02/27/2013 10:13 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2013

Evaluating Our Impact

By Katherine Eklund, Executive and Research Assistant, DC Central Kitchen

On any given day at DC Central Kitchen, you can meet men and women who have changed their lives through our Culinary Job Training program. Ask them where they were before coming to DCCK and where they are now. You'll hear powerful stories, like that of Jessica, our Human Resources Assistant, that will deepen your understanding of poverty, hunger, and unemployment in our community.

When our students graduate and get jobs, they are breaking the cycle of poverty. They're no longer costing taxpayers millions in prison costs and social services and they are paying taxes. They're supporting their families, paying rent, and becoming valuable consumers. Their children are learning that they are not destined for prison, addiction, and homelessness, but can have a good job and promising future like mom or dad. It's one thing for us to say that hiring ex-offenders is a great way for cities to save money in a down economy. It's another thing to go out and prove it, in the unforgiving language of dollars and cents.

We have always understood our impact intuitively, but now we want to measure this impact systematically. We have lots of other questions we want to answer. Are our programs getting more effective and efficient? What programmatic changes can make it possible to have a bigger impact on our community? We're taking on questions like this with a strategic, evidence-based approach, making sustained efforts across all of our programs to track our larger impact through data, apply that data in formulating new solutions, and share our impact in powerful, meaningful ways.

The lives of our culinary graduates begin with heart-wrenching situations, but offer inspiring endings. With narratives like these, why are we bothering with all this data, especially if it may produce some unexpected, maybe even unwelcome findings?

Because DC Central Kitchen understands that evaluating our impact will give us the data-driven tools to improve. We owe it to those who invest their time and money in our programs. Transparency is in our organizational DNA and we are committed to improving accountability and efficiency throughout our operation. For example, we can parse out trends in graduation and job placement rates, and then reallocate resources and adjust our approach to better meet the needs of our diverse students. We can then analyze what works for all students, and what is particularly successful for women, for men, and for students with histories of incarceration, addiction, or mental illness.

People who attend our Culinary Job Training program's graduations see firsthand how DC Central Kitchen changes lives and we hope that thorough, thoughtfully collected data about our overall impact can be equally powerful. Every DCCK program now uses state-of-the-art performance management software to track data and performance.

We can tell donors how many pounds of local food we are purchasing, the job placement rates of our culinary job training graduates, and the participation rates for our school meals program. But we can also use this system to set performance goals and evaluate indicators of long and short term success. By generating real-time reports, we can not only measure progress over time, but quickly address any drops in performance.

We couldn't measure these impacts without the help of some outstanding community partners. For example, we are working with a team of MBA candidates from George Washington University to develop a return on investment formula that will evaluate the economic impact across all of our programs. And thanks to the support of Kaiser Permanente, DCCK staff members are enrolled in an intensive six-month institute to learn how to capture and evaluate the impact of food-related nonprofit programs upon public health.

In the success section of our website, under DCCK by the Numbers and Economic Impact you can see some of the significant measures we have captured thus far. We look forward to continuing those efforts in order to improve our programs and expand our reach, ultimately making it possible for DC Central Kitchen to empower more people like Jessica to change their lives. And those are stories we can't wait to tell.

You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

Learn more about DC Central Kitchen. Visit our website at