- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009


Few things are worse than having to give up the thing you love to do most that thing, that innate gift for which you are certain deep in your bones that you were born with special skill sets to do. Sometimes, however, that personal sacrifice is for the greater good.

For Steve Butz, that special talent was working one on one with troubled Maryland juveniles. But the former social worker, like many, set aside his personal desire to help one child at a time to develop a system that he hopes will serve many more.

“It very much tormented me to get out of doing what I loved doing,” Mr. Butz said. Even though he has helped more than 1,600 nonprofits improve their service delivery through his innovative technology that demonstrates their impact, he asked himself aloud, “Have I had a wider and deeper impact? I’m not entirely sure. I still wrestle with it.”

Mr. Butz is a founding member of the Working Group for Effective Social Investing (www.alleffective.org) and founder of Social Solutions, which provides software that lets nonprofits “track, measure and analyze their efforts as they relate to outcomes.”

“Foundations absolutely have to be held accountable,” Mr. Butz explained, because, in part, they enjoy considerable tax benefits.

All too often, however, nonprofits are “all about counting stuff and not measuring stuff,” he said.

Whether an organization serves 10 people or 20 people, how do you know which one “had a better impact on the people you touched?” he asked. “You have to measure what you’re doing.”

Mr. Butz’s statements come amid a brewing controversy in the nonprofit sector about just who should be the recipients of charitable giving in these recessionary times. A recent report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, “Criteria For Philanthropy at its Best”, noted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, urged grant makers to give at least 50 percent of their funding to low-income or designated ethnic and marginalized groups.

Some funders and donors have balked, saying the committee’s charge is an attempt at “political correctness,” and others say their emphasis may end up hurting the people this group intends to serve.

Mr. Butz walks a center line on this distribution issue. “If there is a constriction of funds, it ought to be the organizations that can prove their impact that survive, and I really care about that,” he said. “When the winnowing takes place, I want the organizations that can show their impact to get the money.”

But, he added that “it’s hard for me to position myself against anything that calls for more accountability from foundations.”

Mr. Butz predicted that “eventually, regulation [of foundations] will come.”

The larger question is “whether or not they’re creating social value.”

Next month, leaders in the nonprofit sector in the Working Group for Effective Social Change, which Mr. Butz helped to establish last year, will meet “to develop a tool for individuals and organized funders to determine where their donations will be best spent.” Their goal is to “improve the flow of funds into the sector by creating a set of standards by which organizations will indicate their likeliness to generate social value.”

Verbose, intense and direct, Mr. Butz does not mince words. He said he is “extremely popular” with “organizations that do care about change.” Not so when “you get to organizations that are not performing so well. He said several nonprofits got out of business when his software showed them they weren’t having much impact.

Mr. Butz began his career as a caseworker at Baltimore’s Living Classrooms Foundation, helping at-risk youth. While he found the work rewarding, he was “frustrated that there were no tools to demonstrate how this work was helping the kids.”

However, his experience and instincts told him that it was important to keep the children motivated about their progress and to help the organization continue to secure funding.

The first phase of his “mission” was to help organizations become more focused and accountable; the next phase is to help donors become more informed about their giving.

“That’s exactly what the NCRP report is guilty of - encouraging organizations to make donations based on insufficient information,” Mr. Butz said.

But how do you quantify results? How to measure human growth and development on a spreadsheet?

“You start with the intangible, such as a relationship, and there are a myriad of other things that can be measured and should be,” he said. “The idea that it’s hard to measure outcomes doesn’t work with me.”

Mr. Butz said Social Solutions’ ETO software system saves time because the database can code services, compile information and retrieve it instantaneously, rather than the traditional “paper and pencil” method in which social service workers keep case notes that they then “have to dig back through” when asked for information about performance.

“The data was on paper and that was the problem,” he said. “I’m shooting for how to do this work quickly and more efficiently.”

An online demonstration of how the user-friendly software (www.socialsolutions.com) tracks outcomes for participants enrolled in an after-school program aimed at getting male students interested in attending college shows how much faster, easier and more efficient it might be to determine whether they are attending the sessions, how long, with or without parents, and if they have applied or been accepted to college or showed no interest. With a few clicks of the mouse, the organizations should be able to demonstrate the impact of their efforts.

When he was first assigned to work with the literacy group as an honors student at Loyola College of Baltimore, Mr. Butz recalled, “I said I have found my calling, and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”

The 39-year-old Baltimore-area native seemed destined to become a social service worker. Mr. Butz’s mother, Veronica, instilled in her five children the value of helping others. She chose to become a mother rather than pursue her dream of becoming a Peace Corps worker, he said, but she always led the family to get involved in charitable activities.

When Mrs. Butz died of breast cancer three years ago, her son established the Superstar Foundation, which donates $200,000 Veronica Awards in her honor to three high-performing direct social service programs. “That feels pretty good,” he said.

Still, the married father of three hankers for his first love - working hands-on with young people.

“I intend to get back to direct service staff. I don’t intend to run an organization. I don’t intend to write grants. I want to work with kids like I did 10 years ago.”

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