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It’s all about the money: Three ways to share your program’s value

By Jaime Ballard

Piggy bank and calculator
"Investing" by 401(K) 2013 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
I work for the Center for Research and Outreach (REACH) Lab conducting analyses and disseminating research from the REACH Lab to researchers and policy makers. 

What is something you’ve bought that you feel great about? 

When my first baby was born, we bought a cradle swing, and it was the only place the baby would sleep! I would walk by my sweet baby sleeping in the swing and think, “That is the best $80 that has ever been spent.”

This is exactly the feeling we want our funders to have about our youth work – that they clearly see the benefits of their investment. Return on investment (ROI) is a way to show a program’s value in dollars.  Here are three ways we can use this approach in youth programming:   

Share return on investment statements in your focus area

Sharing even one sentence of the research on ROI in your focus area can help stakeholders see their funding as an investment, rather than a cost. Two examples: 
  • For every $1 invested in nutrition programming, $16 is returned to the economy (including mortality, morbidity, school attainment, labor productivity, and health care costs) - International Food Policy Research Institute.
  • Every $1 invested in afterschool programs saves at least $3 by increasing kids’ earning potential, improving kids’ performance at school, and reducing crime -Afterschool Alliance.

Report your individual program’s return on investment

If you are tracking outcomes in your program, there are straightforward ways to calculate your own ROI!  There are many social ROI investment approaches that help calculate the monetary benefits of youth programming outcomes, including some applied to Extension programming. They boil down to three steps: 
  • Measure change in an outcome. Find a simple way to measure impact in a key area.  This could be the number of youth who say they are saving after financial education, or increased scores in a science knowledge test after a workshop. 
  • Pair the change in outcomes with a monetary value. Youth programming may not directly target money-making, but it is closely linked to many monetary outcomes!  For example, healthy eating is linked to reduced health care costs, and pursuing a degree in STEM is linked to increased earning.   
  • Calculate the costs of the program. CostOut is a free, handy online tool to calculate program cost.

Once you have this information, you can multiply the change in outcomes by the monetary value and subtract program cost.  

Example: Let’s say we run three trainings for volunteer youth mentors.  Before we start, there is high mentor dropout, and only 12 out of 25 mentors stays engaged for the whole year. After the trainings, 18 out of 25 mentors stays engaged!  That means another 252 hours of volunteering; since the national value of a volunteer hour is $29.95, that’s a $7,547 benefit.  If the trainings cost $5,000 to run, that’s a return of $1.51 for every $1 invested.

Share what would happen without the program

For programs without ROI information, leaders can describe what the impact of stopping the program would be.  For example, a program might serve youth without access to other programming – this is powerful context to share with stakeholders.  Critically, there are currently no ROI methodologies that account for equity benefits, and we must include equity benefits in any summary of impact.  

When we share the monetary benefits of our programs, we help stakeholders see their engagement as an investment.  We can see a larger, long-term picture of the returns on our work.  

How do you help stakeholders see your program as an investment?

-- Jaime Ballard, Center for Research and Outreach (REACH) Lab

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