How Do I Start a Financial Coaching Program?

For the last five years, Prosperity Now has fielded questions from financial capability service providers and social service agencies about how to run a financial coaching program. We co-facilitated a financial coaching webinar series with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Financial Security (CFS) in 2016 that engaged more than 1,000 attendees. It was also the most popular topic at the 2016 Assets Learning Conference. We took this as a sign that people are hungry for information.

Several organizations have done a great job designing and delivering training for financial coaches, including NeighborWorks America, CFS and Central New Mexico Community College. But the questions we keep getting are about program design and implementation: How do you start and run a financial coaching program? Training for coaches isn't enough to answer that question. CFS has many resources on its site and offers webinars for practitioners. NeighborWorks America published an insightful series of briefs that provide some promising practices in program design, but we haven’t seen anything that’s publicly available that provides a comprehensive view of what it takes to run a financial coaching program.

To help answer the program design question, we decided to embark on a project to document the decisions and practices of financial coaching programs across the country. Building on the CFS and Asset Funders Network annual financial coaching census, we designed a field-wide financial coaching survey to unearth the programmatic and design decisions that organizations are making. We received about 500 responses to this survey and conducted interviews with more than 70 organizations.The responses confirmed our suspicion that there’s wide variety in what people call “financial coaching,” a finding which is mirrored in the census, and that there are many different program models in operation. For example, some programs use volunteers or paid staff to provide stand-alone financial coaching services; some train their workforce development staff to provide financial coaching in combination with workforce services. We also learned that there are common challenges regardless of program model, such as tracking data and keeping clients engaged.

Our culminating resource, currently titled the Financial Coaching Program Design Guide, will share practices and lessons gleaned from the survey and interviews to help guide newcomers to the field and organizations that are seeking to expand their services to understand the decisions ahead of them. Rather than being a how-to manual, it will present many different options for operating a financial coaching program. We aim to help organizations develop a model that is responsive to their clients’ needs and their organization’s capacity, while promoting continued innovation in the field. By using the guide, we hope that program coordinators and managers can build on the lessons of those who have come before them. We also hope to elevate the practices of organizations across the country and share tools that have been useful in program implementation.

We’ll be testing the content of the guide with six organizations this winter, with the aim of disseminating the guide publicly in summer 2018. In the meantime, if you've got a great practice or tool to share, we'd love to hear from you! Contact Hiba Haroon at hharoon@prosperitynow.org

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