Aligning Investments with Needs of Atlanta’s Children and Families

Author: Kassie Scott
Date Posted: July 13, 2020

In recent years, Neighborhood Nexus has developed and maintained an innovative measure: the Child Well-Being Index. Accompanied by tailored communications tools and guidance, the index is helping funders and nonprofit organizations understand which neighborhoods in the Atlanta region have the greatest need for investment in children and families. The success of the project stems from the team’s ability to partner with mission-driven organizations and sectors to identify strategic goals and questions aligned with their unique mission. 

In 2016, Neighborhood Nexus collaborated with the United Way of Greater Atlanta to create the Child Well-Being Index to communicate how need varied across the metropolitan area. Ginneh Baugh, vice president of strategy and knowledge development at United Way of Greater Atlanta, said the Child Well-Being Index was born of a desire to “tell a localized story about where people live, not just a story about the whole region.” The index provides data by zip code for 14 indicators on critical child, family, and community issues. The interactive online map shows where children, families, and neighborhoods face the greatest challenges. 

One of the index’s goals was to help align activities across organizations by using similar indicators, and United Way’s grantees were involved in its development. To understand which geographic areas were being served, United Way began to require grantees to report the number of people they served by zip code, not just county wide as before. The organization had supported conversations with grantees about outcome measurement in the past, but asking for new data helps identify nonprofits that need more targeted technical assistance around evaluation and measurement. With this critical community data, the story has become clearer: United Way is now explicitly saying place matters, that the zip code where a child is born should not dictate her life chances. The index has changed the mix of projects United Way funds to align with this data-backed premise and maximize their impact.

Having seen the effects for themselves, United Way is encouraging more local organizations to use the index, and other groups are taking notice of the tools Neighborhood Nexus has created. The Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA), an organization led by women for Atlanta’s at-risk women and children, asked Neighborhood Nexus to help them understand if they were mobilizing volunteers into areas with greatest need. Neighborhood Nexus developed an interactive mapping app that illustrates the alignment of JLA’s members and partners with community indicators, including those captured by the Child Well-Being Index. With the data, JLA leaders built consensus around shifting more projects to the areas with the most need. They identified two new communities for their initial expansion. In the Douglass school cluster, volunteers did outreach to neighborhood families to raise awareness of the public prekindergarten program and its registration process. In Thomasville Heights, JLA placed volunteers in a charter school operated by Purpose Built Communities. Guided by JLA’s data-informed strategic plan, the organization continues to work with Neighborhood Nexus on how to use the insights from the data for different aspects of the organization, including for membership recruitment strategies. JLA seeks to go beyond serving communities in need by increasing collaboration and transparency to be authentically present and supportive of local goals. 

Other organizations across the state are also looking to the index and community data to align their services. Neighborhood Nexus is currently supporting Georgia CASA, a statewide network of foster youth–serving programs, to identify gaps and target volunteer recruitment; the YMCA of Metro Atlanta to conduct a landscape analysis and assist with strategic planning; and Learn4Life to find “bright spots” to improve outcomes of Atlanta’s students. As Neighborhood Nexus’s work expands and deepens in the community, the Child Well-Being Index has established a North Star for tracking outcomes of children in Atlanta. 

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