The Mission Asset Fund (MAF) is bringing online matchmaking to the way community-based organizations do business in the Mission District.

Lorena Melgarejo, MAF’s community engagement director, led a second orientation at the Fund’s offices at 1500 South Van Ness Ave. one recent Friday morning to inform fellow nonprofits of this exciting new project.

“How many of you know what Match.com is?” Melgarejo asked the 14 staff members in attendance from the various organizations, including Caminos Pathways, HomeownershipSF, and the Mission Beacon Center.

After some laughs and chuckles from the audience, Melgarejo added, “In our case, it’s to help the working class.”

Conceived by MAF and with the technological know-how of Salesforce.com, La RED, which stands for Resources for Economic Development, is an online screening and referral system intended to match people to the many resources found in the Mission District and throughout San Francisco.

“Whether formally or informally, all [community-based organizations] make referrals to other organizations,” said José Quiñonez, MAF’s executive director and the mastermind behind La RED.

Quiñonez explained that the Mission’s 60 community-based organizations serve a working class clientele, most of whom are Latino and recent immigrants not familiar with the resources available to them. “When they don’t know what’s out there, they don’t know what to ask for,” he said.

While Google and the City of San Francisco’s 3-1-1 customer service center can provide listings of programs and resources, it’s impossible for frontline staff at these organizations to sift through all and know which is best suited to their client’s needs, and much less follow up on the outcome of a referral.

MAF intends to facilitate the process by “leveraging this technology so that people don’t have to get the run around and go through the maze of services,” said Melgarejo.

“Referral 2.0 if you will,” said Quiñonez.

To explain how it works, Melgarejo pointed back to the screen and pulled up the client intake form, which will house the data key to matching individuals against eligibility criteria from a plethora of community services, government programs, and financial products.

Here, staff are to input their client’s basic information and check off the services they are interested in – the drop-down menu of services includes affordable housing, disability programs, job training, childcare assistance, and after school programs, to name only a few. Clients are also asked to answer questions such as Where do you live? What language do you communicate in? Do you rent or own? How many live at home?

“Hit match and that’s when the magic happens,” said Melgarejo.

A results page produces a “socio-economic profile,” listing services on a 5-star rating system with the program best suited to the client’s needs listed at the top.

“The matching is the engine that makes it all work,” Quiñonez pointed out. Not only can inter-agency referrals be made based on this list, but staff can track a referral’s outcome, as well as complete and print online applications for certain programs, that clients can then take to the destined organization.

The matchmakers will be frontline staff members from the community-based organizations that become official La RED Partners and whose job already involves client referrals.

For an organization to become a partner, staff members must attend an orientation, have their executive director sign a memorandum of understanding, and participate in a 2-hour training session on how to use La RED.

MAF’s goal is to have 10 organizations signed on and using the system by the end of the month, with 50 by the end of June and 100 by the end of the year, according to Melgarejo.

Thus far, more than 20 nonprofits, from La Cocina, to the Women’s Building, to the SRO Collaborative, have attended the orientations. It is still up to the executive directors of these organizations to decide whether they’ll sign up as partners.

“The more partners we can make, the more referrals we can make, the more data we have,” said Melgarejo.

In addition to referrals, La RED can generate data reports that are expected to show gaps in services available to the community, providing partner organizations with an additional means to secure funding for their programs.

MAF’s responsibility will be to maintain the system’s technical infrastructure and update content information, but La RED’s success will depend on the collaboration of its partners.

“We’re taking the Huckleberry Finn approach and inviting our friends to help us build the fence,” said Quiñonez. “We’ll bring all the materials, the wood, the paint, the paintbrushes, but they have to come help us build it.”

Whether frontline staff will use the system has yet to be seen.

“Would this be useful to you?” Melgarejo asked the staff members at the second orientation, referring to La RED and it’s ability to be a pragmatic tool for matching their clients to services.

The unanimous nods from the group corroborated Quiñonez’s prediction that they will.

“This is a practitioner-centric system,” he said. “La RED compliments what’s out there.”

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Housing, property, and space in general are prized commodities, especially in San Francisco. Nancy López gets to cover the stories that inevitably grow out of the cracks in the vacant storefronts, aging buildings and limited affordable housing - to name a few of the issues - found throughout the Mission District. She welcomes any story ideas readers may have.

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