Want to Improve Your Financial Capability Program? Talk to Your Clients.
Prosperity Now's Savings and Financial Capability team has assisted hundreds of organizations for several years to better address their clients' financial challenges. To start off Financial Capability Month, we'd like to share a lesson that is a hallmark of our technical assistance: talk to your clients.
This may seem obvious. But we often have assumptions about our clients’ problems and needs. Even frontline staff of social service agencies make this mistake. It's important to get input from your clients, customers, members, employees, etc., about what they're struggling with, what support they need and whether they want this support from you or an outside agency. Then, as you develop programs, products or services, go back to them to make sure you're on the right track. We've seen many organizations design a program without client input, only to see that clients aren't interested in it.
A few years ago, we worked with an energy assistance organization that wanted to provide financial coaching to clients. We interviewed clients about what they liked in the organization's services, what they struggled with financially and whether they were interested in working with a financial coach. We learned that despite clients’ trust in the agency, they were reluctant to discuss their finances with staff for fear of being kicked off energy assistance. They expressed a desire to have someone to work with on their finances, but wanted this to be separate from their existing services. In response, the energy assistance organization partnered with an external financial coaching program and made referrals to them.
In another case, one of our partners—Community Action Partnership of Orange County (CAPOC)—wanted to understand why clients weren't engaging with their financial education workshops. Through extensive surveys, interviews and conversations with staff, CAPOC's team learned that clients had long-standing credit and debt issues and wanted to learn more about managing bank accounts, making asset purchases and paying for higher education.
To address these needs, CAPOC developed a three-part plan: 1) modify their financial education workshops to cover these topics, 2) facilitate access to financial institutions so clients can open accounts and 3) provide one-on-one credit support. Rather than focusing solely on financial education workshops as they had intended, they met an observed need for one-on-one credit counseling. This is an important insight, as we’ve seen many organizations struggle to have clients attend financial education workshops.
These examples show us that if you build it, they won't necessarily come. Thoughtful planning includes talking to your target audience and coming back to them once you start offering a program or product to make sure it’s working.
If you're interested in conducting interviews with clients and staff, we have a toolkit to help you. Our Discovery Interviews guide can help you formulate an interview process. For other tools to help you plan financial capability services, see this resource: Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services.
Don’t hesitate to contact us at PlanningGuide@prosperitynow.org to let us know what else you'd like help with!