Christian Luna has served in various capacities at Sacred Heart Community Service for nearly 8 years, including overseeing program operations to managing the technology and data used to analyze and track program achievement.
Training, professional development, and certification for practitioners and programs.
Local, state, and national stakeholder networks that support and develop practitioner efforts.
Service delivery models and the underlying data systems that support them.
44 Wall Street, Suite 605
New York, NY 10005
<back to CFEFund.org
Sacred Heart Community Service is an anti-poverty organization committed to building community through volunteerism and direct action. In 2010, our team launched an initiative that sought to integrate financial education, tax services, and public benefits assistance within an existing employment program. Our organizational tradition and culture calls for deep inclusion of volunteers within this process from planning to execution. By leveraging volunteers to serve as the financial coaches we have been able to successfully increase our capacity to deliver financial coaching on a scale not achievable with our limited full time staff—presumably a challenge faced by many small community-based organizations. The initiative was designed in a way that ensured the financial coaching was a high-quality and professional service—intentionally building in quality control measures such as outcome tracking, and comprehensive content and coaching training. Through learning, trial and error, and persistence inspired by local and national partners, we have shifted this volunteer-driven model into something striving to gain a long-term foothold in Silicon Valley. We hope this essay demonstrates how “volunteer” and “professional” financial coaching can be synonymous, and can serve as a catalyst to replicate this model in a way that strengthens the field.
Comprised of retired and working professionals, these volunteers bring real-world experience, a strong foundation in the content, genuine compassion, and an understanding of the barriers facing their work. Volunteers have spent decades as coaches themselves within diverse industries as managers and executives. We have determined the key to successful retention of volunteers is to develop a consistent pipeline of clients. When volunteers feel underutilized, attrition rates increase accordingly.
In 2013, Points of Light and their brand new Financial Opportunity Corps brought two full-time VISTA coordinators and a unique volunteer-centric curriculum from Central New Mexico College. This training curriculum emphasized the coaching model over financial content, engaged trainees with hands-on exercises, and even challenged participants to coach each other and maintain a relationship with their partner beyond their week of training. We hit the ground running and our first year introduced 18 new volunteer coaches; our second year nearly doubled the efforts with 30 additional volunteer coaches.
This project is not without significant challenges. With such a full bench of volunteers, we had to devise the right marketing to attract our members into the program. As mentioned earlier, a consistent pipeline of clients is essential to volunteer retention. We developed attractive marketing materials to entice people to take the first step in changing their lives and pair up with a coach to develop a long-term support structure. We had people steadily signing up and were excited to see results.
With several coaching pairs established, we began to experience the next phase of “program design 101,” client retention. With a great deal of energy during early meetings, came the need to support the coach and client to stay focused on realistic goals and timeline. Ideally, this would ensure productive bi-monthly or monthly meetings.
With a long-standing partnership with Opportunity Fund, we decided to experiment in using match savings accounts as an incentive for participating in the financial coaching program. Applicants were required to attend a program orientation, meet for an application and screening with a coach. Once accepted into the program, they had to commit to at least six months of financial coaching and attend at least two financial education workshops with their coach. (The savings program required clients to make deposits into a custodial account for a minimum of one year.)
Fifteen accounts were available and we received 30 applications. This cohort was very motivated. Several attended more than two financial education workshops and were able to demonstrate positive savings habits by opening a savings account and tracking the growth of their savings.
The cornerstone of all asset-building programs has been a very clear outcome tracking mechanism in the form of Efforts to Outcomes (ETO). This database tool allows us to gather robust demographics as well as take ongoing and reliable measures of key financial indicators that include increase in income, net worth, and credit score. Our staff is trained to manage this data and ensure volunteers gather the necessary data from their meetings to develop rich data-driven snapshots of the financial journey of coaching clients. This data model has provided the leverage needed with our local community foundation to argue the merits of incorporating public benefits and employment services as critical for financial coaching success.
We have developed confidence in identifying new areas of our programs to strengthen with structured volunteer roles. With a robust public benefits program that bears the weight of staff-driven services, we can now begin to introduce volunteer recruits. This project is a bit tricky with the complex rules and processes to enroll in the myriad of programs we support. With our experience engaging volunteers in financial coaching, we understand that a program must be designed around practical metrics and streamlined tools aimed at empowering our volunteers with the knowledge and capacity needed for success.
44 Wall Street, Suite 605 New York, NY 10005 646.362.1645 phone 646.590.8743 fax
44 Wall Street, Suite 605, New York, NY 10005
646.362.1645 phone 646.590.8743 fax