Moving Dallas Neighbors Up the Ladder of Financial Success

In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, one in four households do not have sufficient assets to live for three months (at the federal poverty level) should it experience a loss of income.

With this startling statistic in mind, Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) brought an initiative called the Working Families Success (WFS) model to North Texas as a way to move low-income families from a burdened existence to one of financial independence.

Using the model that was originally developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the early 2000s, nonprofits provide an integrated service approach to help clients improve their financial outlook and build assets. The approach, which is woven into a nonprofit’s existing structure, “bundles” three elements: employment services, income support, and financial coaching.

CFT partnered with Measuring Success as part of the support the foundation provided for select nonprofits to become Working Families Success centers – family-friendly venues that offered the bundled services for the purpose of increasing the economic well-being of clients, often referred to as “neighbors” within the model. Measuring Success worked with CFT and the cohort of nonprofits to develop a common template for collecting data that could be used to demonstrate short- and long-term successes as well as the collective impact of the WFS model in North Texas. The nonprofits were able to use the data to discover what worked and what needed adjusting, and to share success stories.

Wende Burton, community philanthropy director for CFT, said the data that has been collected since the WFS program started three years ago has helped the foundation and the nonprofits uncover key insights to help improve living conditions of the working poor in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One of the findings was that clients who received bundled services received a salary that was 176 percent greater than those who don’t use multiple services.

The cohort of non-profits is a mix of faith-based and community agencies. As each client seeks services, he or she is asked a variety of questions to help each agency create a profile of the client’s situation at the time services are sought. The extensive list includes such questions including: do they currently have a job, what kind of housing are they in, and what are their financial and personal goals. The answers to the questions provide a good starting point for working with the client to define the service path that is best suited to address their plans and goals.

As part of a coaching process that is also an integral part of the model, clients provide updates on their progress at regular check-in sessions. Information collected during check-ins is reported to Measuring Success quarterly so that measuring the variables can align among the agencies and across the variety of services being provided. The inputs are flexible because each agency might define and conduct a check-in differently.

Irrum Anwar, project manager for Measuring Success, said that some specific pairings of services show an obvious exponential benefit. If a client goes through job training and then employment placement services, that obviously works well together. If the client then receives financial coaching, the benefit is magnified.

While there is some apprehension among clients to share financial information, especially as they begin to achieve their financial goals, there was also apprehension among the agencies to share their outcomes with their peers in the cohort. But over time, they have seen the value in reviewing the data as it helps in tracking the actual progress of their programs. Measuring Success provides a quarterly view of each agency’s data that allows them to analyze and drill into the findings.

Kassidy Birdsong is one of the program managers for a non-profit in the cohort, CitySquare. She said she appreciates being able to have a visual and user-friend representation of the data.

“It enabled me to pull out exactly what I needed to tell the story of all the work we’ve done over the past year,” she said. “I was able to show the panel how much we know about using data and how many crucial outcomes we are able to track. This alone was impressive, not to mention the actual figures shared on how households are improving. We truly appreciate all your excellent work throughout the cohort process and thanks especially for the support with this big ask.”