LENS Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

Demonstrating Success

Researchers Help Small Nonprofits Make Their Case

During the 2008 financial crisis, small to midsize nonprofits in Cleveland that focused on families and children struggled. Foundations and other funding organizations wanted to support programs that worked—and had data to prove it. Yet many non-profits lacked statistics and the resources to collect them.

In 2015, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University stepped in to help, launching the Partnership for Evaluation, Research, and Implementation. PERI generates and evaluates data about the nonprofits' programs and then offers recommendations for quality improvements. The organizations can use the reports to seek more funding and become more effective.

PERI has completed work with two nonprofits, and is working with four more—all for a reduced price subsidized by the George Gund Foundation and Saint Luke's Foundation.

"These agencies are really needed in the community," said Jeff Kretschmar, PhD, managing director of the Mandel School's Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, who developed the program with former colleague Patrick Kanary. "We want to do what we can to keep them attractive to funders."

Here's what some of the agencies say about PERI:

Adoption Network Cleveland

"The work we did with them was very valuable to us. It's been great to have an understanding about how we're doing. The evaluation confirmed that our data was good. It will have an impact on what we plan to do with programming as we move forward and how we collect data."

Jennifer Zisk-Vitron, director of programs for the nonprofit, which supports anyone touched by adoption, from child to grandparent.

Golden Ciphers Inc.

The report and the experience of working with Jeff Kretschmar "was really good for us. It encouraged me to look at the population that did recidivate … to see how we can engage them more. People want to know that what you're doing works, and we didn't have that. We know it works, but this gives us a formal evaluation to prove it."

Pam Hubbard, founding executive director of the grassroots youth development organization and cultural arts center. PERI evaluated the nonprofit's diversion program for court-referred youth who had been charged with a crime or found delinquent. Participants who completed the education and life-skills program had a low incidence of recidivism—that is, they didn't return to the criminal justice system. The PERI team also helped it secure a $1,000 technology grant from Hyland Software to buy equipment.

Providence House

"We're hoping to get some ideas about how our programs have benefited the families who have engaged with them, and also what changes we should make to our tracking [system] to better capture the impact of our programs going forward."

Annette M. Iwamoto, strategic initiatives manager for the nonprofit, which provides emergency shelter for newborns and children up to age 10.

—Julie H. Case