This post is one in a series of Featured Listening Posts highlighting Listening Post Project participants employing innovative strategies and techniques to address the key challenges we have analyzed in recent Listening Post Soundings.
The Listening Post Project selected the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (BRI) as a Featured Listening Post because of its effective use of new practices. To learn more about the Institute and its involvement with the Listening Post Project, the Project spoke with Branka Primetica, Senior Research Analyst, and Linda Noelker, Senior Vice President at BRI.
Our Sounding revealed that your organization is more innovative than most. Why do you think this is the case? What structures/systems do you have in place that encourage innovation?
The Benjamin Rose Institute (BRI) encompasses a unique mix of services, research, and policy institutes. Collaboration on a variety of projects is essential to innovative practice and service programs. This collaboration allows BRI to remain competitive when seeking grant opportunities. In addition, the Board of Directors promotes a collaborative culture by investing endowment funds to launch new ideas and programs, many of which are strongly encouraged to develop their own revenue streams.
A prime example of a research-based collaborative model stems from a research project conducted in the late 1990’s called The Cleveland Alzheimer’s Managed Care Demonstration. This project emerged from a partnership between a managed health care system and a community-based agency. The Margaret Blenkner Research Institute (MBRI) worked with these two systems to deliver a service called Care Consultation and to test its effectiveness on health and well-being outcomes with Alzheimer’s patients and their family caregivers. After a decade of subsequent local and national research projects related to Care Consultation, it emerged to its current state, which is an established program within BRI’s services sector with grant support from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving/Johnson & Johnson and BRI’s endowment. Current activities include a strong emphasis on implementing a client pay structure, marketing, and planning for program sustainability beyond the grant period.
What resources do you rely on to learn about promising innovations?
BRI relies on the knowledge and experience of its staff and the Board of Directors to learn about promising innovations. In addition, national and local conferences, membership in a variety of professional associations and advisory committees, and being well-informed about how policy and research impact innovations are critical to this learning process. Lastly, BRI’s vision of innovative research, policy and service programs is influenced by the interests and priorities of funders, including government and non-government entities.
How do you ensure that your programs/services are effective? What types of performance measurements do you use most regularly, and why?
The organization ensures that programs and services are performing at an optimal level by obtaining feedback from clients and consumers. An annual satisfaction survey collects information on satisfaction ratings and whether clients have received enough information on a series of topics from their case managers, social workers, nurses, and other direct care staff. In addition, output measures are collected on the number of clients served, geographical location, and other demographic characteristics. Research projects, including randomized control trials, involve a far greater level of data collection and analysis of outcomes, such as functional status, health status, emotional well-being, and several other measures. The organization adheres to the standards of the Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and receives its accreditation, and successfully passes the service program audits and reviews by its funders. On a macro level, the organization prepares a strategic plan every three years, measures growth performance, and reports results to the Board of Directors and staff.
Our survey found that key barriers to adopting innovations are lack of funding and lack of growth capital. How did your organization move beyond these barriers to adopt innovations? What can other nonprofits learn from your experiences?
The Board of Directors supports innovative practices by providing investment capital from BRI’s endowment in an effort to launch new revenue opportunities. In addition, collaboration among the three institutes of the organization and partnerships with government and non-profit organizations increases eligibility for grant opportunities and funding. Innovative ideas and programs require financial support in today’s competitive environment. Failure to do so will result in a stagnant organization that will decrease in its ability to secure funding and sustain itself.
Has your organization experienced any other major changes over the past few years? If so, why?
Major funding cuts from government entities (federal, local, and state), limited foundation support, and an increasingly competitive grant environment has forced BRI to consider other options. Direct care staff is becoming more responsible for marketing their services and expertise using a revenue-seeking structure in addition to the organization’s marketing efforts. The competitive grant environment has also led to an increase in collaborative projects between BRI’s service, research and policy institutes and others outside the organization.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing nonprofits like yours right now?
The ability to develop and implement innovation and secure funding streams from a variety of sources.
What is the most rewarding part of your job/being part of the organization?
The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging has served older adults for more than 100 years and is nationally recognized as a leader in the field of aging. It has maintained its mission through careful stewardship of its endowment, visionary leadership by its board, and an unwavering commitment to quality in all its programs and services. For these reasons, the staff is long tenured and proud to be a part of the organization.
What do you find to be most valuable about participating in the Listening Post project?
To learn what other organizations similar to ours are doing in terms of innovation; give and collect feedback on how we can improve ourselves; and be a part of the supportive community that shares the same values of the importance of innovative practice.