By Annie Fortnow, 2016 Get It Back Campaign Intern
CA$H Maine VITA Site
After years of inconsistent client data, CA$H Maine, a statewide collaboration of ten coalitions devoted to helping individuals achieve financial stability, decided it needed to change.
When CA$H Maine first began back in 2003, members collected data on tax preparation clients through intake forms entered into TaxWise software. However, coalition members would modify the form to fit their local needs or only use it occasionally. Without comprehensive data, the coalition had difficulty assessing the true needs of its clients.
As part of a three year project to build the capacity of CA$H Maine to improve financial stability of Maine families funded by the John T. Gorman Foundation, Janet Smith, the statewide CA$H Maine coordinator, led efforts to create a new system that would lead to cohesion throughout the group. Two years ago, Janet turned to VistaShare, a data collection tool. Through the user-friendly platform, CA$H Maine designed a new printed intake form in VistaShare that mirrors the computer version.
First, volunteers use paper forms to collect data from clients to make the process more personal. The intake form asks clients about their demographics, how they heard about the program, what they plan to do if they receive a tax refund, and what household finance challenges they face. These questions help CA$H Maine identify client needs, create effective solutions, and determine groups within Maine’s population that need more direct outreach.
After collecting this information, volunteers enter the data in VistaShare, where it is automatically sent to New Ventures Maine, the organization that coordinates this project for CA$H Maine. Then, a New Ventures Maine staff member analyzes the data and creates a state report. Staff help coalition members read the data and learn how to develop localized reports.
Through data collection, CA$H Maine found that the most pressing client challenges were saving money for unexpected expenses, paying bills, and saving for retirement. To combat these issues, they plan to train volunteers to refer clients to statewide resources like New Ventures Maine financial education classes and local programs like food banks and subsidized housing. They also hope to encourage clients to sign up for myRA at tax sites and increase marketing for their Rainy Day Savings Account Program.
CA$H Maine also found that they were not reaching younger community members (ages 25 to 45). To expand their reach, the coalition plans to partner with Head Start and public schools to connect with young parents.
By restructuring their data collection, CA$H Maine is able to sharpen their outreach approach to focus on reaching those who are missing out. Using intake forms to collect data is as an easy way to incorporate client feedback into outreach efforts. Janet recommends communicating the importance of the intake form to clients. Encourage clients to fill out the intake form even though it is optional. To ease client doubts, tell clients that the form is used in aggregate to help improve services and that their specific information will be protected.
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