A Network for Moving Beyond Poverty
By Kelly Medinger
St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore uses human services grant to upgrade information technology across 13 program sites serving the poor
As one of the region’s larger human service organizations, St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore provides a path from poverty to self-sufficiency for many residents of Baltimore. A continuous focus on program quality recently led the organization to investigate ways to use information technology to enhance the services delivered to those in need.
About St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore’s mission is to ensure those impacted by poverty have the skills and resources to achieve their full potential. More than 150 years after its founding at the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, St. Vincent de Paul’s programs remain inspired by its Catholic roots. Today, in the tradition of its founder, Frederic Ozanam, the organization continues to help people move beyond hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and childhood poverty.
With 13 programs – including a homeless resource center, Head Start, housing services, family homeless shelters, and employment training – St. Vincent de Paul reaches thousands of men, women, children, and families each year, moving them beyond poverty to achieve a better future. These numbers represent significant growth over the past decade: In that time, St. Vincent de Paul has doubled its number of employees and added multiple new site locations and programs.
Such exponential growth creates challenges and opportunities. “We recognized that in order to be a better, higher functioning, more informed organization, we needed to put some time and resources into information technology,” states Matthew Kurlanski, Director of Foundation Relations & Grants and a member of the Information Technology Architecture Steering Committee.
Technology as a Tool
The Knott Foundation awarded St. Vincent de Paul a grant in 2015 for the first phase of its technology upgrade. “Very few funders will support the back-office infrastructure that enables the front-line case managers and program staff to do their jobs better,” remarks Kurlanski. “If we hadn’t received the Knott grant as a first investment, we wouldn’t have gotten the momentum we needed to get the project off the ground.”
Grant funds were spent on upgrades to the network infrastructure at 13 program sites, on a virtual Chief Information Officer, and on a network backup solution. The changes, however small, have begun to increase cross collaboration between programs and have made St. Vincent de Paul’s operations more streamlined and cost effective. For example, during a Baltimore City audit last year, documentation about programs was collected electronically utilizing the Office 365 cloud functions from multiple sites. This lessened the burden on front-line staff to sort and organize large volumes of paper and helped auditors to quickly and thoroughly review the organization’s program performance.
Future efforts include transitioning from using four different data management systems to track progress across all programs, to a single tracking and evaluation system. “Our goal is to use information technology to lay the foundation for becoming a more collaborative, more unified, more outcomes-focused organization,” concludes Kurlanski.