Demonstrating the Value of Commonside’s Services

Sponsor: Commonside Community Development Trust
Sponsor Liaison: Naomi Martin
Student Team: Margaret Goodwin
Humberto Leon
Emily Thayer
Noel Qiao
Abstract: The Commonside Community Development Trust provides advice services to the community in Pollards Hill, UK. As funders look for official accreditation and accountability for these services, our project helped Commonside determine ways to improve their operational model to gain more funding. We analyzed the Advice Quality Standard, identified what funders want from organizations, and formed a prototype “demonstrated outcome” using client feedback and interviews. We concluded that Commonside should implement a database, document impact to funders, and pursue AQS accreditation.
Link: Commonside Team Final Report
Commonside Team Final Presentation
Promotional Slide Deck for Commonside
Recommendations Slide Deck for Commonside

Executive Summary

Commonside Community Development Trust is a volunteer-based organization in the London Borough of Merton aimed at improving the lives of community members by providing advice on a wide variety of topics. Commonside’s work, like other social welfare organizations, is primarily funded by the public sector through donations and grants, but the changing landscape is increasing the demand for accountability. Funders are increasingly expecting official accreditations, raising hurdles for smaller organizations like Commonside. Pursuing accreditation services like the Advice Quality Standard (AQS) can consume essential resources and distract from Commonside’s original purpose: helping the residents of Merton.

Project Goal and Objectives

Commonside’s staff would like to prove to funders that they are doing quality work while maintaining human relationships. The goal of this project is to help Commonside determine the next best steps to improve their operational model in order to gain more funding. We created three objectives to achieve this project goal:

  1. Identifying the areas of compliance with the Advice Quality Standard at Commonside;
  2. Prioritizing Advice Quality Standard criteria used for accreditation;
  3. Measuring the local impact of Commonside’s services.

Findings and Recommendations

We found that acquiring an accreditation does not lead directly to funding. Instead, while accreditations and funding are related, being able to prove the impact of the work being done in a tangible way is much more important when it comes to gaining more funding. We interviewed Lyla Adwan-Kamara, a representative at the Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL), an organization that received the AQS accreditation in 2016. From speaking with, her, our team learned that acquiring the accreditation was more beneficial to the structure of their organization, rather than leading directly to an increase in funding. Merton CIL did not show a significant increase in funding after receiving AQS in 2015-16, as shown by the dark line in the figure below.

We conducted interviews with funders and related individuals (proxies) to get a better sense of what funding agencies are specifically looking for in the organizations they support. According to these individuals, the most important factor in determining which organizations to fund is the ability to demonstrate positive outcomes, that can measure the impact of an organization on its community. However, the funders and proxies stressed that the quality standards necessary for an accreditation are still important, especially for organizations like Commonside who operate in the field of advice services.

To demonstrate the outcomes of Commonside’s services in the local community, we conducted surveys with both current and former clients as well as with client volunteers. Evaluating client satisfaction is a cornerstone of the AQS requirements and our introduction of surveys provided Commonside with a starting point to begin collecting feedback. In addition, we interviewed a few of Commonside’s client volunteers to learn more about their experiences with the organization to compile case studies. Collecting the opinions of clients provides Commonside’s management with a clear view of the human aspect of their community image that can be used in the promotion of Commonside to both the community and to funders.

We recommend that Commonside continue to make progress towards obtaining AQS because  it would be beneficial for the internal operation of the organization, while also finding additional ways to demonstrate the value of their work. Many of the AQS requirements require a policy or procedure to be written out. Commonside already employs many of the procedures and policies required by AQS, but they are not formally enunciated in official documents. The process of formalizing existing procedures in writing would not require a major effort on the part of Commonside; however, these documents would not have much of an impact on current services at Commonside. The pie chart below shows that almost two-thirds of the requirements of AQS would be fairly easy to implement for Commonside.

We recommend that Commonside begin the process by:

  1. maintaining records of staff trainings,
  2. maintaining a record of client follow-ups,
  3. keeping track of a network of partner and referral organizations, and
  4. maintaining accessibility for people with disabilities who are seeking help.

Additionally, to help complete further AQS requirements and demonstrate outcomes, we recommend Commonside implement a database to help ease the administrative work with client files and to create additional statistics proving their impact. For this database to have the largest impact on Commonside, it should be:

  • accessible,
  • secure,
  • backed-up,
  • searchable, and
  • exportable.

To better present our recommendations to our sponsor liaison, Naomi Martin, our team created two presentations. The first presentation is tailored toward funders and community members. It focuses on demonstrating the outcomes of services that Commonside provides, as well as presenting case studies on several clients to humanize the statistics our team intended to emphasize. The other is a detailed presentation on our recommendations for the organization, including a more in-depth look at database features, so that they can be easily communicated to staff and trustees. With this process, we hope to provide Commonside with the tools to improve their organization and gain more funding so that they can continue to help the residents of Merton.