Stories from the Field: Community Access Measures Performance

By Steve Coe, CEO of Community Access.

All organizations need to measure their performance. For most businesses, the basic metrics are pretty straightforward: sales, profits, rate of growth, and share price. For a nonprofit like Community Access, most of these metrics don’t make sense. Instead, one must look at the stated mission and values and develop a set of measurements to determine its success and effectiveness. To that end, we’re pleased to embark on a new project with support from The Robin Hood Foundation to build on the work Community Access has already been doing to support the quality improvement of our programs and services through the use of our data.

Community Access was founded in the 1970s with a mission of providing quality housing for people being discharged from state psychiatric facilities. Over time, however, the mission has evolved beyond merely housing—a relatively easy goal to measure—to one that includes “recovery” and social integration for the people we serve. As with many nonprofits, the ongoing challenge is how to measure the impact of our work helping people gain more control over their lives.

The agency currently collects information on nearly every imaginable aspect of its activities, including financial performance, rates of rent payment for its 1,000 tenants in each of its 23 apartment buildings, the number and type of face-to-face encounters between support staff and clients, and so on. We turn to data like this when demonstrating the success and compliance of our programs. Through this project, we’re examining our current efforts and developing a performance management system that pulls together key metrics across all our data sources. The main goal is to improve the consistency and tracking of our metrics, thereby strengthening our organization’s ability to self-evaluate and improve our services from a solid platform of knowledge.

We’ve partnered with The New School to work with a team of graduate students on this project. We’re excited for this opportunity to take our reporting and assessment capabilities to the next level and look forward to their findings, which are certain to incorporate the most innovative practices in the field. It’s our hope and intention that by continuing to tie our data to our mission, we will achieve a clear, comprehensive, and objective understanding of how our housing and support services affect participants’ lives.