Measuring What Matters: United Way of Greater Milwaukee

CASE STUDY: Milwaukee, WI – A Case Study of Greater Milwaukee

The Challenge of Measuring Impact

United Way of Greater Milwaukee¹ (UWGM) touches the life of 1 in 4 people in their community.

They do this by investing $46.5 million a year to support a network of 160+ programs in over 80 agency program partners all working to improve the areas of Education, Income and Health community-wide. UWGM investments made it possible for more than 341,000 people to be served in 2012-132.

In addition to the services they help make possible UWGM supports several collaborative efforts aimed at addressing broad social issues like childhood development, teen pregnancy and infant mortality.

No one doubted agency program partners made a positive impact on the lives of the people they served.

Countless client success stories confirmed that they were making a difference and year end reports showed the performance outcomes their clients were achieving. The results were great!

The challenge they faced was measuring not just the program’s individual impact on clients, but measuring the combined impact all of the programs were having in a particular issue area to determine if their investments were in fact contributing to making an impact across the entire community.

“We needed to broaden our outcome measurements and show collective impact to donors across our issue areas of Education, Income and Health.”
Dawn Helmrich, Director of Data and Outcomes
United Way of Greater Milwaukee

UWGM’s solution to this challenge was The Community Outcomes Project.

Started in 2007, the project’s goal was to create a uniform way to measure program outcomes and indicators so that, when combined, the results would capture a picture of the overall community impact made possible by UWGM.

The Community Outcomes Project was designed to help UWGM identify promising practices that benefit the lives of people and enhance the community’s ability to address emerging issues. The project was built on more than a decade of work to help funded programs measure meaningful program-level outcomes and indicators. Today more than 70 programs track and report uniform outcomes and indicators, providing a complete picture of their collective impact across issue areas!

Developing the Data System

The strong foundation of individual program-level outcomes and indicators allowed United Way of Greater Milwaukee (UWGM) to convene funded programs in each of their community impact issue to select which outcomes should be shared by all programs to best measure their collective impact, beginning with Youth Development (YD) programs.

The process was divided into six (6) steps:
1. Identifying a Common Issue Area
2. Identifying Partners/Stakeholders
3. Identifying/Developing Appropriate Outcomes and Indicators
4. Developing a Uniform Data Measurement Tool
5. Piloting the Project
6. Implementing the Project

Through a year-long process of program engagement, research into best practices and facilitated planning sessions, shared outcomes and indicators were identified and adopted by all YD programs. The process was then repeated to develop shared outcomes and indicators in all 23 UWGM’s Community Impact issue areas. Released in 2008, The Community Outcomes Project Report outlines the full development process.

“It was clear that if United Way could successfully determine common outcomes, it would be easier to share the impact funded agencies were having on the community. We focused our efforts, became more strategic and had the benefit of learning best practices from others who were working to achieve similar results.”
Anthony McHenry, Executive Director
Silver Spring Neighborhood Center

UWGM had embarked on a new way to measure community impact, but was struggling to efficiently and effectively collect and analysis shared outcome and indicator data across programs.

At first they relied on programs to track and submit data on an Excel spreadsheet. Data was then uploaded into an access database by their IT department, downloaded back into Excel and filtered to do data analysis, which was time consuming and often uncovered inconsistency in the program data.

After researching several online software systems, UWGM turned to Seabrooks for help building a data system that met their needs. Seabrooks had successfully managed their community investments for 6 years through a software system called e-CImpact.

“When customers say they need our help to do more in their community — we find a way to make it happen.”
Patti Brooks
Seabrooks Founder and President

In less than two years, Seabrooks and UWGM built i-CResults, a cloud-based data measurement and analysis tool. UWGM now has the ability to collect and analyze results across all funded programs in an issue area and easily transfer the results directly into their community investment process through e-CImpact!

1 As of February 1, 2015 United Way of Greater Milwaukee will merge with United Way of Waukesha County to become United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
2 Duplicated count