.

“Clients receive the services they were referred to, not the full set that they need in order to improve their lives,” says the paper, Clients at the Center: Realizing the Potential of Multi-Service Organizations, by the Bridgespan Group.

The staff of multi-service organizations focus on “providing a high-quality service and achieving a narrow, short-term outcome,” the paper says, “but they don’t have authority or accountability for helping the client achieve long-term, life-changing outcomes,” an approach the paper calls “service-centric strategy.”

The paper calls for multi-service organizations to shift to a “client-centric” strategy by “working with a client to set long-term goals, understanding what services the client will need to reach those outcomes, providing those services in a coordinated way, and following p to make sure the client achieves those goals.”

Multi-service organizations represent a “huge portion” of human-services capacity in the U.S., receiving one-third of over $2.2 billion flowing to human-services agencies in Charlotte, Milwaukee and Portland, Ore., for example, and 16 percent of the total $6.6 billion in total nonprofit revenue in those cities, the paper says.

Those agencies depend mainly on government funding, a funding stream that typically pays for only one service, the paper says.

And private funders often “focus on specific service models and a comparatively narrow setoff activities and outcomes they are willing to fund,” the paper says.

Relatively few private funders, it says “are prepared to support funding for integrative processes (like care coordination) that can be used to connect funding silos or to provide general operating support, which gives the organizations senior leaders the freedom to use the funds as they see fit.

The paper recommends funders focus as much onoutcomes they want as on sticking to a specific service model; providing longer-term support; and investing in the integration of roles, process, and performance-measurement systems that “too often are considered ‘overhead.'”

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