by Director of Program Evaluation, Learning and Impact Morgan Buras-Finlay

The seemingly innocuous “referral” is a mainstay of nonprofits — the most-basic way organizations ensure they meet the needs of the communities they serve. Such referrals support individuals and families as they navigate the ever-complex and changing network of nonprofits, government agencies and institutions.

Yet even in 2018 the majority of referrals are still shared via fax, phone or paper, hindering accountability and leading to a paucity of insights into the services offered.

From its inception in 2012, the Mission Promise Neighborhood (MPN) education initiative has taken a collective-impact approach to community engagement and service delivery. The defining factor was the creation of a 20-partner network supporting families and their children along a continuum of asset building and academic achievement.

It was imperative that MPN require a method for measuring the health of the partner network, thereby providing accountability as it relates to service integration. This need evolved into MPN’s Referral Network Tool.

“I have firsthand seen the power of the implementation of the Referral Network Tool. Our partners no longer work in silos, and impact is now all the greater, as we strengthen our families,” explains Family Support Manager Celina Ramos-Castro.

After 2.5 years of collecting referral data, MPN is now able to see trends and speak to lessons learned.

The numbers tell the story: The MPN network generated 4,389 referrals and impacted 2,303 individual families between Jan. 1, 2014 and Aug. 1, 2017.

During that time, the following lessons were learned around three main topics:

  1. Digital Referral Networks. These networks are where hardware (technology) meets software (real people), and both must be mutually reinforcing. Ensuring that the human needs are being met will make certain the technological solution takes hold.
  2. Network hubs. Think of this as spokes on a wheel. It is crucial to have a few designated individuals out in the field and dedicated to connecting families.
  3. Service Areas. Networks must include the services areas most needed by the community. Data on referrals will illuminate these service areas.

View the full brief.

Note: The article was presented as a poster at USF Data Institute Conference in November, 2017.


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