Integration & Innovation: Lessons from Organizations Integrating Asset Building into Social Services

This brief highlights the experiences of five organizations that participated in a six-month Learning Cluster as they worked to integrate services that strengthen the financial capability of their clients. through strategies developed to overcome early challenges to integrating financial services into their traditional programming.

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A small but growing number of innovative social service organizations have embraced the notion of “integrated service delivery,” which refers to the practice of bundling or otherwise embedding new services into their core service areas in order to improve outcomes for the people they serve. Momentum has built, particularly around integrating financial capability
components such as financial education, credit repair, access to financial services and the like, into other social service programming serving lowincome households. In so doing, organizations are finding that their clients are more likely to be able to achieve other goals that are central to the organizational mission—whether that relates to health, housing, job
placement or other key areas of focus.

From September 2012 through March 2013, CFED convened an Intensive Learning Cluster of five social service delivery organizations seeking to strengthen the financial security of the low-income households they serve. With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, these diverse organizations together explored ways to enhance their capacity to integrate services that help families access financial information; connect to safe, affordable financial products and services; build savings and wealth; and protect themselves in the financial marketplace. Throughout this process, CFED facilitated learning opportunities, provided technical assistance and synthesized the experiences of Learning Cluster members to share with the broader field.

During the Learning Cluster, the organizations took the essential first steps in the process: selecting and tailoring asset-building strategies to integrate into their existing service offerings. Each organization provided a different blend of services to their clients and brought a unique perspective on ways to empower their particular clients to move toward financial stability.

  • El Buen Samaritano has an on-site health clinic, food pantry and education program that includes GED and ESL courses in Austin, Texas. Through the Learning Cluster, El Buen Samaritano made concrete plans to integrate financial education, job training and financial coaching into their existing programs.
  • FEGS Health & Human Services, located in New York City, focused on their employment services department. In the welfare-to-work program at one of their fives sites, FEGS piloted a project in which postemployment retention counselors encouraged clients to access a safe and affordable bank account and financial coaching services available through the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers.
  • Pacific Clinics is a behavioral healthcare organization with 50 sites throughout the greater Los Angeles area in California. During the Learning Cluster, Pacific Clinics explored available asset-building resources such as matched savings accounts, homebuyer education and job training, and planned how to connect their clients with these services.
  • Solid Ground is a Community Action Agency in Seattle, Washington that was piloting financial coaching in their housing programs. During the Learning Cluster, they identified ways to standardize the delivery of that service. They also mapped out an expansion of this work to other areas of the organization.
  • Texas Office of the Attorney General – Child Support Division (OAGCSD) manages more than 1.3 million child support cases in Texas. Texas OAG-CSD is implementing a tax refund debt reduction demonstration to help noncustodial parents pay down their child support arrears by encouraging them to file their income taxes and access other financialservices at VITA sites in two Texas cities

These five organizations were entering a field largely unfamiliar and faced challenges during the design and early implementation of these integration activities. This brief describes how Learning Cluster members sought to resolve those challenges and offers a snapshot of progress to date. Given the short six-month duration of the Learning Cluster, it is too early yet to share significant outcome-based results of the interventions that our partners have put in place; rather, we seek here to provide insights and key lessons from their experiences in grappling with the fundamental process of crafting and
launching these interventions.

In the following sections, we outline the issues Learning Cluster members addressed, both in the initial program design process and as they began implementing their programs. We then describe strategies that were helpful in overcoming these challenges, and offer a set of key considerations for other organizations seeking to do similar work.

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What the experts say

"Integration & Innovation: Lessons from Organizations Integrating Asset Building into Social Services" is an excellent planning tool that provides a foundational framework for developing a comprehensive financial literacy program for adult learners. It is realistic in design; key consideration questions throughout the resource guide readers through the critical points necessary to address the financial education needs of adult students.

This resource can be used by agencies considering the need for financial education as a supportive service to other programming. The power of the resource is that it builds a case for integration of financial literacy. Oftentimes, financial “knowledge” is not enough. If the knowledge is not translated into decision-making and executed in real-life situations, it is useless. The context that this resource gives to financial education is an important factor on the usefulness of the work.

By focusing on the key issues, including assessment of their clients’ financial needs, identification of the available AND appropriate services, creating a definition of the delivery model(s), selection of the appropriate financial education, and data collection and evaluation, this resource can assist an organization/institution in developing a framework for incorporating financial literacy for an adult learner population. The resource breaks down each design area (e.g., assessment of need) by what the issues are, what the learning cluster strategies might/should be, and what key considerations (questions) an organization should ask when developing their resource structure. In particular, those key considerations are critical questions to guide the organization in the development of a successful financial literacy program for their population(s) served. 

Integrating social service agencies into learning clusters and promoting partnerships for actionable financial knowledge is an important contribution of this resource to the practitioner. The resource is organized as a “project map” for replication of the model and includes “key considerations” that will assist in this process. 

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