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How human services organizations can prepare for 2023

Dec 01, 2022

During the darkest moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, human services agencies provided hope, care and critical services. Their ability to historically deliver excellent programs and services was rewarded, and many agencies received additional funding.

More money could have turned into more problems since some agencies lacked the infrastructure to handle a surge of funds or clients. But they handled it masterfully.

Right now, agencies are spending the last dollars of their relief money. Agencies are working with their communities to spend funds in compliant, thoughtful and outcomes-based ways — and to set themselves up for future needs. Over the past year, many human services agencies have prepared for the future by investing in technology to improve intake systems, operations and processes.

Without modernization, agencies can’t meet client demand. Retirement, burnout and intense labor competition have created an extensive shortfall in talent. And the federal funding process is too slow to match market conditions or urgent community needs.

Human services agencies are used to doing so much with so little — and that’s what they’ll return to in 2023. These five strategic priorities and trends can help agencies deliver essential services in a resource-constrained world.

2023 priorities and trends in human services

1. Identify your strengths — and your limits

Agencies can only do so much. Determine the best and highest use of your people, funds and facilities. Then, make sure funding, staffing models and processes are aligned to strategic priorities.

Look at your budget. Can you continue to operate as is? Are there community needs that could be fulfilled elsewhere? It might be time to consolidate operations or transfer some services to a partner. Be honest about your strengths, what you offer the community and what you can afford.

2. Explore new ways to work

There aren’t enough people to get the job done “the way it’s always been done.” Human services agencies must pursue automation technology to improve and reduce processes.

Technology can streamline operations so that clients receive services faster (and without repeating their stories or inputting information multiple times). And staff can focus their energy on the most important and rewarding aspects of the job.

Investing in technology is bigger than just adding an app or digitizing existing workflows. Question everything you do. Make sure you understand why processes and mechanisms exist. Then, explore new ways to accomplish your goals.

3. Take care of employees

Passion is important, but it can’t pay the bills. Human services agencies are competing against retail and fast-food positions for workers. And private and for-profit companies have more control over wages and recruitment perks. Agencies will have to balance the pay scales soon.

In the meantime, stay connected to employees. Learn what’s important to them. And make sure they know how important their work is to the mission. Drumbeat the mission, vision, values and impact of the organization. Help employees find meaning in their work, and remove as many barriers as possible. (And don’t stop once the pay piece is solved.)

There’s always more work than can be done. Be clear about expectations so that employees don’t feel like they’re carrying all the weight. If you know a situation is untenable, let them know what solutions you’re exploring. And invite their input.

4. Stay tuned in to Washington

Congress establishes budgets a year ahead — which can feel like eons ago for people working on the frontlines who are reacting to what communities need right now. Watch for funding measures outside the normal budgeting process that could direct more money into agencies. For example, cost-of-living measures could help agencies increase wages, which will be necessary to retain staff and maintain service levels.

Agencies should also expect more audits and monitoring in the next year. That’s not a bad thing. Use data to demonstrate how you made informed and impactful decisions about how to spend taxpayers’ dollars. Organizations that thoroughly documented how relief money was used have created a strong case for future funding. Prepare to show off. Prove that funding your agency is money well spent.

5. Be proactive

It’s time to abandon reactive mode. It’s exhausting. And a distraction.

Approach 2023 like you own the future and have more control over circumstances, instead of circumstances controlling you.

Proactively decide how you’d like to spend time, services and resources. Let that vision inform a hopeful strategic plan and future grant writing.

How Wipfli can help

Do you want to jump on these trends in human services? Wipfli can help. From digital transformation to organizational performance and talent optimization, we help human services organizations adapt to an ever-changing landscape. Learn more.

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Tammy T. Jelinek, MBA
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