Category Archives: General Information

4 Steps of Strategic Planning

From the wise words in the childhood book and movie of Alice in Wonderland, we learned that if we don’t Alice & Wonderland Quote
know where we are going, any road could take us there.  However, it may not be the most effective or efficient path and the outcome could be different than we hoped.  Developing a strategic plan provides that road map for all organizations – nonprofits, businesses, schools and government agencies – to have clear focus of our goals and strategies to accomplish those goals. 

We have the privilege of working with a few organizations every year to help them create their “road map” or strategic plan for the next 3-5 years.  In the course of completing these strategic plans, we have developed a formula that guides the process following four key steps.

4 Steps of Strategic Planning

 

Our process graphic1. Collaborate

Good strategic plans are not created in isolation in a board room.  We work with you to identify all of the key stakeholders that we need to engage to inform the strategic planning process.  This will vary depending on your organization, but typically involves some of the following key stakeholders:

  • Staff at different levels of the organization
  • Board of Directors
  • Volunteers
  • Current and past funders and donors
  • Key community partners/ stakeholders in the community
  • Clients
  • Public

When we worked with HSE S.P.O.R.T.S. on their strategic plan, we wanted to get feedback from a broad group of stakeholders.  We surveyed the public to gauge their understanding and perception of the organization and received a large response rate.  We also met with some of their key community partners for strategic feedback and met with their staff.  Through these efforts, we received rich feedback to inform the strategic planning team and started to create some buy-in and ownership from the community.

2. Assess

This step of the strategic planning process is so important as it provides the necessary context of understanding your organization and environment.  During this phase, it is important to complete an internal and an external assessment.  The internal assessment includes an analysis of the organization by looking at financial statements, programming, and organizational structure.  You will want to look for trends, gaps and opportunities.  The external assessment may include collecting information about the industry and/or completing a needs assessment of your community or targeted audience.

When we worked with Early Learning Indiana on completing their strategic plan, they wanted their strategic planning team to have a good understanding of the environment in which they operate.  There was a significant amount of change in policies, programming and priorities in the early learning industry that had implications for their work in the future.  Therefore, it was important to understand that context in planning for the future.

When people think of strategic planning, they most often think of having a retreat to develop a strategic plan.  While a retreat can be a good time to complete a strategic plan, it is not necessary.  The main purpose of this step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction.  In order to support this next step, we often prepare a pre-read packet that summarizes all of the information collected in the first two steps.  Then the strategic planning team is equipped with the rich feedback from the stakeholders (Step 1) and understanding the context (Step 2).  

There are a variety of group activities that can be used to help the team process the information and begin to identify “what” we want to accomplish. Once the goals (or “what”) have been identified, then we begin to talk about the “how” we will accomplish the work or the strategies.  There are different tools and activities we use to help move through this work.  The main thing to remember is to prioritize and focus.

3. Create

Now that a clear plan for the future has been reached, it is our job to make sense of all of the information and to package it in a meaningful way for the organization to implement.  We don’t believe in creating long strategic plan reports that sit on shelves.  We want our clients to use and review their strategic plan on a regular basis.  We recommend creating three strategic plan tools:

  1. “Pretty version” strategic plan – this is a one-page overview of your goals and top strategies.  This is a tool that can be shared externally with partners, funders and other key stakeholders as well as internally with staff.  It can live on your website and be part of your communication tools.
  2. Strategic plan report – this explains the full process of how the strategic plan was completed, the information collected (pre-read packet) and more detailed strategic plan report.  This is an internal document for staff use to reflect on the process and have access to all of the comprehensive information collected.
  3. Implementation plan – this tool helps unpack the strategic plan into actionable steps for staff, committees and the board.  It can sometimes be difficult for organizations to take what is written in the strategic plan and put it into action, often resulting in no action or change.  By creating this more detailed implementation plan there is a road map for how the organization will accomplish the goals identified over the next 3-5 years.

Completing a strategic plan can be a daunting or exhilarating process for some organizations.  We love to partner with organizations to help you think about the future and create a plan that will get you there.  You can find out more about our strategic planning services here.

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Working Remotely & How to Make it a Reality

What’s your dream job? Does it entail having a flexible schedule and ability to work WHEREVER? That dream is not uncommon which is nudging more and more organizations towards allowing employees to work remotely.  

Recent statistics show 50% of the United States workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency. However, 80% to 90% of the workforce says they would like toTransform (74) telework at least part time.

At Transform Consulting Group, our team gets the best of both worlds. Staff can work remotely or at the office. Since a lot of our work is meeting on-site with clients, we already found ourselves working outside the office.  Staff enjoy collaborating when necessary, but also love the freedom of working at home. We see many benefits in this structure and we’re not the only ones!

Benefits of working remotely:
  • Employees who can choose to work remotely are more satisfied.
    • 2/3 of people report that they WANT to work from home.
    • 36 percent would choose the opportunity to work remote over a pay raise.
  • Working remotely increases employee productivity.
    • 30 percent of employees accomplish more in less time when working remotely.
    • 23 percent are willing to work longer hours than they normally would on-site to accomplish more.
    • 52 percent are less likely to take time off when working remotely. 
  • Working remotely saves money.
    • If a typical business allowed their employees to work remotely just half the time, they would save an average of $11,000 annually in reduced overhead.
    • When your employees are happier, they stay in their positions longer. An average company loses $10,000-$30,000 for each employee who quits.
    • Employees can also save money in reduced transportation and wardrobe costs.

Working remotely isn’t realistic for everyone. However, for those of you who think you may be interested in jumping on this bandwagon, here are some resources our team recommends.  There are many resources Blog-Remote Workersavailable to support teleworking.  These tools and resources have been effective for our team:

  • Reliable computer, high speed internet services and mobile phone
  • Online Email Communication Platform
    • We use Google at TCG, so employees can access their email anywhere.
  • Online file share and access for team collaboration
    • There are many “cloud” storage systems.  Our team uses Google Drive, and we highly recommend you have an external hard drive or server to regularly back-up files.
  • Project Management System
    • We use Asana to assign tasks, track our team’s work and manage projects. This keeps everyone on the same page.  
  • Phone System
    • We use RingCentral for internal and external communications.
  • Time Tracking Software
    • At TCG, we utilize Harvest which is especially useful when allocating staff time for projects and billing purposes.
  • Video Conferencing
    • While our team doesn’t regularly utilize the variety of resources available, we have used Go To Meeting; WebEx, etc. when corresponding with clients.
  • Clear Communication and Expectations
    • Clear understanding of work schedules and when staff is “on” and “off” the clock, so the team knows when everyone is available.
    • Have regular check-in calls and in-person meetings to review tasks and projects.
  • Team Bonding
    • While employees do enjoy the flexibility and freedom of working independently, they still want to feel connected to each other and the organization. Therefore, it is helpful to schedule in-person group activities whether it is annual, quarterly or monthly.

At Transform Consulting Group, we want to accelerate your impact and that often starts by creating an empowering work environment for OUR team so that we are better equipped to serve yours.  For a full list of our services click here and let us know your thoughts or recommendations regarding working remotely!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post.  We were not asked to highlight any of the listed resources and only share our own opinions.

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Why More Funders Should Collaborate

“Partner” and “collaborate” are the buzzwords in the non-profit sector.  The idea of partnership is not limited to the individual organizations administering programming and services, but also applies to the funders awarding grants and funding. AfiStock-588266018ter years of funders encouraging grantees to partner, they are taking their own advice and working collaboratively.

Funding in the non-profit world can be siloed, with organizations often competing for limited funding for similar programs or services. At the same time many funders focus on similar issues and have a common desire to make a difference.  An after-school youth tutoring program can easily apply to a dozen funders seeking resources for their program, because all of those funders have some interest in youth development and education. This means that after-school program is completing twelve separate grant applications that all request somewhat similar information in a slightly different package.  Some funders are taking note of this trend and working collaboratively to support common causes.

The idea that funders can make a bigger impact with their resources by working together rather than independently is enticing.  In Central Indiana, this is exactly what has happened through the launching of the  Summer Youth Program Fund. The Summer Youth Program Fund (SYPF) is a collaborative effort among funders who support organizations that provide summer programming for Marion County youth.  The funding effort is made up of 11 funding partners (public and private) who support over 200 summer youth programs in Marion County. These individual funders have come together all with a common interest to support programs working with youth over the summer.  

The benefits of this type of funding partnership include the following:

  • Efficiency for the grantees.  There is one application that the grantees complete to be considered for all funding opportunities.  The grantees can spend more time on their programming and staff development and less time writing applications.
  • Collective impact.  Through a unified application, the funders have an opportunity to clarify and unite the intended focus, goals, and outcomes, which could lead to greater impact in the community.
  • Improved programming.  By working together, the funders could share capacity building resources made available to the grantees, such as combined professional development and technology.
  • Accountability and monitoring.  With a unified grant application and clear focus for the services, the evaluation, monitoring, and reporting is transparent and upfront. Common assessments and evaluation tools could be shared with grantees to implement.Blog infographic

Collaborative funding certainly has several benefits for the organizations receiving funding and the funders.  If a funder is interested in a collaborative, there are some lessons learned to consider:

  1. Define your goals
  2. Establish operational procedures (e.g., application process, grantmaking, contracts)
  3. Identify affinity funders to potentially join the collaboration and share common interest
  4. Keep the focus on the grantees and adding value to the grantmaking process

GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Centers, has created a Guide on Funder Collaboratives: Why and How Funders Work Together.  There are some great strategies and resources to help guide the process.   
We have worked with funders to develop and manage their grantmaking process.  If you would like to talk about enhancing your current grantmaking program or exploring a funder collaborative, give us a call or send us an email!  We would love to help you think through the process and see how we can improve your impact.

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Is Your Non-profit a Cooperator or a Competitor?

harvard_collaborationWith the continued growth of non-profits over the past several years (as we recently discussed in this blog article), some organizations view themselves in competition with other community organizations.  While this might not be the intention of Executive Directors or board members, often non-profits are competing for funding, clients, and even volunteers. However, a new trend is starting to emerge where non-profits are cooperating in partnership and not competing.

Our office is doing a book club, and the current book that we are reading is Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant. In their research of exemplary non-profits across the nation, they identified six effective practices identified in all twelve high-performing non-profits.  One of the six effective practices identified is the importance of nurturing the non-profit networks.

All twelve exemplary organizations were not just focused on making their non-profit the best, but  working to build formal and informal non-profit networks to advance their mission and cause.  Some might think that this is contrary to what makes a high-performing non-profit (to focus externally instead of internally).

Benefits of Cultivating Non-profit Networks

  • Greater ability to impact social change
  • Increased workforce of allies with shared knowledge and skills
  • Expansion of funding opportunities through partnerships
  • Unified force working toward common goals
  • Extended support outside your organization
  • Increased public awareness

Are you interested in developing a non-profit network? Crutchfield and McLeod outline four strategies to nurture this network:

  1. Grow the pieFunders are very interested and supportive of joint partnerships for programming and services. Focus on expanding funding for the greater cause over your individual organization in order to achieve greater impact for the cause. This can be done through joint grant applications, redistributing funds to other organizations, or partnering with other non-profits in their fundraising efforts.  High-impact non-profits will often serve as the “backbone” fiscal support for the network.Team Unity Friends Meeting Partnership Concept
  2. Share knowledge – Consider other non-profits as allies and share your expertise, research, etc. to strengthen the system. In looking toward a collective impact model, having a network that is consistent with related knowledge only helps further the cause.
  3. Develop leadership – Often non-profits have one leader that holds all of the knowledge, including historical knowledge of trends and partnerships. It is essential to cultivate the leadership of the next generation across the network. Again, this strengthens the cause by increasing the capabilities of the workforce.
  4. Work in coalitions – Often the causes that non-profits are working to address are complex and multi-faceted. Once a non-profit network is established, the next step is to broaden the network. It takes a unified community to make change happen and to sustain its impact.

There is no question that leading a non-profit organization is a challenge, and the concept of developing a network of non-profits might seem too hard to conceptualize. Building a strong network of non-profits to collaborate with is a great strategy to expand the social impact of your cause. Looking to other non-profits as allies in the overarching goal of improving the community and offering your strengths to them will create a unified, cohesive network that together can mobilize the entire community and sustain a greater impact.

At Transform Consulting Group, we work with many non-profits on program development, which often includes an emphasis on cultivating partnerships with local organizations. If you are interested in learning more about cultivating partnerships and the collective impact model, contact us today for a free consultation!

 

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4 Steps to Create a Dashboard

In today’s information age, organizations are overwhelmed with the amount of information that they collect, track and monitor.  Non-profit leaders must decipher through all the data to determine what is meaningful and relevant to share with staff, funders, Board of Directors and other community partners.  A dashboard is a great tool to bring all the critical elements together in a user-friendly report.

Through our program evaluation and research and analysis services, we help organizations create dashboards.  Here are a four steps to create an effective dashboard:

  1. Determine the audience for the dashboard. A dashboard is customized for the audience meant to view and use the dashboard, so first an organization needs to determine the intended audience. Then an organization needs to determine the key takeaways that you want the targeted audience to get from this dashboard.  Lastly, the organization should really focus on the information that is most important and relevant for this audience.
  1. Decide on what the dashboard is tracking now that the audience is determined. A dashboard is meant to communicate progress over time, such as monthly, quarterly or annually. In addition, data in the dashboard can be used to compare different data sets, such as geographic locations, sites or populations. These factors need to be determined to provide the appropriate context for decision makers.
  1. Determine the visuals that will be most effective in communicating the message. In most cases, we work to fit a dashboard on one-page. This does not provide much “real estate”, so you must be intentional about the visuals used to grab the audience’s attention and display the key messages [Sidebar: this is why we use Tableau!]. A dashboard does not have much room for wording and explanation.
  1. Determine the delivery of the dashboard. In most cases, dashboards are “static” or print reports that are shared via handouts or electronically. However, with the growing development of software programs more interactive dashboards are being created.  In some cases, there may be value in creating both a static dashboard that is completed annually and an interactive dashboard that is updated real-time.

Dashboard Blog imageAs we shared in this blog post about creating a needs assessment and annual report, we mentioned the state dashboard and county profile that we created for ELAC.  After conducting the first state needs assessment on young
children, ELAC realized that the amount of data and information was overwhelming. ELAC was inspired by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 16 indicator dashboard in their annual data book and used this to create ELAC’s dashboard.

Following the four steps above and inspired by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s dashboard, we worked with ELAC to create a state dashboard that:

  • Identifies four focus areas related to children and families, high-quality care programs, education workforce, and kindergarten readiness with 16 key indicators.
  • Compares progress over time (dependent upon the release of new/ old data)
  • Uses arrows (a visual tool) to depict if the numbers represent improvement (arrow goes up) or worsening (arrow goes down).

After a few years of creating the ELAC state dashboard, communities across the state of Indiana were asking for this same data at the local level.  We worked with ELAC and our state data partners to gather the county level information to create a two-page county dashboard and profile.  The first page of the county profile mirrors the state dashboard with a few exceptions.

Instead of comparing progress over time, the county dashboards compare the county data to the state data.  Following steps #1 and #2 above, we focused on the audience for the county dashboards who said that having their data in the context of the state data would be helpful to know if they are doing better or worse.  Therefore, that ranked as a higher priority than comparing their data over time.

The second page of the ELAC county dashboard was new and provided the opportunity to add visuals (charts and graphs) to depPicture1ict the key findings in the full narrative report.  The visuals help to communicate complex information in simple charts.

Using a data visualization software program like Tableau is critical to not only help make the dashboards visually appealing but also to automate the process.  In this case, we created 93 unique dashboards for the state and all 92 counties.  While the ELAC dashboards are currently only static reports, there is the option and feature (with Tableau) of making them interactive like the Indiana Commission of Higher Education’s College Readiness Dashboard. One of our good friends, the M.A. Rooney Foundation, has also been working to transpose K-12 data for schools and community partners into meaningful dashboards.
Are you ready to get started in creating a dashboard for your organization? We would love to work with you to help you focus in on the key indicators important for your organization and create a dashboard that informs decision-making! Contact us today for help.

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