Hope, dignity and quality of life are also valuable outcomes, even when measured in hours.

I continue to ruminate on the coming onset of 4 star rating systems for nonprofit societal outcomes.

One of the concerns gnawing at me is how we may end up valuing only big societal measures and foresake the equally important small things that improve the quality of life of individual human beings.

I was wondering how my client, Providence In-Town Churches Association (PICA), would measure up in such a rating system.

For example, here’s one of their success stories:

Joe came to us after seven years in prison. He was staying with his sister but left because she lived in public housing and he didn’t want her to lose her home because of him.

Joe told us that prison saved his life because he came out clean of his drug habit.  He found a job doing body repair work. We gave him a monthly bus pass to get back and forth to work and to his meetings.

We took him to look at apartments. When he found one he could afford, we connected him with Road Home money to pay his damage deposit.

We still provide bus passes. He has his son every weekend and has reconnected with his family. Through us, his son was “adopted” for Christmas giving. We gave him a Thanksgiving basket so he could invite his family to his apartment for the holiday.

While we are still providing Joe with help, his life is a lot different than it was a year ago.

PICA doesn’t pretend that it will eliminate hunger or homelessness from the city of Providence, the kind of social impact that these big rating systems are looking to steer donors to.

What it does best is serve up a heaping portion of dignity, hope, kindness, and personal advocacy. It is the support system and family for those who have none.

PICA serves over 200 meals, caring and kindness every Friday night and runs a daily client choice food pantry that is now serving 1,300 people each month.

It also provides some very personal assistance to individuals who are living on the street through its homeless outreach program. Maybe  toiletries are needed, or a bus pass or phone call.  Or they help track down housing or assistance from another social service agency. And then make sure the person actually gets there because they know that “referrals” aren’t always enough to find help. They might spend the day with a client as they go to court. Or help get a birth certificate necessary to apply for benefits.

PICA has developed a reputation among the homeless for its non-judgmental street outreach and for serving people unable to access services at other agencies. Some of the 1,000 people it assists annually through this outreach program have been banned from other service providers. Some of its clients can’t sit in crowded waiting rooms due to mental illnesses. Others may have given up on themselves.

PICA treats everyone with respect and caring, honoring their dignity and worth. They charge no fee for services, and turn no one away. It does this with a handful of staff, hundreds of volunteers and a budget under $200k.

Yes, they compile the data their funders need. And many times their assistance changes the course of a life. Which is what they always work toward.

But even if they just make  life better for a day, or help someone feel dignity for just a few hours, that’s still success in their eyes.

And mine too.

So while the big funders are looking for the big systems change and “killer aps” that will eliminate hunger, poverty and homeless for all time, PICA will still be serving the person who can’t wait and could use a hand-up today.

And they, and the other PICAs of the world, need our financial support too.


Update: In 2009, PICA was serving 1300 a month in its food pantry. Today in 2013, it is the largest food pantry in RI, serving over 8,000 people a month – half of whom are children in families in need.

2 responses to Hope, dignity and quality of life are also valuable outcomes, even when measured in hours.

  1. Laura Deaton

    Gayle – I, too, am worried about the rating systems and this posting is an excellent example of why. I’ve been assured that organizations that provide “outputs” like providing food and shelter will be valued under these systems, but my worry is that they only will if they serve huge quantities of people. I continue to believe that small community-based nonprofits like PICA really ARE creating real community change, whether the big guys thinks so or not. One fewer person who is hungry is an OUTCOME to me. Thanks for such a heartfelt glimpse into a small community-based nonprofit.


    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thank you. I think there is a real need for people like you and me to keep making the case for the not easily measurable. And for programs and outcomes that are small but matter, or organizations that can’t or shouldn’t be “scaled up” (though they could be replicated). While I am a very big advocate of organizations doing their best to measure their change impact and becoming learning organizations, it’s these rating systems that make me crazy.
      – Gayle

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