The Quiet Transformation Underway in Nonprofit Performance

AmericaServes: Collectively Changing Service Delivery to Military Members and their Families

By Retired U.S. Army Colonel Jim McDonough, IVMF Managing Director & Gilly Cantor, IVMF Program Evaluation Manager

A little over a year ago, Walmart* President and CEO, Doug McMillon, wrote a piece titled “How Walmart is Transforming to Better Serve Customers.”  Mr. McMillon states the company’s goal “…is to be the best place for our customers to shop – whether they choose to do it in stores, online, on mobile devices, or a combination of these, it will be fast and easy.”

Fast and easy…as we think about Walmart’s value position in the retail sector – to be both fast and easy – our minds naturally shift to the nonprofit sector, particularly our AmericaServes initiative serving the needs of the nation’s military connected members and their families. It is here where we combine those same goals, to be fast and easy, with the additional goal of doing it all well through a veteran-centered approach.

What will it take, then, to do these things simultaneously – to serve America’s military connected families quickly, with unprecedented ease and as few barriers as possible, while ensuring service and care excellence isn’t compromised along the way?

We believe we have an answer. For that vision to be realized, we also believe that a quiet revolution, a transformation of sorts, is needed first by the nonprofit sector to shift thinking and practices associated with the way they coordinate – yes, coordinate – their service delivery across the deeply divided silos that typify human services delivery. For our vision to be fully realized, service and care providers will have to boldly change the way they do business today. They’ll need to focus on what they do best individually and place more reliance and trust in their fellow service and care providers to collectively do the same.

This transformation is underway in AmericaServes communities today, in a series of place-based efforts led by courageous and innovative nonprofit actors who are not afraid to challenge the status quo of collaboration in favor of coordination. Providers in these communities have a partner – coordination centers, in AmericaServes speak – whose sole function in their community is to coordinate and match needs with available resources, services, and care. And they do that best by utilizing groundbreaking care coordination technology and approaches that value timeliness, accuracy and proven protocols ensuring it is all done well.

Actors like Brandon Wilson, from AmericaServes’ NCServes-Western Carolina network, where he and the Western Coordination Center work tirelessly to bring dozens of community-based care providers into the AmericaServes family of care networks for service members, veterans, and their families. Brandon’s team follows the selfless servant model learned through years of military service, lending themselves to understanding clients’ needs well, all-the-while demonstrating an equally deep understanding of the community’s provider resources, services, and care. In AmericaServes communities like Brandon’s, understanding both allows our teams to quickly and accurately match complex, co-occurring needs with solutions at high rates of success.

Walmart, the nation’s leading retailer, is supported by an intricately choreographed supply chain to help them accomplish their model of fast and easy for the customers. Likewise, our military communities are supported by a similarly structured service chain of nonprofits. When all links in the chain are doing what they do best, i.e. when nonprofits are able to focus on their specific service offering and connect with other links in the chain, the customer and the client experience this fast and easy service model.  Consequently, when there are disruptions in the supply and service chains, the progress of much needed products and services is thwarted, thus jeopardizing trust between the provider and the client – and potentially putting at risk a community’s ability to properly care for its military connected members and their families.

Just ask Brandon what it was like before his community adopted the AmericaServes Coordinated Care model and approach. “It’s hard to send photos from your iPhone to a landline,” says Brandon, a no- nonsense, United States Marine combat veteran and Non-Commissioned Officer, who has dedicated himself to serving North Carolina veterans. “Truly shared technology has been one of the biggest challenges in a system where no one is speaking the same language. Not at the federal level, not at the state level and not in communities. AmericaServes changes that. It puts everybody on the same page, speaking the same language.”

As Brandon suggests, coordination between government agencies and nonprofits are typically constrained by a lack of shared systems. Meanwhile, the pace of business has accelerated rapidly in an era when suppliers and vendors can communicate needs and solutions instantly and have a shared interest in achieving interoperability. These same performance incentives don’t overlap with government, nor do they exist naturally in the nonprofit sector.

Said another way, nonprofit organizations struggle to simplify and coordinate service delivery in the interest of the ‘customer.’ Instead, they operate at the mercy of independent systems that ensure “earned” access through repeated, organization-by-organization intakes and assessments, and customers are not shared commonly with fellow providers in their community.

Thus, while resources in communities may be abundant, we have not offered seamless solutions that put the veteran at the center of our collective efforts. The process remains cumbersome, confusing and compromised. Our own research indicates that today’s transitioning service members and their families need help most with overcoming the degree of difficulty they’re experiencing when navigating services, resources and care for their specific needs.

In AmericaServes communities, the emerging value position is different and focused on nonprofit organizations serving people best by making it faster and easier for those seeking assistance. Providers participating in AmericaServes recognize the existing inefficiencies and ineffectiveness, and the downstream impacts on the people they serve.

Ensuring that the right person gets to the right provider, in the least amount of time, and doing it all well is central to our partners’ commitment to changing the way they do business. Like Walmart, AmericaServes networks are meeting customers where they are. The AmericaServes model supports this new way of thinking by offering a no wrong-door approach to accessing services, resources, and care. Seeking services from a single provider or the Coordination Center opens the door to all providers, and common intake processes allow the connection between individual and care to occur quickly and easily, enabling everyone along the service chain to focus on doing what they do best.

The fast and easy approach to service delivery is at the core of our new care coordination model. Our AmericaServes communities are embracing technology solutions that enable nonprofits to assess, prescribe and connect our military members and their families to what they need in real time. They are demonstrating that we are better when we work together across all links in the service chain, and are collectively transforming the way we deliver services to those that both deserve and need them most, given the sacrifices they and their families have made for our country.

*Author’s Note: The Walmart Foundation is a funder to the IVMF and its AmericaServes initiative. The views expressed are the authors’ own.