Volunteer-based financial coaching works
It was about four years ago that we started the conversation about financial coaching at Prepare + Prosper. It has long been a goal, and part of our strategic plan, to build off of the core of our work – free tax preparation – to help people achieve lasting financial capability.
For a number of years, we’d been placing volunteer financial planners in our tax clinics, hoping people who were getting their taxes done would spend some of their wait time talking with a financial planner about their finances. While that was working for some, for many there wasn’t enough time to work on real change. And more often than not, there was misalignment between the expertise and experience of the financial planners volunteering and the realities of the people coming to our tax clinics.
Through taking what worked with embedding financial planners in our tax clinics and our discovery of volunteer-based financial coaching and learnings around behavior change, we set out to learn to what people wanted and needed. We partnered with Hope Community to listen to community members about what help they wanted in reaching their financial goals.
Prepare + Prosper has built a financial coaching program, called Money Mentors, centered on what we learned would work for people and what they wanted. Participants are carefully matched with trained volunteer financial coaches. They work them for a six month period, maybe longer if they continue on, meeting once a month to work on their goals. Participants also meet with their peers once a month to connect, share resource, and build community – a huge part of what makes Money Mentors a success.
The field of financial coaching is young, evolving, and dynamic. As we meet others across the country doing this work, have yet to run into a two coaching programs that look exactly the same and that’s exciting.
Some programs do phone coaching, others only meet in person. Some models require participants to attend a set number of sessions; other models allow participants to drop in and out as desired. Some models offer stand-alone financial coaching and others offer a more integrated approach into other programs and services. Some models use paid coaches, while other models use volunteer coaches.
With nearly four years under our belts, we’ve seen how it strong and dynamic the volunteer-based model is and how it changes people lives. Below are five reasons why volunteer-based coaching works.
- Low coach-client ratio. With a volunteer model, we are less constrained by budget and funding. We recruit enough volunteers so that, on average, our financial coaches are paired up with four participants. This low ratio allows each financial coach to really get to know each of their participants. Many paid financial coaches have caseloads of 50+ individuals that they work with. Our intimate ratio allows for participants to exchange phone calls, emails, and texts between appointments to keep each other up-to-date. This makes coaching feel more personal and creates space for deeper relationships to form.
- We offer financial coaching on evenings and weekends. Most of the participants and volunteers in the program have day jobs that would make it difficult for them to meet between 9 – 5 p.m. (when most paid coaches are available). We have scheduling options on weekday evenings from 6 – 9 p.m. and on weekend mornings from 9 a.m. – noon. We chose these hours according to what worked for participants.
- We have a lot of financial coaches with wide variety of expertise. Our program has 32 financial coaches, each with their own expertise and background. During the “matching” process, we try to pair participants with financial coaches who have interests, goals, and personalities that align. Also, if a participant has a particular need that a different financial coach can help with, they can arrange a time to meet. We recently had a participant who wants to get a job in development have a one-time meeting with one of our coaches who is a development director to talk about the field!
- We are able to integrate peer support into the coaching model. When our office is open for financial coaching, we have between 14-18 participants meeting with their financial coach in one space. After meeting with their coach, the 14-18 participants meet in a room (led by a trained peer leader) to exchange ideas, resources, and support within the group. It’s a way to learn and share with one another. We sometimes have speakers come to talk to the group. For example, last month we had a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) present on “Five things that a CFP does that you can do yourself.”
- We get people to show up, and keep showing up. With our volunteer-based model, we put relationships at the center. This translates into commitment, accountability between coach and participant leading to lasting behavior change. Around 85% of participants complete our six-month program and our volunteer coach retention is over the course of a year is 93%.
For more information about Prepare + Prosper’s financial coaching program, Money Mentors, please contact Anne Leland Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org