Transforming Community Services

Community Services and the Social Benefits Achieved

The community services sector represents something of an interesting puzzle for many people in terms of organizational principles. To some extent, typically at least, community service initiatives function at least partly on the principles of altruism, as opposed to relying on the typical market motivations of self interest and profit to organize their structures. As community services usually focus on transforming or providing some social benefit within a locality, their ‘products’ are not treated as normal goods which can be bought and sold. Thus, individuals that allocate time and money towards community services often do so at the cost of other opportunities which would be more profitable or deliver more personal gain, because of the recognition that this sacrifice can provide some social good.

However, because the organizing principles and motivations of community service organizations are different than typical business, so too are the motives and incentives schemes that should be in place in order to ensure a community service organization is effective. Unfortunately, many of these initiatives are considered immune from the principles of accountability, as the assumption that altruism is involved gives rise to the belief that these organizations will make good choices. However, the result has all too often been community service organizations with poor track records of efficiency and efficacy. This article is aimed towards transforming these community services and to achieving those principles.

The need for transforming community services

Especially in the current period of economic recovery, where both governments and households are typically devoting less time and resources towards charity work and the philanthropic sector as they try to normalize their own finances, efficiency and effectiveness have become increasingly important for community service initiatives. In order to attract attention, funding and staff (whether paid or volunteers), these organizations need to demonstrate that funding provides good value for cost in terms of what it delivers, and that even though it is an organization devoted to providing some social good, it can still function efficiently and without waste.

Recognizing these demands, many community services organizations are now transforming themselves to incorporate more business principles, at least in terms of being held accountable for results. Doing so requires an in depth look at the practices and operations of the organization, and measuring and defining success or impact in ways that can be clearly understood by others.

Important items for consideration

One critically important step for transforming a community services organization to meet the above mentioned demands is to consider impact—what is the mission statement or key objectives of the organization, and how well is it meeting these objectives? Traditionally, the philanthropic sector has tried to use measuring of inputs to judge this—money disbursed, public talks held, etc. However, increasingly, organizations are turning to output and outcome oriented measures of success.

Measuring outputs refers to the specific things the community service organization accomplishes—for example, textbooks provided to schools, trees planted in a deforested area, malaria nets distributed in a at risk-area. Outcomes refer to the broader transformations that these outputs are believed to achieve—literacy rate improved, carbon dioxide offset, malaria rate reduction. Defining and measuring these two sets of indicators will help improve the efficacy of the organization and also set clearer lines of accountability.