Assessing Human Service Organizations
As mentioned in the reading materials for this unit, human service organizations operate in a unique framework that requires them to understand their organizational domain, cultivate appropriate organizational culture, and be competent in the areas of diversity and relationships with various stakeholders. In your view, which three areas of assessment mentioned in Chapter 8 of your Social Work Macro Practice text are critical for building healthy collaborative cooperation with other sectors of the U.S. economy? Explain the rationale behind your choice, using at least three credible sources.
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Framework for Organizational Assessment
As discussed in Chapter 7, contingency theorists propose that organizations are best understood by examining both external and internal forces that influence their functioning. Similarly, Schein (2010) explains that organizational culture develops in response to two archetypical problems faced by any collective—how to adapt to and survive in the external environment, and how to create internal processes that will ensure capacity to adapt and survive. Beginning in Task 1 by gathering contextual information, we then move to Task 2 (external) and Task 3 (internal) aspects of the focal organization. Having learned about the external and internal work of the organization, one is better able to assess the organization’s cultural competency in Task 4. See Figure 8.1 for an overview of the tasks in the framework for assessing an organization.
Task 1: Identify Focal Organization
It may be that you work in a particular organization and are knowledgeable about its background. Or you may be approaching an organization from the outside in an attempt to effect change. Regardless, it is important to identify the history, cultural artifacts, and domain of the organization.
Search for Cultural Artifacts
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What is the history of this organization?
How would you describe the organization’s identity, and is it congruent with its image?
Figure 8.1 Tasks in the Framework for Assessing an Organization
What are the basis for and extent of the organization’s corporate authority?
What is its mission?
What physical, social, and behavioral artifacts are observed?
Every organization has a history, some much longer than others. A chronology of events in the life of the agency may be listed on the agency’s website. Older agencies may have donated their historical records to archives in a local library or historical society. Others may have had a staff member, former leader, volunteer, or scholar write an historical monograph. Whatever form that history takes, it is an important cultural artifact that provides clues to cultural values and assumptions and how they have changed over time.
Equally important are the historical narratives that organizational members tell. Chen (2013) asserts that these stories promote organizational memory and change. Stories provide information on past events and the persons involved as well as interpretations of what happened. They reveal the symbolic meaning in challenges faced and in relational conflicts. Chen goes on to say that sharing historical perspectives is part of relationship building in that organizational members engage newcomers (e.g. new staff, consumers, or other groups and organizations in the community) in communicating about the organization’s narrative. Some organizations will have grand narratives vetted as their dominant stories, and others will focus on pivotal events that symbolize the organization’s legacy.
Founders frame and shape the beginnings of organizational cultures. They, too, become cultural artifacts and icons either through continued participation or through legend. Their actions may become the touchstone with a set of values to which newcomers are oriented even after the culture has changed (Netting, O’Connor, & Singletary, 2007).
Identity and Image
Organizational identity refers to a co-constructed vision for the agency shared by people who play founding, development, staff, and leadership roles (Gioia & Thomas, 1996). Identity is what is unique, core, and enduring to the organization and to which organizational members cling when faced with major challenges (Schmid, 2013). In HSOs, identity may be tied to serving the needs of various population groups, to advocating for system-wide change, or both, depending on how programs are designed and implemented (Almog-Bar & Schmid, 2014). Identity pertains to what insiders want to believe about their organizations or their programs, which becomes particularly important in holding people together in times of change or great uncertainty.
Whereas identity is how organizational members see themselves, image is constructed by persons beyond an organization’s boundaries. Images shift as public perceptions change. For example, a health care organization may be proud of its identity as a leader in the field, but when incoming patients feel they are not well treated, image will not align with identity. Also, as many child welfare organizations have discovered, years of building up a positive reputation for protecting vulnerable children can be damaged literally overnight when one case of a child’s death hits the media. Thus, as organizational identity emerges and changes, so do the images held by multiple constituencies who hear about or come in contact with an organization and the programs it sponsors.
Projecting an organizational identity is often done through branding, selling the organization. Some organizations are iconic, such as the American Red Cross or UNICEF, in that images immediately come to mind. Artifacts that project identity and impact image include documents such as strategic plans, public relations materials, websites, Facebook postings, tweets, and other social media postings. In preparation for a revisioning or strategic planning process, organizations may have conducted an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis). SWOT analyses reveal a great deal about organizational identity.
Corporate Authority and Mission
An agency’s corporate authority forms the legal basis for its operations, and this represents one of the ways it defines its domain. If the organization is public (governmental), its legal basis rests in a statute or executive order. If it is private, its legal basis is in its articles of incorporation. It may be important to examine these documents firsthand, since organizations that are incorporated for one purpose, such as operating the orphanage from which LFS arose, may gradually add new populations and services, such as help for pregnant teens. The changes may be reasonable and well intentioned, but may still result in the agency operating outside its legal authorization. Important sources of information for analyzing corporate authority and mission include the following:
Articles of incorporation, statutes, or executive orders
Bylaws of the organization
Minutes of selected board meetings
Interviews with selected administrators, managers, and staff
A good statement of mission specifies the problems, needs, and/or populations the agency serves, along with client outcomes to be expected. It also states the reason for the agency’s existence, which should not change in fundamental ways unless the reason for existence also changes. Lack of clarity in a mission statement or disparities between the mission and current activities can be signs of a problem. For example, LFS is a prime candidate for reexamining its original mission, which was established when orphanages were both necessary and commonplace. If LFS has not revised this mission, it is unlikely that its current work has any connection to its stated reason for existence. Revisiting and, if necessary, reconceptualizing the mission can begin the process of redirecting operations or sharpening their focus. Box 8.1 illustrates what the wording for the mission statement for LFS might be.
Evidence suggests that clear mission statements can have beneficial effects on employees. For example, results from a study by Clark (2007) showed that familiarity with an organization’s mission statement was positively associated with job satisfaction and with behaviors that tend to strengthen relationships among employees. Table 8.1 depicts a tool for use in assessing agencies’ corporate authority and mission.
Multiple physical artifacts become part of organizational functioning, and they will become evident as one moves through the assessment process. These include
Box 8.1 Example Mission Statement for Lakeside Family Services
The mission of Lakeside Family Services is to help members of our community solve problems facing them. This includes a special concern for families, children, and older adults. Our goal for families is to strengthen relationships and help each family support and care for its members. For children, we work to promote good parenting, quality education, safety, and growth. In collaboration with older adults, we seek to support continued growth and to ensure basic standards for health, health care, housing, and income.
Table 8.1 Assessing Corporate Authority and Mission
Checklist Yes No
1. Are articles of incorporation on file?
2. Is there a written set of bylaws?
3. Are board members and agency director familiar with bylaws?
4. Is there a mission statement?
5. Is the mission one paragraph or less?
6. Does the mission make a statement about expected client outcomes?
7. Are staff aware of, and do they practice in accordance with, the mission statement?
organizational products such as annual reports, organizational charts, job descriptions, case records, and a host of others. The physical environment, pictures on the wall, the language used, the clothing staff wear, rituals and events, and the social interactions between staff and with clients are all cultural artifacts. The question to ask about these artifacts is do they reflect the espoused values within the organization’s mission statement or are there potential discontinuities in what is espoused and actual behavior. Many times, change is needed because there are disconnects. For example, an organization with a mission to serve the neediest clients may have begun focusing primarily on marketing to clients who can pay. Similarly, an organization with a well-written diversity plan may not be serving diverse clients.
Collect and organize date, and apply critical thinking to interpret information from clients and constituencies.
Critical Thinking Question:
What ethical responsibility does a social worker have when she or he discovers discontinuities between espoused values and organizational behavior?
Learn about Organizational Domain
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What is the organization’s domain (e.g., the populations served, the technology employed, and services provided)?
What target populations are recruited or mandated to participate?
How are the costs of client services covered, and how does the organization deal with those clients who cannot pay?
Are there defined legal, geographical, or service areas that establish organizational boundaries?
Without consumers of its services, an organization has no reason to exist. However, some clients are a good fit with an organization’s services while others are not, so most agencies establish definitions of the types of clients they serve. These often take the form of eligibility criteria that clients must meet in order to be considered a fit. Clients who meet the criteria are said to be within the organization’s domain (Levine & White, 1961). An organization’s domain may be understood as a boundary it draws around itself to define what it does and whom it serves.
Domain setting refers to the process by which organizations create a niche for themselves and establish their roles among others within their environment. One part of the process is domain legitimation, in which the organization gains acknowledgment of claims it makes as to its sphere of activities and expertise. Legitimation is not always immediately forthcoming, and there may be gaps between what an organization says are its boundaries, the claimed domain, and what these boundaries actually are, the de facto domain (Greenley & Kirk, 1973).
Consistent with the resource dependency theory, organizations seek to attract clients who fall within their domain, while referring or rejecting those who don’t. This improves operational efficiency but can result in some client groups being systematically disadvantaged by certain criteria or the manner in which they are applied. When assessing organizations, therefore, it is important to address questions such as whether enough clients apply to fill the capacity available, whether many applicants are declared ineligible and turned away, and whether, even after services commence, the number of unserved clients in the community remains large.
Also important in understanding which clients an organization views as resources and which it does not is the financial relationship it has with its clients. In commercial firms, consumers usually pay directly for goods or services they receive, and the organizations carefully design their outputs to meet consumer needs. In human service organizations, however, those who consume the services may be different than those who pay for them. For our purposes, we will define the clients of HSOs as those who receive services, not necessarily those who pay. Clients who cover the cost of their services, either personally or through third-party reimbursement, will be termed full-pay clients. These clients are important resources that agencies seek to attract and are most likely to serve, because the revenues they provide can be used to offset the cost of serving other clients.
Human Rights and Justice
Engage in practices that advance social, economic, and environmental justice.
Critical Thinking Question:
When contracting with private agencies, what are some strategies that may help to ensure that vulnerable populations still are served?
Clients who pay less than the cost of their services or who pay nothing at all are termed non-full-pay clients (Netting, McMurtry, Kettner, & Jones-McClintic, 1990). Because revenues for serving these clients must be generated from other sources (e.g., charitable donations or profits earned from full-pay clients), agencies often do little to attract these clients and may erect eligibility barriers to restrict their numbers. A prominent example of this is the tendency of health-care providers to restrict or refuse services to Medicare or Medicaid recipients because of reimbursement rates viewed as insufficient to cover service costs (Bisgaier, Polsky, & Rhodes, 2012). Restrictions or refusals can also occur with clients who seek relatively costly services or services the agency does not provide.
A complete agency assessment should include a determination of whether the organization makes appropriate efforts to direct clients it rejects to organizations that may be able to serve them. It should also identify formal and informal arrangements among agencies for exchange of clients, whereby those that do not fall within one agency’s domain are referred to others, and vice versa. This increases the likelihood that clients will receive services and that agencies will receive clients they need. Interorganizational relationships of this sort are often viewed as being of equal importance as those with funding sources. Table 8.2 depicts a tool that may be helpful in identifying client populations.
Organizational boundaries may not be as clear-cut as one might think, and boundaries may change over time. Like communities, organizations may have geographical or nonplace parameters. For example, an international advocacy organization has the goal to assist victims of human trafficking (Hodge, 2014). Since this is a global problem and victims are likely to be identified anywhere there is illegal activity, the target population transcends geographical boundaries. Thus, the agency’s domain is geographically broad in scope, even though it is more narrow in terms of whom it targets. In contrast,
Table 8.2 Identifying Client Populations
Client Groups Served
1. Couples or individuals relinquishing children
2. Couples wanting to adopt
3. Foster parent applications
4. Foster parents
5. Individuals in need of personal counseling
6. Families in need of counseling
7. Drug abusers
Demographic Makeup of Client Population
Age (years) Percentage Ethnicity Percentage Gender Percentage Fees Percentage
Under 20 5 American Indian 3 Female 64 Full pay 26
20–29 15 African American 14 Male 36 Some pay 38
30–39 22 Asian American 4No pay 15
40–49 29 Hispanic 19Contract 21
50–59 19 White 60
agencies may have defined geographical boundaries (e.g. jurisdictional boundaries, school districts, planning and service areas, and catchment areas) within which they are mandated to provide services.
Agencies seek to take advantage of available resources, and most are constantly adjusting their domains in order to do so. Trends in the availability of funds from charitable or governmental sources are usually closely watched, and in order to ensure resource flow some agencies may attempt to compete for funds in areas where they have little experience or expertise.
Task 2: Assess the Organization’s Environmental Relationships
As mentioned, organizations have to be able to navigate the external environment beyond their domains and build internal capacity to adapt and survive within that environment. Thus, Tasks 2 and 3 may be thought of as collecting information about organizations’ environments, how they behave in those environments, and how they internally structure themselves (see Figure 8.2).
To understand considerations external to the organization, we use the concept of an organization’s task environment. As noted in our review of the work of James Thompson (1967) in Chapter 7, the task environment consists of elements outside an organization that enable it to operate and that set the basic context for these operations. Thompson notes that, as originally defined by Dill (1958), the task environment includes four key components: consumers, suppliers, competitors, and regulators (pp. 27–28). These are illustrated in Figure 8.3.
Figure 8.2 Organization, Task Environment, and Interface
Figure 8.3 Typical Task Environment for an Organization
Identify and Assess Relationships with Revenue Sources
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What are the agency’s funding sources?
How much and what percentage of the agency’s total funds are received from each source?
What are the nature and quality of the relationship between funding sources and the agency?
Does the organization use volunteers? If yes, how many, and for what purposes?
What in-kind resources (e.g., food, clothing, physical facilities) does the organization receive?
What tax benefits does the organization receive?
In a study of nonprofit agencies’ involvement in political lobbying, Twombly (2002) compared more than 2,000 secular and faith-based organizations and found that the latter tended to have a lower diversity of services and slower rates of service expansion. This appeared to be a result of these organizations’ greater dependency on private contributions, which offers less predictable funding than the more diversified funding base typical of secular organizations. Ruggiano and Taliaferro (2012) found that lobbying occurred in ways that allowed agencies to maintain access to resources while not endangering relationships with other key elements in the environment by appearing to be too aggressive in seeking them. Table 8.3 summarizes these and other points, and it can be helpful in assessing agencies’ relationships with revenue sources.
Table 8.3 Assessing the Relationship to Funding Sources
Relevant Funding Sources Nature of Communication, Length of Relationship, and Changes in Funding
Contract with State Department of Social Services Quarterly site visits; have contracted for 12 years; funding has always stayed steady or increased.
Client Fees Most clients are seen on a weekly basis; they either pay directly or through their insurance plan; client fees have declined 2% in the past three years.
Charitable Donations Largest donations come from church groups; agency staff visit church representatives once a year; donations have increased 3.5 percent in the past year.
Chaidez-Gutierrez and Fischer (2013) studied the dynamics between grassroots organizations in communities of color and philanthropic funders. They found that these relationships may be particularly challenging because of accountability requirements that are developed by dominant cultures that may not mesh well with local communities. Power dynamics and status differentials may result in misunderstandings. It is important to assess these relationships from a critical theory perspective in order to address needed changes in communication and relationship building.
Understanding how an agency is financed is often essential to understanding the agency itself, but this process can be difficult because HSOs typically obtain funds from a multitude of sources. Also, many do not make detailed funding information readily available except where public funds are used and budget documents are a matter of public record.
The first step in assessing organizational funding is to determine the sources from which funds are acquired. The following list details potential sources for HSOs:
Major Cash Revenue Sources for Human Service Organizations
Direct government appropriations
Government purchase-of-service contracts
Direct charitable contributions (from individuals, groups, and associations such as religious groups)
Indirect contributions (e.g., via United Way)
Private grants (e.g., foundation monies)
Fees for service
Direct payments from clients
Payments from third parties (e.g., private or public insurers)
Other agency income
Investments (e.g., interest, dividends, and royalties)
Fundraising events and appeals
The sources of an organization’s funds affect its flexibility in responding to proposed change. Governmental agencies that depend on direct appropriations are likely to have most of their activities rigidly specified by public policy. Nonprofit agencies, which usually receive funds from a wide variety of sources, may have greater flexibility. But with this comes greater uncertainty about the reliability of each source, and even donated funds may come with strings attached. For-profit agencies that depend on paying clients also have greater flexibility than public agencies, but their decision making is driven by demands to return profits to their investors.
Among government organizations, direct appropriations are usually the only source of revenue, including federal, state, county, and local agencies. State, county, and local organizations also may use a mixture of funds from higher levels of government. In general, the lower the level of government, the larger the variety of funding sources used. Among the most important mechanisms for dissemination are block grants (lump-sum federal appropriations in which specific allocations are left to state or local governments), matching funds (which typically provide a certain amount of federal funds for each dollar expended by the receiving agency), and grant programs in which funds are targeted for a specific use and are restricted accordingly. In the vignette regarding Canyon County Child Welfare Department earlier in this chapter, the agency was funded solely by government funds, although from a combination of direct appropriations, block grants, and matching funds.
Many people assume that nonprofit agencies such as LFS in Vignette 2 obtain most of their revenues from donations, but those contributions often make up only a small portion of annual budgets. The most recent figures available show that in 2010, nonprofit organizations received an average of 13 percent of their funds from charitable contributions, 50 percent from fees paid by individuals or other privates sources, 24 percent from fees paid by government sources, 8 percent from government grants, and 5 percent from other sources (Blackwood, Roeger, & Pettijohn, 2012). The 13 percent of nonprofit budgets accounted for by charitable donations is half as much as in 1977, partially due to dropoffs in donations resulting from the economic downturn that began in 2008 (Association of Fundraising Professionals, 2010). This suggests that “charitable organizations” may be more accurately viewed as quasi-public or quasi-fee-for-service organizations, and the most important elements in their task environments will be public agencies with which they contract, along with paying clients or members.
Clients themselves sometimes pay for services from HSOs, but because many are unable to pay it is more common for their costs to be covered by other organizations. This can mean that consumers are a less important part of the task environment of private agencies than insurance companies and other third-party payers who establish criteria and rates for reimbursement. For example, a for-profit counseling agency may draw most of its clients from the employee assistance program of a nearby manufacturing plant; thus relationships with the manufacturer are likely to be the key environmental consideration for the counseling agency. More generally, almost all revenues of HSOs come with strings attached, and decisions on how to spend them often rest more with the funding agency than with the recipient.
Using governmental organizations as an example, a county agency that appears to be subject to local decision-making processes may in fact operate more like a local extension of the state agency that provides the bulk of its funds. A change episode that attempted to influence the use of these funds would be unlikely to succeed unless those seeking change recognize that decision-making power rests with organizations in the agency’s task environment rather than inside its own boundaries.
The number of sources from which an agency’s funds are drawn is also a key consideration. Some agencies with many funding sources may have greater autonomy and flexibility than one with few, because the loss of any single source is less likely to jeopardize the organization as a whole. But the greater the number of funding sources, the more complex the agency’s operations become, as each new source adds another layer of regulatory constraints, program diversity, and accountability expectations. Agencies with a single funding source risk becoming rigid and overspecialized; those with many sources may have difficulty defining or focusing on their mission. Either way, there are advantages and disadvantages.
When considering resources, it is important to remember that actual dollars coming into an HSO are not its only form of resources. Many other assets on which agencies rely are less obvious than cash revenues but sometimes equally important. Three such assets are volunteers, in-kind contributions, and tax benefits.
Volunteers have traditionally been a mainstay of HSOs. As noted in Chapter 2, the entire nonprofit human service sector originated with individual volunteers working together to make their efforts more productive. In the Lakeside Family Services vignette, volunteers were critical to the organization’s early development. Today, the contribution of these individuals to HSOs is enormous. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that “about 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013” in the United States (2014). This number included about 22 percent of adult men and 28 percent of adult women. The median number of hours per years devoted by each volunteer was about 50. Multiplied by the total number of volunteers, this corresponds to 7.7 billion hours of volunteer work which, at an estimated value of $23.07 per volunteer hour during 2013 (Independent Sector, 2014) produces a total monetary value of $173 billion for all volunteering in the United States. According to the BLS report, religious organizations benefitted from the largest number of volunteer hours (33 percent of all hours), followed by educational or youth-oriented services (26 percent) and social or community services (15 percent).
Another type of resource is in-kind contributions of material goods. Examples include food, clothing, physical facilities, real estate, vehicles, and office materials. Sometimes, these are provided for use directly by the agency; at other times, they are intended for resale to generate cash revenues, or for distribution directly to clients. The dollar value of these resources is difficult to calculate, but estimates suggest it is substantial. For example, in 2011 about 23 million individual federal income tax filers claimed noncash charitable contributions, the monetary value of which totaled almost $44 billion (U.S. Internal Revenue Service, 2014).
Tax benefits such as these are particularly important for private, nonprofit HSOs, which are defined in part by their official designation as charitable organizations under section 501(c)(3) of federal Internal Revenue Service regulations. Meeting the requirements of this section allows nonprofit agencies to avoid income taxes that for-profit firms must pay, and this can be a critical benefit in service arenas such as health care, where nonprofit and for-profit hospitals often engage in intense competition for patients and physicians. Tax laws also have important effects on other revenue sources, such as charitable contributions. Changes to state and federal tax codes may encourage or restrict contributions to nonprofit agencies by individuals who itemize deductions on their tax returns. For example, tax deductions claimed for cash contributions (beyond the noncash contributions mentioned in this chapter) totaled more than $31 billion in 2011 (U.S. Internal Revenue Service, 2014), and it is likely that this source of funds for HSOs would drop precipitously if changes in tax laws were to make charitable contributions no longer deductible.
Any assessment of an organization needs to consider noncash resources because its behavior may be understood as efforts to acquire and maximize these assets. For example, organizations that rely heavily on volunteers may seek to protect this resource even over objections by professional staff that volunteers are ill trained for some types of work. Similarly, agencies may alter their structure to take advantage of one of these resources, as with the sizable number of nonprofit agencies that have begun raising funds by collecting donated material goods and reselling them through thrift stores. Attention to noncash resources may also be important in initiating change efforts, as when administrators are presented with opportunities to use noncash resources to add or augment services for which cash resources are not available.
Identify and Assess Relationships with Referral Sources and Other Providers
Relationships with Referral Sources
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What are the major sources of client referrals?
Does demand for services outstrip supply, or is there unused capacity?
What types of clients does the organization refuse (e.g., are there disproportionate numbers of poor persons, senior adults, persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, gays/lesbians, or other groups that are typically underserved)?
As noted earlier, clients are important resources, but individual clients may be viewed as liabilities if they do not fit within an agency’s domain or are unable to pay for services. This may lead to certain groups of clients, including the most needy, being deliberately excluded from access to services, as well as to creaming (taking on less needy clients who can pay or are more likely to succeed). Evidence of creaming has been observed in situations ranging from the allocation of services to cases in child protection (Jud, Perrig-Chiello, & Voll, 2011), to the awarding of training vouchers to the unemployed (Hipp & Warner, 2008), to the rejection of overweight and obese applicants by nursing homes (Zhang, Li, & Temkin-Greener, 2013).
Selection of clients is also driven by the types of clients an agency’s contracts with governmental providers allow it to serve. These dynamics relate to the issue of boundary control, which refers to the ability of the agency to reject clients it does not wish to serve. Boundary control is generally highest in for-profit organizations, where the primary goal is making money, and lowest in governmental organizations, which are intended to provide a safety net for clients who cannot obtain services elsewhere. However, since the early 1980s, governmental policies have favored privatization—the shifting of more services to the private sector. A guiding assumption has been that private sector organizations can provide services more efficiently and effectively than large governmental bureaucracies, and that, in the case of nonprofit organizations, they can also draw on their traditional commitments to addressing poverty to ensure that these clients are served.
Human service agencies adjust their boundaries due to a many factors, and a misunderstanding of these may lead to critical service gaps. One key criterion in boundary setting is the nature of the clients themselves, and being poor or having complex, long-standing problems are characteristics that simultaneously increase the level of need yet decrease the likelihood of being served.
Relationships with Other Providers
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What other agencies provide the same services to the same clientele as this organization?
With whom does the organization compete?
With whom does the organization cooperate?
Is the organization part of a coalition or an alliance?
Relationships among agencies that occupy each others’ task environments can be competitive, cooperative, or a mixture of the two, depending on the circumstances. Table 6.4 in Chapter 6 gave examples of five levels of interaction that represent some of those mixtures.
Competitive relationships characterize circumstances in which two or more agencies seek the same resources (clients, funds, volunteers, etc.) from the same sources. Nonprofit agencies compete among themselves for charitable donations as well as government and private foundation grants, and in some cases government agencies have sought to improve the cost-effectiveness of services by encouraging nonprofits to compete for grant funding. This has not always been successful, however. For example, Howard (2013), found that as dependence on fee-paying clients in nonprofit HSOs increases, their likelihood of serving nonwhite clients decreases, as does the range of service they offer to non-English speakers. Additional consequences included greater competition not only with other nonprofits but with for-profits as well, along with an increase in the frequency of some vulnerable clients being forced to seek services elsewhere.
Direct competition for funds is not inevitable. Cooperative arrangements are also common, as in the case of referral agreements between agencies, which are used as a means of exchanging clients who do not fit the referring agency but are considered resources by the agency to which they are referred. Other agencies have implemented large-scale coalition-building efforts to improve their ability to meet client needs (Eilbert & Lafronza, 2005).
Identify and Assess Relationships with Other Units in the Task Environment
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What state and federal regulatory bodies oversee programs provided by this organization?
With what government agencies does this organization contract for service provision?
What professional associations, licensing and certification boards, and accrediting bodies influence agency operations?
Within an organization’s task environment are groups that may not provide resources but that set the context in which the agency operates. One example is regulatory bodies responsible for establishing acceptable service practices. Some of these may be governmental licensing agencies that inspect and certify the services and physical environment of organizations such as nursing homes, child-caring institutions, and residential treatment facilities. Others may be contracting agencies that enforce adherence to procedural guidelines in order for the organization to be reimbursed for services it provides. Still others may be government revenue departments that levy taxes and monitor financial accounting procedures. Extensive accounting and funding-usage requirements are also imposed by nongovernmental funding sources such as the United Way.
Other organizations that impose some sort of regulatory boundaries include professional associations, labor unions, and accrediting bodies. In general, accrediting bodies certify the operation of organizations as a whole, whereas professional associations and licensing bodies certify the work of individuals. For example, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations (JCAHO) establishes requirements for how member agencies must operate, and loss of accreditation can threaten an agency’s viability by restricting its funding and client referrals. On the other hand, professional organizations such as the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) or state licensing agencies impose standards on how individuals carry out their work within agencies, whether or not the agencies themselves are accredited.
The “general public” is a constituent of almost all organizations, and by their nature HSOs are dependent on societal approval for their activities. The views of members of the general public are not always apparent, however, and public opinion is seldom unanimous, so organizations must decide which of a wide variety of expressed views represents the prevailing attitude. Still another complication is that agencies may be forced to stand against public opinion, as in the case of advocacy organizations that must confront ignorance or discrimination against particular clients or groups.
Within the task environment, public opinion is often conveyed through elected representatives, interest groups, civic organizations, and many others. Another indirect but important indicator of public views is funding sources, where patterns in the availability of dollars can reveal much about topics of interest to wealthy donors, private foundations, and ordinary citizens. Finally, mass media are critical purveyors of public attitudes, although they may highlight the extreme rather than typical opinions. In some cases, this can undermine the effectiveness of umbrella organizations such as the United Way in assessing community needs and distributing funds in more measured and planful ways (Cordes & Henig, 2001).
Table 8.4 Identifying Regulatory, Professional, and Media Organizations
Example Organization Programs Affected
State Department of Child Welfare
County Health Department
Meals on Wheels program
Organizations Issuing Grants and Contracts
Federal Demonstration Grants (www.grants.gov)
State Department of Developmental Disabilities
National Association of Social Workers (www.nasw.org)
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) (www.aamft.org)
Individual and group counseling
Couple and family counseling
Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) (www.jointcommission.org)
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Licensing and Certification Boards
State Social Work Licensing Board
Individual and group counseling
Public Media and Advocacy Organizations
Local Network Television Affiliate
Child maltreatment investigations
Child protective services offer an example of the relationship between agencies, public opinion, and mass media (as both a carrier and shaper of public opinion). Deciding whether to remove an at-risk child from his or her home involves a delicate balancing act between concern for the child’s well-being and concern for parental rights. Egregious cases in which the abuse of a child resulted in death have led to public outcry, followed by legislative changes directing protective service workers to favor the safety of the child when investigating new reports. In other locations, protective service workers have been characterized as “child-snatchers,” prompting elected officials to impose stricter guidelines governing the removal of children.
The key point is that public opinion is dynamic rather than static, and agencies at different times or in different places may encounter widely divergent attitudes and expectations. Identifying important elements in the task environment is thus an ongoing process as public attitudes change and funding methods evolve, and Table 8.4 depicts a tool for use in this process.
Task 3: Assess Internal Organizational Capacity
Consider the examples of Canyon County Department of Child Welfare (CCDCW) and Lakeside Family Services (LFS) presented at the beginning of this chapter. When public organizations such as CCDCW experience problems in productivity, quality of client service, morale, or worker–management relationships, one response might be for an oversight body, such as the county board of supervisors, to hire a management consultant to evaluate the department and its problems. Similarly, in a nonprofit organization such as LFS that has become more professionalized, increased its dependence on government funds, and altered its mission, and now is experiencing funding cutbacks, a consultant may be engaged by the board of directors to conduct a study and recommend strategies for the organization to regain economic self-sufficiency.
Ideally, after interviewing representative staff, consumers, board members, and others, the consultants would be able to document problems such as those identified in the vignettes, formulate working hypotheses about their causes, and recommend solutions or remedies. Following from this approach, consultants often recommend short-term solutions such as staff development and training, employee incentive programs, morale-building activities like social events, relationship-enhancing activities between management and staff, attempts to humanize the chief executive officer, and so forth. The problem is that these steps rarely solve the kinds of fundamental concerns that brought about the need for a management consultant in the first place.
An alternative approach to organizational assessment is to conduct a systematic examination of key organizational elements. Within each element, one could examine ideal models or optimal levels of functioning, as illustrated in current theoretical or research literature. Using this ideal as a basis of comparison, the review proceeds to an examination of data that depict the actual situation as well as gaps between the ideal and real. The goal is to understand causes before proposing solutions and to solve long-term problems rather than treating present symptoms.
Under Task 3, we identify key elements to be examined within an organization. Readers may find it useful to consider how each elements might apply to an HSO with which they are familiar as an intern, employee, or even service recipient. The elements we address include the following:
Organizational and program structure
Management, and leadership style
Planning, delivery, and evaluation of programs and services
Personnel policies, procedures, and practices
Adequacy of technology and resources
Understand Organizational and Program Structure
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What are the major departmental or program units in this organization?
Is there a convincing rationale for the existing organizational structure?
Is the existing structure consistent with and supportive of the mission?
Is supervision logical and capable of performing expected functions? Are staff members capable of performing expected functions?
What can you learn about the informal structure (people who carry authority because they are respected by staff, and thus exert influence) that is different from those in formally designated positions of authority?
When we think of organizational structure, we often envision a pyramid-shaped chart with boxes and lines indicating a hierarchy that extends from the top administrator’s level down to many line-level positions. This helps visualize the organization in terms of who reports to whom, who is responsible for which divisions of the organization, and how the chain of command proceeds from bottom to top. As noted in Chapter 7, this system is patterned after the bureaucratic model described by Weber (1946). It is widely used because it is easy to understand and apply, ensures that everyone has only one supervisor, and provides for lines of communication, exercise of authority, performance evaluation, and many other functions necessary to ensure smooth operation.
As we also noted in Chapter 7, however, many critics of bureaucratic structure believe it is not the best design for human service agencies. Their central point is that bureaucratic structure was designed for organizations in which both inputs and operations are predictable and repetitive, whereas the individual clients and client problems served by HSOs are unique. Rules such as those that govern the production process in manufacturing enterprises may be helpful in ensuring consistent quality of the goods produced, but in an HSO these rules may simply constrain workers’ abilities to exercise professional judgment.
A number of terms have been used to describe the pitfalls that can accompany bureaucratic structure. Merton (1952) warned of learned incompetence that develops among employees in bureaucracies who rely so heavily on a policy manual to make their decisions that they cease to think logically or creatively about their jobs (such as addressing client problems in an HSO). Lipsky’s (1984) bureaucratic disentitlement describes situations in HSOs where clients fail to receive benefits or services to which they are entitled due to decisions based on rigid and sometimes illogical internal rules rather than client needs. Jaskyte and Dressler (2005) found that innovativeness in nonprofit HSOs was negatively associated with an organizational focus on stability, which is typical of bureaucratic structures.
Contingency theorists contend that structure depends on what the organization is expected to produce. Morse and Lorsch (1970) demonstrated that higher productivity in one type of organization (a container-manufacturing plant) was achieved through a traditional structure with clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and lines of supervision. A different type of organization (a research lab) achieved higher productivity through a very loose structure, which allowed researchers maximum flexibility to carry out their own work unfettered by rules, regulations, and supervision. Examples of alternative structures are depicted in Box 8.2.
No single organizational structure is likely to fit all HSOs well. For large public agencies, some type of bureaucratic structure may be useful because of size, predictability of operations, and accountability considerations. For a small, community-based agency, a collegial model might be best. As discussed in Box 8.2, much depends on variables such as the nature of the work and the background and roles of staff. Employees of HSOs often come from a wide range of specializations, including health, mental health, substance use, developmental disabilities, child welfare, services to older adults, residential treatment, adult and juvenile corrections, and many others. Disciplines in which they are trained include social work, counseling, psychology, child care, medicine, nursing, rehabilitation, and education, and their work may be supported by people from fields such as accounting, management, public relations, and finance. To bridge these differences the organization must have clear standards governing hiring and job expectations, such as specific requirements for education, experience, and licensure or certification for each position, along with documentation of adherence to these requirements.
Box 8.2 Options for Organizational Structures
Organizations can structure themselves in many different ways:
Hierarchical structure: This traditional, bureaucratic structure is quickly recognized in large organizations where multiple layers of units are depicted on an organizational chart.
Linking-pin structure: Originally named by Likert (1961, p. 11), this approach emphasizes the role of collaboration between work units, which is accomplished by selecting one or a few persons who are fully functioning participants in both and who ensure the flow of communication between them (Wager, 1992).
Matrix structure: In this model, staff members have different supervisors for different functions they perform. For example, direct supervision of a social worker for his or her activities on the ward of an inpatient mental health facility might come from a physician or nurse who is the ward leader, whereas a different supervisor might oversee the social worker’s efforts with outpatients. Matrix structures have been criticized because staff report to different people for different functions.
Project team structure: This model is used when work is organized by teams that work relatively independently on specific projects. For example, in starting up a community project one team might conduct a needs assessment, while another looks for funding, and a third locates a facility. Each team has a leader, and overall coordination is done by a committee of team leaders (Miles, 1975).
Collegial or network structure: This is most common in organizations composed of professionals who operate relatively independently and come together only in circumstances in which their work overlaps. Colleagues’ status is related to their professional competencies, and thus status differentials are removed. One example would be a private counseling clinic in which a small partnership of psychologists and social workers purchase a building and equipment and hire support staff. No single partner has more authority than others, and each generates her or his own income (Kaldis, Koukoravas, & Tjortjis, 2007).
Still, even a well-designed and clearly defined job will be the source of problems if it rests within a rigid bureaucratic structure or dysfunctional organizational culture. Cramm, Strating, and Nieboer (2013), in a study of nurses, found that organizational solidarity was greater in organizations with less hierarchical structure, more individual autonomy, and more formal and informal information exchange. At the level of service effectiveness, however, desirable results sometimes require the presence of at least some elements of bureaucratic organization, such as job routinization and precision of repeated steps. Regardless of how the formal organizational structure is designed, there will be a second structural level, often referred to as informal networks or emergent structures (Rank, 2008). Informal networks arise to compensate for what cannot be formally structured, and recognizing this important element of organizational culture is important in any assessment.
Watch this video that discusses the features of the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument (OCAI). How might you use the OCAI in a human service organization?
Documentation and data to be examined in order to understand organizational structure might include the following:
Relevant policy and procedure manuals
Interviews with selected administrators, managers, staff, and representatives of each discipline
A tool such as the one depicted in Table 8.5 can be used to assess the appropriateness of organization and program structure.
Table 8.5 Assessing Organizational and Program Structure
Total Organization Program A Program B Program C
1. Would you describe the structure as rigid or flexible?
2. Is the structure appropriate to the needs of the organization or program?
3. Is communication primarily top-down, or in all directions?
4. Are staff competent to do the jobs expected of them?
5. Is supervision appropriate to the need?
Understand Management and Leadership Style
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
How is the workplace organized, and how is the work allocated?
Are appropriate authority and information passed on along with responsibility?
How close is supervision, and what exactly is supervised? Is it tasks, is it functions, or is it the employee?
How are decisions made? Is information solicited from those affected?
Do employees feel valued at every level? Do they believe they are making a contribution to the success of the organization?
How is conflict handled?
A wealth of theoretical literature exists concerning approaches to administration, management, and leadership. One useful way to organize and understand them comes from Miles (1975), who classified managerial theories or models into one of three categories: (1) the traditional model, (2) the human relations model, and (3) the human resources model.
The traditional model is characterized by very closely supervising work, controlling subordinates, breaking work down into simple tasks that are easily learned, and establishing detailed work routines. Similar to McGregor’s characterization of Theory X, the assumptions of this model are that people inherently dislike work, they are not self-motivated or self-directed, and they do it only because they need the money. The traditional model would include such theorists as Weber (1946), Taylor (1947), and others committed to the basic tenets of bureaucracy or scientific management (as discussed in Chapter 7).
The human relations model is characterized by efforts on the part of management to make each worker feel useful and important. Management is open to feedback, and subordinates are allowed to exercise some self-direction on routine matters. Assumptions are that people want to feel useful and important, that they have a need to belong, and that these needs are more important than money in motivating people to work. Theories that support the human relations model would include Mayo’s human relations theory as well as many of the theorists who expanded on Mayo’s work and focused on employee motivation.
The human resources model is characterized by a focus on the use of untapped resources and potential existing within employees. Managers are expected to create an environment in which all members may contribute to the limits of their abilities, full participation is encouraged on all matters, and self-direction and self-control are supported and promoted. It is assumed that for most people, work means more than merely earning a paycheck and that they are willing to contribute to the success of the total work effort. Furthermore, people are assumed to be creative, resourceful, and capable of contributing more when given the opportunity. The theories that support the human resources model are drawn essentially from the work on contingency theory (Burns & Stalker, 1961) and supported by a number of contemporary authors (Forcadell, 2005).
Management practices are important to analyze because they influence so many facets of organizational life. They can affect, for example, whether adult protective service workers are instructed merely to collect facts from a battered older person and then turn to a supervisor who will direct the next steps, or whether they are allowed to use professional judgment to intervene as they believe is needed. Recent research supports the value of approaches that fall within the category of the human resource model in HSOs.
Some more important sources of information to be examined in understanding organizational administration, management, and leadership style include the following:
Job description of the chief executive officer (CEO) and other leadership staff
Interviews with board members (if the agency is private) or the person to whom the CEO is accountable (if the agency is public) to determine the expectations of the CEO
Criteria used for performance evaluation of the CEO and other leaders
An interview with the CEO to determine expectations for leadership staff
An organizational chart
Interviews with staff in various roles to determine perceptions about the job, the workplace, supervision, and administration
A tool such as the one depicted in Table 8.6 can be useful in assessing the agency’s management and leadership style.
Assess the Organization’s Programs and Services
Questions to be explored for this activity include the following:
What programs and services are offered, and are the services consistent with program goals and objectives?
Are staffing patterns appropriate to the services to be provided? Are workload expectations reasonable given expectations for achievement with each client and within each service and program?
Is there a common understanding among management and line staff within each program about problems to be addressed, populations to be served, services to be provided, and client outcomes to be achieved?
Are expected outcomes identified with sufficient clarity that program success or failure can be determined?
Table 8.6 Assessing Leadership and Management Style
Carried Out by Management Only Input Allowed but Ignored Input Solicited and Used Group Consensus and Full Participation
1. How are organizational goals established?
2. What is the climate for supporting the achievement of goals?
3. Where are program-level decisions made?
4. How does information flow throughout the organization?
5. Who has involvement in providing feedback about performance?
6. Who is responsible for generating ideas about how to make improvements?
Small HSOs may have one program with multiple services, whereas larger HSOs may have numbers of programs targeted to multiple population groups. Each program may have its own funding sources with different rules and regulations, each may have specialized staff, and some may share staff across programs. Informational brochures, funding applications, and strategic plans, may contain detailed program plans complete with goals and objectives. Accessing materials that describe programs, their rationale, and their designs will be important to understanding what services are available.
Go to the Foundation Center website, and search the free online database of funding sources. How might a human service organization use this resource in locating new sources of revenue?
Each program should have a clear statement of the problem(s) it is intended to address and the population(s) it is intended to serve. In reviewing this statement, it is not unusual to find that in some long-standing programs, there has been a shift in emphasis over the years. For example, a program that was designed to deal with heroin use may have begun with an emphasis on detoxification and long-term intensive therapy, later shifting to provision of methadone, and finally to intensive self-help groups. HBOs must typically report data on efficiency, quality, and effectiveness that reflect a commitment to providing the best services possible at the lowest cost. In particular, government contracting agencies often have detailed service standards and requirements for performance monitoring as a condition of receiving funds (Abramovitz, 2005; Polivka-West & Okano, 2008).
Standards typically emphasize three types of accountability: efficiency accountability, quality accountability, and effectiveness accountability (Martin & Kettner, 2010). Efficiency accountability focuses on the ratio of outputs to inputs or, more specifically, the ratio of volume of service provided to dollars expended. If Agency A provides 1,000 hours of counseling at a cost of $75,000 and Agency B provides 1,000 hours of counseling at a cost of $100,000, then Agency A is more efficient. Quality accountability focuses on the provision of services and differentiates between organizations that meet a quality standard and those that do not. For example, one quality standard might be to require that no more than 20 percent of clients given counseling services drop out before the counseling program is considered to be complete. Recent works emphasize that quality indicators must often be specific to particular services, and an increasing array of standardized quality-assessment tools are becoming available.
Effectiveness accountability focuses on the results, effects, and accomplishments of human service programs. While an assessment of quality accountability might ask whether standards for program completion were met, an assessment of effectiveness accountability would ask whether, across clients, measurable and clinically significant improvement occurred in the problem toward which the counseling was directed. In addition, effectiveness assessments also ask whether the programs and services offered resolved the client problems they were funded to address.
As suggested by the evidence-based practice approach discussed in Chapter 7, programs should also be designed, monitored, and evaluated using the best available information about “what works.” In fields such as child welfare, researchers and federal funders are increasingly focusing on child and family well-being as a measure of “what works” (Samples, Carnochan, & Austin, 2013). Also, family courts are also using well-being as a focus for decision making about dependent children (Casanueva et al., 2013). This is being made possible by improved tools for measuring well-being and other indicators of quality of life. Accordingly, it is important in assessing effectiveness to review the professional literature and become aware of the most recent trends and tools. Examples of relevant databases available in most university libraries include Social Work Abstracts, Medline, PsycINFO, and others.
Some of the more important documents and data sources to be