How Funding Innovation is the New Priority

10 Jan 2021
Karyn Pratt

Innovation in Non-Profits: Need of the hour

Non-profit organizations are by nature problem-solvers. Faced with questions that require innovative solutions, they strive to address some of the world’s greatest crises and pervasive social issues.

And the need has never been greater. While organizations are faced with an onslaught of new challenges in the face of global pandemic, the advent of COVID-19 has created an incubator of sorts for creative and innovative solutions to deliver human services in new ways. Through emerging innovations in technology, non-profits are in a unique position to revolutionize program delivery, improve outcomes, and grow organizational sustainability.

And yet, in light of an ever-growing need for creativity, and a pandemic-driven collaboration of the greatest minds in the human service field, non-profits face a continuing struggle of how to fund innovation.

How to fund innovation?

Resource constraints – financial, human, infrastructure – limit the opportunity to expand outside of mission-critical activities. When organizations take steps toward innovation, they must free up resources that have traditionally been directed to their current service delivery. Non-profits can become hyper-focused on protecting their existing services to serve their core populations. 

Adding to this burden is the fact that innovations that catalyze systemic change frequently require great risk. Innovators must often leverage financial security to reap the benefits of ground-breaking advances.  Shifting organizational resources toward unproven and often risky activities is not a gamble that many non-profits have the luxury, or the stomach, to undertake on their own.

Human service organizations also face challenges in their ability to recognize opportunities for innovation.  As practitioners, we routinely invest in programming that is evidence-based or has proven outcomes. And while this makes sense, and should certainly be encouraged, we have to be cautious that we don’t become too embedded in practices that don’t allow for the evolution of change within our clients and our environment.  In any system of care, one can expect drift in practice/conditions that lend to the erosion of fidelity or program effectiveness. When we hang our hats on evidence-based practices, it can become easy to forget to re-examine, review, and even question fundamental assumptions.

If COVID-19 has taught us one thing, it’s that the future is uncertain. We need to begin to plan now for a future that will likely look much different than we had anticipated.

It seems that the absence of significant investment in innovation by human-services organizations is certainly not for lack of aspiration.

According to a 2017 survey by Bridgespan and the Rockefeller Foundation,

80% of the top 145 nonprofit leaders believed that they should make innovation a priority.  Sadly, only 40% believed they can accomplish that.

The unfortunate reality is that many non-profits are stuck in a starvation cycle of funding, utilizing all available resources to fund direct services to constituents. Non-profits must often make the difficult decision between surviving and thriving. But nonprofits cannot grow without some commitment to, or investment in, innovation. Only organizations that can build a strong infrastructure that includes investment in technology, skills training, and financial systems have the greatest potential for sustainability and growth.

Fortunately, many private and public foundations understand the need to help fund systemic improvements that will lead to better efficiency, improved services, and decreased costs to social welfare systems.  Without improvements in delivery of services, the need for funding will continue to outpace the funds available to human service organizations.

Innovation in Action

Adelphoi has been fortunate to have the support of several foundations to serve as collaborative partners in the implementation of innovative technology such as predictive analytics, to improve the delivery of services to its clients.

Adelphoi’s most recent partnership with several Pennsylvania-based foundations began back in 2018 when it began to notice patterns in outcomes data that it was already collecting as part of its admissions process. Adelphoi approached Staunton Farm Foundation requesting support to begin to explore the relationship between a youth’s clinical records and their outcomes. 

Working with researchers, Adelphoi looked at several hundred cases and identified the clinical services that correlated with the successful completion of a program and increased the chances that they would remain out of care afterward. After a pilot and longitudinal study, the researchers identified six indicators that were then used to build a fidelity model that now drives Adelphoi’s clinical protocol.  Researchers also isolated those variables, known as early predictors of success, that account for youth achieving positive outcomes as measured by program completion and remain-out-of-care rates. 

With the support of a large anonymous foundation, Adelphoi used these factors to engineer a predictive analytics model, FirstMatch, for more than 900 residential referrals made to Adelphoi each year.

Adelphoi uses FirstMatch to identify a treatment program in its system that will match a child’s unique, individual needs the very first time. 

Since the development of the tool, Adelphoi has worked with the Richard King Mellon Foundation which has provided support for the scaling and rollout of FirstMatch to other providers and county entities.  FirstMatch has been expanded to offer organizations the ability to leverage their own data to make appropriate treatment matches for their children. Child-serving entities can provide their clients with the most appropriate match within their ecosystem of services.  Ultimately, this leads to the reduction of multiple placements, youth spending less time in the system, and overall better outcomes for children, families, and providers.

FirstMatch has significant implications for the entire child welfare, behavioral health, and juvenile justice system. Roll-out of FirstMatch will allow counties and states to reduce number of placements, therefore offering significant savings to an overburdened system. Adelphoi estimates that in Pennsylvania alone,

A 7% reduction in the number of kids that need second placement will lead to approximately $30 million in annual savings. 

This will allow counties and states to decrease caseloads and reinvest in critical programming, including more funding for essential prevention and aftercare services.

Joni Schwager, Executive Director of Staunton Farm Foundation noted,

“As someone who has worked in the behavioral health field, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating consequences of youth not receiving adequate or appropriate services. Right now, kids are matched with the right program only 34% of the time. FirstMatch offers a data-focused solution to finding the right program for kids the very first time they enter care, leading to reduced trauma and more positive outcomes. I truly believe that this platform has the potential to catalyze change throughout the child welfare, juvenile justice, and behavioral health systems.”

FirstMatch is just the first step in Adelphoi’s innovation journey. Through collaborative partnerships with forward-thinking funders, Adelphoi hopes to continue to leverage new technologies to offer innovative solutions that have the potential to improve the delivery of services to children and families. 

Want to learn more about FirstMatch? 

Contact us at information@firstmatch.org or call 724-804-7011.  In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep you updated through this blog. Visit us for trends within the juvenile justice, child welfare, and behavioral health systems. 

Sources: The Bridgespan Group’s Report on Nonprofit Built for Sustained Innovation: Summary and Resources