Non-profits face the on-going challenge of delivering the services core to their mission, while also performing the fund raising necessary to sustain themselves. Key to fund raising for non-profits is making a compelling case for the benefits and value their services provide. An important component of making this case is an ability to characterize and quantify return on investment (ROI), and to define the communities benefited. Achieving this helps to assure donors that their contributions make a difference, bring value, and offer a sense of connection to the areas impacted.

To this end, Baltimore’s Helping Up Mission (the Mission) recently partnered with Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute (RESI) and Center for GIS (CGIS). TU’s team worked to produce an economic analysis of Mission services, then assemble a ‘Story Map’ to distill this analysis into a set of graphics and maps that succinctly present analysis results and depict the areas impacted.

Helping Up Mission takes a holistic approach to helping those who are fighting addiction and homelessness, providing spiritual, clinical, mental health, educational and vocational support, in addition to shelter, food and clothing. Continually operating at capacity, the Mission houses 500 men a night, from overnight guests to those enrolled in its flagship year-long Spiritual Health Program. While primarily serving and treating men, the Mission began offering services to women in 2017. With an annual operating budget of over $9 million, the Mission relies on individual donors, grants, foundations, trusts, the faith community, and corporate sponsors to help with funding.

Non-Profit Return on Investment

How do you place a value on a husband, father, son, or brother being present, well, and actively engaged in family and community? While this value is elusive and arguably priceless, there are estimable costs attached to homelessness, addiction, hospitalization, and incarceration, in addition to the lost contributions of those not participating in the traditional economy. These costs and losses are unavoidably borne by the community at large.

RESI’s analysis considered these costs, and produced estimates of the economic activity generated by those who complete the program. The analysis found:

  • Each man who participates in the program for one year produces a total savings of $14,263 to state and county governments. This represents the combined costs of:
    • $4,075 per person per year due to incarceration;
    • $8,969 per person per year due to hospitalizations; and
    • $1,219 per person per year due to homelessness.
  • Each man who successfully completes the year-long program produces a total savings of $5,167 per year post-graduation to state and county governments. This represents the combined effects of:
    • $1,501 per person per year due to incarceration;
    • $3,259 per person per year due to hospitalizations; and
    • $406 per person per year due to homelessness.
  • Each man who works for one year and reallocates spending from illicit drugs to goods and services in the state economy supports a total of:
    • 1.5 total jobs,
    • $179,101 in economic output,
    • $52,137 in employee compensation, and
    • $9,855 in new state and local tax revenues.

The Mission also sought to demonstrate the geographic reach of their work. Operating in downtown Baltimore since 1885, the organization has traditionally served men coming in from the surrounding neighborhoods. However, in recent years they’d noticed a shift in their enrollment, suspecting it was due in part to the opioid epidemic as more men from surrounding counties arrived seeking help. The resulting StoryMap summarizes the economic analysis, depicts this shift in enrollment, and displays the origin of recent program participants at the Zip Code level.

Towson University’s analysis presents strong economic and geographic evidence that compliments and reinforces the real human value of the Mission’s day to day work.

“the Towson University Team’s efforts provided Helping Up Mission with a validated estimate of the economic impact of each graduate of our Spiritual Recovery Program. It also highlighted the statewide reach of our program. This study is a vital tool we have already utilized to present the return on investment of sustained recovery to funders and community partners.”

—Daniel Stoltzfus, Chief Operating Officer, Helping Up Mission

Non-profits are widely recognized for their dedication and the impressive range of in-demand services they provide. They’re less likely to be associated with ROI and the cost-savings they generate within their communities. Analysis such as that delivered to Helping Up Mission by Towson University’s RESI & CGIS are a powerful way to make this case to potential donors, volunteers and the general public.