At Compass Working Capital, we recognize that our clients are experts in their own lives. We’re on a mission to end asset poverty for families with low incomes and narrow the racial and gender wealth divides by operating client-centered savings and financial coaching programs, delivering training and technical assistance to other practitioners, and shaping policy solutions that dismantle barriers to asset building. We partner primarily with families led by Black and/or Latinx women — with the key word being partner.

We believe in the hopes and experiences of our clients, and that by building relationships of trust we can support them to reach their goals. Clients often share how meaningful it is to have a financial coach who truly listens, who doesn’t judge or admonish decisions, but instead offers encouragement and resources that enable clients to make decisions for themselves. And we see the results of the trust bear out in the data — on average our clients increase their credit scores by 75 points and build over $8,000 in savings by the time they graduate from our program.

Our clients know the challenges they face, approaches that have failed them in the past, and which programs and policies should be implemented to improve lives. We don’t need to make these decisions for them — we need to work alongside them. It’s our job to listen, incorporate what we hear into our strategies, and advocate for client-driven solutions.

There are three primary ways we make sure we actively listen to our clients, invite them to be part of our decision-making processes, and partner with them to tell the story of what we’re working together to achieve:

  1. Routine Monitoring and Evaluation: It can be easy for nonprofits — or funders — to get excited about a solution and start to build what they think makes sense in a bubble. That can lead to designing programs or tools that won’t have the desired impact. When we build new tools, such as our online enrollment portal, we engage clients in an iterative process. Clients are invited to take systems on test drives to ensure we’re on the right track. We think big but build small and empower end users — our clients — to provide feedback throughout product lifecycles to ensure they shape the ultimate product. Finally, we reflect back to our clients how we’ve used their insights in our work by using a section of our website to report back what we’ve heard from our clients. We learned from our time working with Listen4Good the importance of “closing the loop” by sharing how we’ve incorporated client feedback into solutions.
  2. Designated leadership bodies to inform and guide strategy
  3. Create space for clients to share and speak publicly

Read the full article about centering community voice by Markita Morris-Louis at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.