2014 Grants Challenge

Care.Connect.Change: UpLIFTing the (people) power of social and emotional supports

We will measure how volunteers working with members to build social and personal foundations will accelerate their move out of poverty.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We will measure how volunteers working with members to build social and personal foundations will accelerate their move out of poverty.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits all of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

South LA

Los Angeles

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We uphold that more connected people are more likely to manage crises and move out of poverty. In LIFT-LA’s Care.Connect.Change. Project, low-income Angelenos map to jobs, a safe home, and a better future for their families by partnering with volunteer Advocates-- trained problem-solvers who work with Members to set and achieve goals. Using our innovative feedback tool, Constituent Voice, we can show that by strengthening all three aspects of members’ multi-dimensional well-being (personal, social, and financial foundations), people are more likely to achieve greater sustained economic mobility and stability. Results will influence other LA social service organizations to adopt a more human-centered approach to addressing poverty.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Care: Our approach is driven by a network of volunteer advocates who work to help people who often lack the resources and networks of support they need to overcome crises and get ahead.

• Recruit and train a diverse body of 50 advocates serving at least 8 hours/wk on advocacy skills, important and relevant social issues and knowledge of community resources

• Train volunteer advisors-- professionals who possess valuable financial, legal, and therapeutic expertise, to act as on-call coaches and experts for our advocates

• Train former members who have reached their goals to become LIFT advocates –powerful beacons of hope and resiliency

• Recognize our volunteer commitment and impact with Appreciation Days

• Engage advocate alumni, the best “evangeLIFTs.” to remain involved after their time of service

Connect: Members build stronger personal, social, and financial foundations that help to lift them out of poverty.

• Members and advocates build a relationship that is member-led, goal-oriented, strengths-based, and rooted in dignity and respect

• Together, members and advocates partner to make progress on goals in housing, education, and/or employment and work to strengthen community connections, supportive relationships, and positive role models

• Our online database, Link, helps advocates connect to community resources that meet members’ needs and track progress against goalsThe 2nd annual Imaginate! Member Appreciation Day will honor and celebrate community (Imaginate! attracts another 100 volunteer advocates)

Change: We show that designing solutions around what members tell us they need is a powerful way to achieve results.

• Evaluate member feedback through Constituent Voice (CV), using tested customer relationship techniques used in the corporate world, adapted to the context of economic development (where people’s choice is often limited by the predominance of aid agencies and traditional service providers).

• Members to fill out short online surveys to give feedback on the emotional and social aspects of our model; LIFT collects and analyzes the responses, triangulating economic progress against goals

• Change the way we design and implement our program to improve performance and more effectively drive better results for our members

• Share results and program adjustments with other LIFT stakeholders and communicate impact to influence other nonprofits in the area to become more accountable to the people they serve.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CONNECT today? In 2050?

Because it’s hard for anyone to find the right tools when navigating a complex system on their own, each of our members is paired with an advocate who sticks with them as they build the skills and access the resources needed to achieve economic stability. Advocates become the social network for disenfranchised Angelenos, providing one-on-one support and helping them connect to their community. The advocate engages the member in a goal-setting process to chart their own path to stability, based on immediate needs (e.g. shelter, food) and long-term aspirations (e.g. employment, affordable housing). During the process, they help build members’ confidence, connect to resources and support networks, and navigate to self-determined success.

LIFT-LA is also training the next generation of leaders and citizen innovators—sending our alumni advocates into civic life with a changed perception of those living in poverty, and a lifelong commitment to social justice. No matter what field a volunteer advocate decides to move on to, their time with LIFT will forever affect their understanding of poverty and the power of community service.

A sense of belonging extends beyond knowledge of community resources. It’s about knowing your voice is valued. In addition to civic engagement in meaningful service, we will also use CV to solicit member feedback and establish the correlation between personal and social foundations and economic stability. CV quantifies the importance of emotional and social supports by asking members to rate factors like: the member-advocate partnership, the tools and support advocates provide, having a role model in the community, and connections to community resources in helping members achieve their goals.

We believe that if we reached out to help our neighbor more often, LA would be a very different place. Poor people deserve the same supports that we all need to thrive—people in our corner, self-efficacy, and access to resources. However, systems designed to aid the most vulnerable populations are fragmented, wrought in bureaucracy, and based on false perceptions of the poor. This dichotomy is a contributing factor to LA being one of the poorest yet richest counties in the county. LIFT’s deployment of CV will serve as a cutting-edge model for other human service agencies in LA, helping them reach a new standard of service informed by member feedback that helps Angelenos better connect with their community.

Whom will your project benefit?

LIFT Members:

One in four Angelenos lives in poverty. In the area surrounding LIFT-LA’s office, the poverty rate is even higher – with 35% of people living below the poverty line. The south LA neighborhood where LIFT-LA is located is also characterized by a 17% unemployment rate (higher than unemployment in LA, California, and the US), substandard housing, and low educational attainment. While the majority of LIFT’s member base comes from this area, LIFT-LA receives members from around the county, reflecting the following demographics: 72% unemployed, 31% homeless or in unstable housing, 46% do not have health insurance, and 41% make less than $500 per month. Many come to LIFT after they have experienced a "shaky ground" moment -- a layoff, illness, eviction. Some were employed for 10 years and lost a job, others fell behind on paying rent. Poverty is a multi-faceted problem and all of its associated issues—unemployment, homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, health problems—are interlinked.

LIFT welcomes over 1,000 members each year wherever they are on the path to stability, and fills the gap in the social service system by offering individualized support and serving those who do not meet eligibility requirements of other agencies. LIFT members set goals (often within employment, housing, income stabilization, childcare, education) and work with an advocate to take the steps needed to achieve them.

LIFT Volunteer Advocates:

The majority of our volunteers are college students (from USC, CSUN, Azusa Pacific, College of Mt. St. Mary’s, CalState LA and others) while other volunteers are LA residents with the passion and time to offer. Advocates commit to serving at least 8 hours/week during their engagement, but many serve as many as 20 hours/week. Most LIFT of these advocates are bilingual able to provide services in Spanish to our majority monolingual population. LIFT also engages specialists and community leaders, such as former LIFT members who have achieved their goals, retirees, corporate professionals, veterans, to serve as advisors to advocates at LIFT’s site.

LIFT-LA stakeholders (advisors) who want to serve but are unable to make the 8-hour minimum commitment, facilitate one-hour specialized group workshops for LIFT members. For instance, in Beyond the Bank, LIFT-LA’s financial literacy workshop series, professionals serve as volunteer instructors alongside Economics students in USC’s Joint Education Program (USC service learning initiative).

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

As one of LIFT’s seminal values is collaboration, an essential part of our model is creating reciprocal partnerships with strong social service organizations to provide comprehensive member service. We are embedded in the LA social service community and often referred to as the “safety net for the safety net” by grateful community partners who cannot serve families (due to eligibility restrictions) or provide the individualized support LIFT offers. LIFT connects members to its base of trusted community partners throughout LA. Confirmed collaborators include:

• The Magnolia Place Community Initiative (MCI) unites 75+ organizations in an effort to create scalable community improvement. As many of the organizations in the MCI are focused on supporting children, LIFT fills the gap with a dual-generation approach to poverty alleviation helping parents work towards achieving financial stability to support their family unit. LIFT-LA is truly the partner that MCI has been waiting for— the connective tissue mobilizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the network, and making sure that community members understand, access, and utilize the resources available to them. LIFT-LA will be working with MCI to track these warm hand offs made to other partner agencies.

• Alliance for Children Rights, SAJE, Connect LA, EARN, REDF, 211, Communities in Schools, Pathways for Children, the Rightway Foundation, and HeadStart are additional confirmed partners. All are doing meaningful specialized work within limited service areas. With its nimble approach, LIFT-LA is able to increase the capacity of the social service sector to provide more customized and comprehensive support.

• Colleges and Universities throughout LA. USC awarded LIFT-LA for our partnership in community engagement.

• Capital Group Companies employees volunteer as Advisors and financial experts with LIFT-LA’s Beyond the Bank workshop series.

• Keystone Accountability works with LIFT to develop and test a system to collect continuous client and volunteer feedback. Keystone is an expert in gathering, analyzing, and amplifying client voices in order to foster a culture of accountability. Keystone’s founder and CEO, David Bonbright, worked with LIFT over the last year to design CV, and will continue working closely with LIFT’s Executive and Program Team to effectively implement CV in LA. We are excited about this partnership and its potential to ensure our responsiveness to the needs of our members in LA.

How will your project impact the LA2050 CONNECT metrics?

Rates of volunteerism

Adults getting sufficient social & emotional support

Attendance at cultural events

Percentage of Angelenos that volunteer informally (Dream Metric)

Government responsiveness to residents’ needs (Dream Metric)

Public engagements to spread awareness about CV

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.


• Engage 50 volunteer advocates (8hours/week)

• Expand and train a base of advisors--professionals and specialists in the community with financial, legal, and therapeutic expertise to act as coaches and on call experts for our advocates

• Train Members who have reached their goals as LIFT Advocates

• Engage advocate alumni, the best “evangeLIFTs” of our work to maintain involvement and connection after their time of service

• Partner with new and existing universities, graduate programs, and nonprofit and corporate institutions to engage more volunteer advocates

Government responsiveness to provide sufficient social & emotional support:

Through CV, LIFT-LA will ask members to rate the personal, social, and financial foundations LIFT provides. 80% of members will believe LIFT helps them build strong personal foundations (self-confidence, ability to succeed). 50% of members will believe that they have a stronger understanding of community connections and supports because of LIFT. Constituent Voice is at the forefront of nonprofit and government innovation. By implementing CV in the social services world, LIFT joins a handful of organizations that are testing an exciting hypothesis: Relationship metrics are the best available predictor of economic outcomes and impact. By incorporating constituent voice into their performance management plans, nonprofits and government agencies will be able to use feedback to design more effective programs that put participants on a path to success. Constituent voice provides these organizations with the data and results needed to lead the conversation about effective solutions to the persistent problem of poverty. In doing so, they can fundamentally change how we design and deploy social service programs in the U.S

Attendance at cultural events:

Member Appreciation Day and Advocate Appreciation Day celebrates community and widens our member’s support system.

Other-- Public engagements to spread awareness about CV:

• Share results and program adjustments with other LIFT stakeholders and communicate impact to influence other nonprofits in the area to become more accountable to the people they serve

• Publish at least 3 additional blog entries about the implementation of CV

• Launch LIFT’s CV-specific website to keep LIFT’s supporters and the broader community up-to-date with CV findings

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Financial Dimensions:

LIFT measures financial dimensions of well-being using its management system, Link. Link assesses outputs and outcomes on a robust level, tracking metrics like member employment, housing, access to food assistance, and overall stability and how it changes after they have achieved various goals at LIFT. The system allows advocates to document member referrals to community organizations (e.g. referred member to a food pantry, free health clinic) and follow-up to ensure that the referrals helped them achieve their goal. During a member's first meeting, the advocate will walk them through a needs assessment in Link, which asks questions about their employment status, monthly income, public benefits. This initial needs assessment provides the baseline for their work with LIFT and an early opportunity to build trust with the advocate; additional assessments are completed at each meeting to assess whether the member has made progress towards increased stability.

Community Connections:

LIFT will partner with MCI and 211 to measure the level of successful referrals made to community partners that increase a sense of social connectedness for our members

Volunteer/Civic Engagement:

Link also tracks volunteer advocate engagement, including the number of hours and days they’ve served and which members they’ve supported. LIFT also engages in a number of community outreach activities over the course of a year, including events through our partners Communities in Schools, SAJE, and LAANE.

Social and Emotional Supports:

LIFT will use CV to measure the personal and social/community indicators that contribute to a member's economic stability and well-being. CV provides LIFT with a constant stream of feedback from members through short surveys (4-6 questions). LIFT analyzes this feedback alongside financial data measured with Link, to discover which feedback is most predictive of member success. The incorporation of CV allows LIFT to make timely and impactful changes to our services and program model to better meet the needs of members. LIFT has conducted pilots of constituent voice in the Philadelphia and Chicago regions over the past year, and plans to fully implement the evaluation system in LA in September 2014. Early results from the piloted program have demonstrated that members who feel more connected to LIFT and have developed the personal foundations (self-confidence, life skills) during their engagement, achieve more economic outcomes.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

1. “I've battled poverty and disability in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Glendale, and I thought, "What are they going to be able to do for me, these young kids?" I still wasn't sold on using volunteer college students. I was expecting a social worker like almost all agencies. But after my first appointment, I finally got why it could be successful. She [the advocate] had a great zest and enthusiasm, and a fabulous knowledge of databases—a young generation without the experience but the brainpower and hope and no loss of spirit, because it hasn't been beaten out of them. It's a different pace, a complete positive belief that it can get better that let me get out of any sense of hopelessness. My possibilities were wider. If I was with a traditional social worker, I'm positive we'd never thought about this program that's allowing me to buy a house.” – Niki, LIFT member. LIFT offers one of the most unique, transformative, and impactful volunteer engagement models in the nonprofit sector. College students have traditionally been underutilized in the social service sector despite their ability and eagerness to donate vast amounts of time, passion, and dedication to the cause. From technological prowess to expert research abilities, students have a wealth of knowledge and skills that are directly applicable to the needs of low-income communities.

2. In the corporate world, evaluating a mix of rational and emotional customer engagement is a proven predictor of growth, profits, and share value. Customer engagement is a proven predictor of growth, profits and share value. By implementing CV, LIFT is testing an exciting hypothesis: Relationship metrics are the best available predictor of economic outcomes and impact. After implementing a pilot in LIFT Chicago and Philadelphia, we found that the most predictive factor correlated with financial success is the extent to which Members agree with the statement “I am more connected to the community and community resources thanks to LIFT.” This factor is more predictive than even service quality– and more than twice as predictive as the question that is most predictive for corporations: “I would recommend X to friends and family.” Based on this data, we have redesigned the part of our intervention that connects Members to other programs or agencies that can help meet their needs, so we can better support their connections to community resources.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

LIFT-LA's strong, capable leadership team is key to ensuring successful implementation of its Care. Connect. Change. Project. LIFT-LA is led by Executive Director, Michelle Rhone-Collins, who brings more than 20 years of experience working in the community development and nonprofit field. Juan Aquino, Director of Programs, is responsible for the management and operations of all programs, including recruiting and training advocates. He comes to LIFT-LA with extensive experience in public policy advocacy in South LA. Senior Development Manager, Jessica Vom Steeg, comes to LIFT most recently from Chrysalis, where she managed individual and corporate giving.

LIFT-LA recently hired new staff members, who will be critical to implementing the project and sustaining the community connections and CV after the grant has ended. New staff and roles in this project include the following:

• 3 Member Service Fellows (MSFs) – These Fellows are responsible for conducting high-engagement member service, meeting with members for 60-minute meetings on a full-time basis. The increase in MSFs on board enables LIFT-LA to maintain quality member service, and have volunteers serving as experts to support Advocates during their member meetings. They are equipped with knowledge of community resources.

• Development Fellow and Development Manager – The increased capacity on LIFT-LA’s Development team will enable LIFT to sustain funding and support of its project after funding from the Challenge Grant has ended. The Development Fellow is a new position, partially funded by AmeriCorps.

• Program Fellow – The Program Fellow will support the Program Coordinator and Program Director. The team will expand community partnerships (for member referrals and universities for volunteer engagement), managing LIFT’s database – Link – to track outcomes and outputs. The Program team will also coordinate the launch of CV and ensuring advocates and staff are well-trained with its functionality. The Program Fellow is a new position, partially funded by AmeriCorps.

In addition, after conducting pilots of its Constituent Voice tool in LIFT’s Philadelphia and Chicago sites over the past year, LIFT feels confident in its ability to launch the tool in LA in September, and stay on track with its implementation plan. LIFT-LA will be prepared to administer advocate training to prepare for its implementation, and will engage LIFT’s national program team in helping analyze the data.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

1. While engaging a large proportion of college students as volunteer advocates in LIFT is an incredible asset to our work, there are also challenges inherent in college schedules. Member appointments are more limited during these weeks, making it difficult for members to continue making progress on their goals. To address these challenges, LIFT-LA has focused on engaging more professionals and non-traditional to diversify our volunteer pool and address this gap in service. We will also host group workshops for our members during these times (like job interview preparation or financial aid workshops for parents). LIFT-LA advocates and staff continue to create innovative solutions and strategies to address lower volunteer office capacity during these weeks.

2. Regarding the implementation of CV, when LIFT piloted the system in Chicago and Philadelphia, we originally had some difficulty with getting buy-in from our volunteer advocates required to ask the members to fill out the surveys, resulting in low member response rate. To ensure that advocates are fully engaged in the CV process, will hold informational sessions about CV, create scripts and talking points for advocates and junior staff, and engaged staff in the design of CV training for advocates. Giving the staff and advocates ownership in the implementation process will help support CV and maintain a strong survey response rate.