DENVER—When the Boettcher Foundation decided in 1996 to step up scrutiny of its grants, President and Executive Director Tim Schultz asked grantees to provide studies of their effectiveness. The Denver Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, ever prepared, did their best to make sure Schultz was satisfied with the results—even though the council’s first thoughts about the project were hardly enthusiastic.
Norton Rainey, the Denver council’s director of development, admits, “it wasn’t something we were really excited about.” He didn’t object to the work, but he knew his organization lacked the skill sets to carry out an effective evaluation. Instead of blindly attempting its own study, Rainey hired Steve DelCastillo, an expert with the Center for Creative Leadership, to do the research.
DelCastillo’s initial assignment was to evaluate the Scouts’ partnership programs. The first one DelCastillo studied was offered in conjunction with Colorado Uplift. The two groups had joined forces when Uplift, which had been working with inner-city kids during the school year, was looking to add summer programs to its curriculum. Because both the Scouts and Uplift were based upon character-building principles for kids, the two agreed to use the Scouts’ camping facilities to extend the Uplift program and introduce the kids to Scouting. Short-term studies hinted the arrangement was achieving results. But DelCastillo wanted to see if the arrangement was truly effective: did the experiences kids had at camp affect them after they left?
The numbers from his analysis, which caught him and the Scouts totally off guard, were nothing short of amazing. At a time when Denver Public Schools were only graduating 60 percent of all students—and just over 30 percent of minority students, the group Uplift targets—participants in the Scouting-Uplift program were graduating at a rate of more than 90 percent.
“It would be hard to overstate the economic impact of that number,” DelCastillo tells Philanthropy. “Over 40 years, the difference between a high school graduate and one who doesn’t graduate—in terms of difference of wages and the dependency on public assistance—turned out to be almost a million dollars.” As important, he continues, was that 95 percent of those students graduating from the Scouting-Uplift program were either continuing in school, working, or in the military.
These facts would have never been unearthed had the council not hired DelCastillo, who had the necessary skills to carry out a rigorous study—a fact not lost on Schultz. “It’s really about going beyond the obvious numbers. You can always look at how many people enrolled into a program and then graduated, but it’s more important to find out how they’re doing a few years down the road.” Nonprofits, Schultz continues, often don’t think to do this because they don’t tend to think in terms of dollars and cents.
The Scouts were so impressed with DelCastillo’s work the council hired him full-time. “After seeing what he did,” Rainey said, “we realized that having someone on staff to help us spot our strengths and weaknesses would be a great asset to us, both in analyzing our existing programs and in setting up future partnerships.”
To ensure the evaluation office’s survival, the Scouts turned to their supporters and asked for money to endow it. The Boettcher Foundation, along with the Hansen Foundation (another large Boy Scout supporter) agreed to help. Schultz says it was a natural decision. “The program seemed like a great idea and had a lot of support from the board. But, down the road, a new director might not be as committed to research. They could be facing a tighter budget and decide to cut the program. This way, with an endowment, the office can continue.”
These days, DelCastillo’s work involves not only researching outcomes and results, but also finding and coordinating new partnerships between the Boy Scouts and other nonprofits. He especially searches for opportunities to introduce Scouting to youths in inner-city areas who might not have been exposed to Scouting. “We’re always looking for new ways to tie our programs in with what other groups are doing,” said DelCastillo.
The council’s success, however, only starts with Denver Boy Scouts and its partners. In addition to preparedness, the Scout philosophy also has a few things to say about helpfulness, and the council fulfills this obligation by using DelCastillo’s time and office to aid other groups in the city—including smaller organizations in the state and the not-so-small United Way—with their own tracking efforts. The Scouts feel that by extending this aid to other nonprofits, everyone benefits through better funding and increased cooperation between organizations. Says DelCastillo. “It’s really the essence of capacity building, the difference between giving a man a fish, or teaching him how to fish.”
“Not everyone can afford a program like this,” DelCastillo concludes, “but that doesn’t mean that they have to abandon the idea of studying the outcomes and effectiveness of what they’re doing.” And as the Denver example demonstrates, a single grant for capacity building can improve an entire city’s philanthropy.