September 27, 2012 Back to All Blogs

NeighborWorks America: Success Measures

How did one small division of the country’s preeminent leader in affordable housing and community development—NeighborWorks—become one of the most indispensable resources for those trying to improve American communities?  In two words: vision and execution.

Back in the late 1990s—before the power of the Internet was fully realized, and before “data-driven decision-making” was a common term—the upstart social enterprise, Success Measures, knew what community development organizations and their funders needed to be successful in a scarce funding environment:

  • To do more with less;
  • To document what works; and
  • To target scarce funds to initiatives that will have a high likelihood of success.

This vision, along with years of hard work and execution on the part of the nation’s leading community development practitioners, has resulted in one of the most innovative and useful tools of its kind: the Success Measures Data System (SMDS).

United with NeighborWorks in 2004, Success Measures helps nonprofits build strategies to evaluate the performance of their initiatives, collect and analyze data and share performance results with their stakeholders.  Success Measures launched its original SMDS to empower organizations to:

  • Design their own community evaluations from hundreds of proven Success Measures outcome indicators and data collection tools;
  • Collect quantitative and qualitative data from a wide range of community stakeholders;
  • Analyze outcomes within and across communities;
  • Centralize data that had never before been centralized; and
  • Share the results with funders and the communities they serve.

Over time, the SMDS has proven its worth by helping thousands of communities improve living conditions for their residents.  And, just as it did back in the 1990s, Success Measures is taking the necessary steps to make sure its clients have what they need to succeed in the future.  In 2011, Success Measures selected Pantheon to partner with them to build its next generation SMDS—something that could provide more power, more efficiencies and more value to its customers.

“SMDS is a system that has worked very well,” said Maggie Grieve, NeighborWorks director of Success Measures. “Pantheon is rebuilding the system to current technology standards. We chose Pantheon because they had done other complex systems that arrayed indicators and managed complex data in a simple, straightforward way.”

Pantheon worked with NeighborWorks to design an application that would allow stakeholders to more accurately and efficiently collect field-based data, analyze the data from within the system itself, and engage end users, evaluators, investors and the public.

“Organizations in this field are often thinly resourced and don’t have a lot of time to spend on these important activities,” Grieve said. “We want to give them the tools they need, and those that can be shared across the field are of high value.”

NeighborWorks has appreciated Pantheon’s ability to explain technical information to staff, Grieve said. “Pantheon was able to explain the new system and what it would be able to do, and with a complete understanding of what the old system did,” she said. “They have invested time to understand our business and our goals, as well as the technology. They’ve been able to reflect that in the work on the new system. I have a lot of confidence in their approach and responsiveness.”