Category Archives: Nonprofit

Are You Ready for a Federal Grant?

Receiving a federal grant can be a great way to accelerate your impact. There are many positive attributes in applying for and receiving a federal grant. Federal grants tend to be for larger amounts and are often multi-year funding to name a few. However, federal grant applications are complex and not easy to navigate.

We have successfully helped several organizations apply for and receive multi-million dollar federal grants. These grants have really helped to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure, expand their reach, and impact more individuals. There are some times, however, that we recommend a client not pursue a federal grant opportunity.

Before you invest the time and energy with a federal grant application, make sure these four elements are in place to determine if your organization is ready for a federal grant:grant ready blog


1. Compelling Need

Federal grants are very competitive. When they are national, you can be competing with hundreds of proposals. Nearly every federal grant application will begin with a “Need Section” where the applicant is asked to explain the need for this grant funding and support. One of the ways to stand out is to make sure your geographical community and target population fit the profile of need. Then you will want to pull from various public data sources, using citations, to make the case. Depending on the proposal, we might also include some relevant research and citations  that back up the need and proposed intervention (Check out this blog for our go to data sources!). Treat the writing of this section more like an academic college paper.

2. Program Design

When organizations are ready to apply for a federal grant, they need to have a strong design of their program. Many federal agencies are promoting “research-based” and “evidence-based” programs and services (See this blog for more insight!). If your program does not meet those thresholds, which is not always a requirement, then work to make the case for the program’s rigor and (hopefully) close alignment to evidence-based programs and elements of evidence-based programs.

3. Program Impact

There is an overall trend in grant making where more and more funders are wanting to invest their resources in organizations with sound data and results. They want to see the outcomes and solid data to backup your impact. Make sure your program has outcomes and not just outputs (See this blog for some help with outcomes!). If you are a new program or proposing a new intervention, then it is more difficult since you most likely haven’t proven yourself. This is where having a strong, close alignment to an evidence-based program model is helpful and may serve as a proxy for your impact.

4. Fiscal System and Accountinggrants-gov-logo-lg


Last but certainly not least, your organization needs to have strong fiscal controls in place to account for your federal grant dollars. You never know when the federal government will request an audit of your grant funding, so you want to have good systems in place to be able to account for those specific funds. We had one client go through an audit due to some concerning issues with their federal program officer (not anything they were doing wrong), and it was quite laborious and time consuming since this was their first federal grant. They didn’t have all of the separate accounting systems in place. Make sure you are ready to track, monitor and account for your federal funding.

If your organization can check all four boxes, then it may be time for you to consider a federal grant opportunity that could propel your impact and reach forward. If your organization can’t check all of the boxes yet, then you may need some support to help you get ready. The good news is we can help you in either scenario. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation and see how federal grants may be a good fit for your organization!

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5 Ways to Strengthen Your Internship Program

As a college student, I believe it is important to gain valuable experience in the workforce. My internship at Transform Consulting Group (TCG) has wrapped up, and I feel better prepared for graduation because  of this summer experience. I am grateful for companies like TCG who provide opportunities to interns (like myself) to build our skills, network with other professionals and strengthen our resumes.

I understand that hiring interns can be a gamble for organizations. You invest time and resources into someone who is often a college student, has little experience and is still sharpening their skillset. While interns do make more work, there are some benefits for hosting an intern:

  • Build your talent pipeline: An internship program is a great recruiting tool and can help you create an ongoing pipeline for your workforce.
  • Increase productivity: There is extra time needed on the front-end of an internship program to get the intern ready to dive into the work. However, once you have done the proper training, it can be nice to have extra hands on deck for projects.Group 4
  • Save money: Interns can be a low cost (TCG pays their interns!) resource for your organization while still being highly motivated workers.
  • Build leadership development opportunities: Having an intern can be a great way to encourage leadership growth among your team by assigning different (maybe even unlikely) employees to supervise an intern.

Now that I have sold you on the benefits of having interns, there are certain things that organizations can do to make it a meaningful experience for everyone! Here are 5 ways to help strengthen your internship programs:

1. Develop an in-depth orientation

Your intern has (hopefully) already studied the company prior to their first day, but it’s important to spend time catching them up to speed on who you are and the work your organization does in the community. You want them to feel confident right away, and it equips them to accurately explain your organization’s work when they share their experiences with fellow students, professors, and future employers.

On day one of my internship, I had a complete employee onboarding. I received collateral materials that tell the story of TCG, and had an opportunity to ask questions about the company.

thumb_IMG_0015_10242. Treat the intern as a real employee

It benefits both the intern and your organization if you provide them with real-world tasks and tangible projects. It is important to remember that even if they will be an employee for a short period of time, their work will still have an impact on the organization. Give your intern opportunities to contribute and walk away from the experience with work they can add to their portfolios. 

3. Schedule regular check-ins

Not only is an internship a great way for a young professional to gain work experience, but it can be a way for them to learn from other professionals in your organization. Allow for times of discussion, share your story, and be transparent about lessons you learned along the way in your career.

4. Practice patience

Every organization has a different way of doing things.  It takes time for any new employee to understand the culture and work environment at a new organization. Be patient with your interns as they learn the ins and outs of your organization and how they can contribute. More than likely it will take them longer to complete a task, and there will probably be some additional reviews involved.

5. Provide time for networking

Along with connecting interns within your organization (if you have more than one), it is also beneficial to allow for opportunities to build their network outside of your walls.

I was able to enjoy social events like Rotary meetings, educational conferences, and networking specific events with other local interns. To make the most of time out of the office, be intentional about scheduling time to debrief.

Internships are a critical step in a young professional’s learning and a company’s talent pipeline. Overall, my experience at TCG as a marketing intern provided opportunities to strengthen my skills and abilities, learn more about the type of work I want to do in the future, and gave me practical experiences that I can share in my portfolio as I begin the job search. It’s the type of experience I hope my fellow classmates are able to find!

Learn more about the team and culture at TCG here, and stay posted on any job opportunities here.

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5 W’s of a Process Evaluation: Part 2

In a recent blog post, we introduced the first two W’s of a process evaluation:

  1. Why conduct a process evaluation
  2. Who should conduct a process evaluation

This blog post will cover the remaining three W’s:

  1. What methods to use to conduct a process evaluation
  2. Where to conduct a process evaluation
  3. When to conduct a process evaluation
WHAT METHODS TO USE WHEN CONDUCTING A PROCESS EVALUATION

There are several different data tools and methods you can use during a process evaluation. It may be helpful to use a combination of these methods!

  • Review documentation: It can be helpful to review staff logs, notes, attendance data and other program documents during a process evaluation. This method will help you to assess if all staff are following program procedures and documentation requirements.
  • Complete fidelity checks: Many programs/curriculums come with fidelity checklists for assessing program implementation. This is especially important if you are implementing an evidence-based program or model. Programs may have a set number of required sessions and guidelines for how frequently they should occur. You can use fidelity checklists to assess if the program’s implementation is consistent with the original program model.
  • Observe: Observations can be especially helpful when you Y Observationshave multiple sites and/or facilitators. During observations, it’s crucial to have a specific rating sheet or checklist of what you should expect to see. If a program has a fidelity checklist, you can use it during observations! If not, you should create your own rubric.
  • Collect stakeholder feedback: Stakeholder feedback gives you an idea of how each stakeholder group is experiencing your program. Groups to engage include program staff, clients, families of clients and staff from partner programs/organizations. You can use interviews, surveys, and focus groups to collect their feedback. These methods should not focus on your clients’ outcomes, but on their experience in the program. This will include their understanding of the program goals, structure, implementation, operating procedures and other program implementation components.

In our evaluation project with the Wabash YMCA’s 21 Century Community Learning Center, we used a combination of the methods described above. Our staff observed each program site using a guiding rubric. Our team collaborated beforehand to make sure they had a consistent understanding of what components to look for during observations. We also collected stakeholder feedback by conducting surveys with students, parents and teachers. The content of these surveys focused on their experiences and knowledge of the program. After the program was complete, we reviewed documentation, including attendance records and program demographic information.

WHERE TO CONDUCT A PROCESS EVALUATION

You should conduct a process evaluation wherever the program takes place. To capture an accurate picture of implementation, an evaluator needs to see how the program operates in the usual program environment. It is important to assess the implementation in all program environments. For example, if a program is being implemented at four different sites, you should assess the implementation at each site.

In our evaluation project with the Wabash YMCA, we assessed the program implementation at three different school sites. This involved physically observing the program at each site as well as reviewing records and documentation from each site. Being in the physical environment allowed us to assess which procedures were used consistently among sites. It also helped us identify program components that needed improvement.

WHEN TO CONDUCT A PROCESS EVALUATION

An organization can conduct a process evaluation at any time, but here are a few examples of times when its use would be most beneficial:

  • A few months to a year after starting a new program, you can conduct a process evaluation to assess how well your staff followed the implementation plan.
  • When you’re thinking about making a change to a program, a process evaluation will help you determine in what program areas you need to make changes.
  • If your program is not doing well, conduct a process evaluation to see if something in your process is interfering with program success.
  • When your program is doing well, conduct a process evaluation to see what in your process is making it successful.
  • If you’ve had issues with staff turnover, conducting a process evaluation can help identify gaps in staff training, professional development and ongoing support that may be contributing to the turnover rate.

To determine when to conduct a process evaluation, it is also important to consider the capacity of your organization. Make sure that your staff will have enough time to devote to the evaluation. Even when using an external evaluator, staff may need to spend extra time meeting with evaluators or participating in focus groups/interviews.

We conducted our evaluation with the Wabash YMCA at the end of their first year of program implementation. Evaluating their first year of implementation allows us to provide them with recommendations on how to improve the program’s implementation in future years. We will conduct a similar evaluation during the next three subsequent years to track their operations and processes over time.

If your organization needs support in conducting a process evaluation, contact us today to learn more about our evaluation services!

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Your Project Is Feasible. Now How Do You Implement It?

You completed a feasibility study and found out that your project is feasible! Now it’s time for the work of actually implementing your project or new program. What are your next steps?

Your implementation plan will include 4 focus areas: program design, staff, communications/ marketing, and budget. Here are some specific action items to get you on your way to full implementation!

Program Design

A well-designed program will enable you to have the greatest possible impact. Your feasibility study helped you make sure that the elements of your program are informed by the outcomes you want to achieve. Now it’s time to purchase the necessary materials, including the curriculum, as well as necessary office and program supplies.

You will also want to have a method of evaluation in place from the start. You can set this up internally or hire an external evaluator. The evaluation process will help you adjust to changing needs and improve upon your practices. Decide on the process you will use, purchase a database if necessary, and write standard operating procedures for your staff.

Staff

You will likely be looking to hire and train new staff in order to fully implement your program. For this, you can rely in part on the information in your feasibility study. In addition, use what you and your leadership team have done in the past when hiring new staff.

Your feasibility study will help you determine how many staff to hire in your first year. During the first year, you will still be in the process of ramping up to full capacity. Then, determine how many staff are needed once you are operating your fully developed program. You might also work on partnerships with local higher education institutions, workforce boards, and other critical groups to support staffing your new program.

Communications and Marketing

You started developing partnerships with key stakeholders when you engaged them during your feasibility study. Continue to keep these partners informed and engaged as you make progress! During project implementation, you may want to form relationships with additional partners as well. These partnerships are an essential part of your overarching communications and marketing plan.

marketing-toolkitYour marketing strategies will be important as you build your program, begin program enrollment, and communicate its value to your prospective clients and the broader community. Your goals are to attract your target clients to your program, build community buy-in, and increase awareness of prospective donors of the positive impact of your program.

Start using the marketing tactics and timeline you identified in your feasibility study. Create a website, or add onto your existing website with information specific to this project. Send a press release to local media to announce your program launch. Create social media pages for your new program, or add the new information to your existing pages.

Budget

Use the information in your feasibility study to put together a detailed start-up budget. Remember to account for all your projected initial costs. Then, create a budget for each of your first 3 years of operation. For your first year, you will likely not build out your full model. To inform your year-one budget, determine how many clients it is feasible to serve in that first year before you have built up your program’s capacity. When filling in your budget for your second year, account for increases in revenue and expenses for operating at full capacity. As you look to year three, quantify projected changes you expect to see after two years of operation.

jay-county-feasibility-studyYou will set yourself up for success by budgeting for start-up expenses, as well as the changes you will see in the initial years of operation. As you identify the amount of revenue needed to implement your program, create a fund development action plan to secure sustainable funding.

We recently completed a feasibility study for early learning stakeholders in Jay County. Now they are sharing the study results with a broader array of partners. Then, they will determine how to get from where they are now to full program implementation. If you’re interested in completing a feasibility study or taking the the next step toward program implementation, we’d love to help! Contact us today!

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5 W’s of a Process Evaluation: Part 1

When it comes to program evaluation, people often think of evaluating the effectiveness and outcomes of their program. They may not think about evaluating how the program was administered or delivered, which may affect the program outcomes. There are several types of valuable evaluations that do not focus on outcomes. One type of evaluation, called “process or formative evaluation”, assesses how a program is being implemented.

In this two part blog series, we are going to cover the 5 W’s of a Process Evaluation:

  1. Why conduct a process evaluation
  2. Who should conduct a process evaluation
  3. What methods to use to conduct a process evaluation
  4. Where to conduct a process evaluation
  5. When to conduct a process evaluation

In this first blog in the series we will cover the first two W’s. The next blog will discuss the other three.

WHY CONDUCT A PROCESS EVALUATION

Let’s start with the “why”. A process evaluation helps an organization better understand how their program is functioning and operating. Process evaluations also serve as an accountability measure and can answer key questions, such as:Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 4.38.23 PM

  • Is the program operating as it was designed and intended?
  • Is the current implementation adhering to program fidelity?
  • Is the program being implemented consistently across multiple sites and staff, if applicable?
  • What type and frequency of services are provided?
  • What program procedures are followed?
  • Is the program serving its targeted population?

 

It is important to determine what you want to learn from your process evaluation. Maybe you want to assess if the program is being implemented as it was intended or you want to know if the program model is being followed. Whatever the reason, you want to be clear about why you are completing the process evaluation and what you hope to learn.

We are currently working with the Wabash YMCA’s 21st Century Community Learning Center to evaluate their program implementation. Each center is required to work with an external evaluator to conduct a process evaluation. Here is what we hope to learn and the why of this evaluation:

  1. The evaluation will assess if the program has been implemented as it was intended and if it is adhering to state standards;
  2. This evaluation will capture the population served through the assessment of attendance trends;
  3. The findings from the process evaluation will be used for program improvement in subsequent years.

WHO SHOULD CONDUCT YOUR PROCESS EVALUATION

When determining who will conduct your process evaluation, you have the option of either identifying an internal staff member (e.g., program manager or quality assurance) from your organization or hiring an external evaluator. Many organizations find that there are challenges with an internal team member: they may not be objective, they don’t have a fresh perspective, and they often have other job responsibilities beyond the evaluation.

For the reasons mentioned above, it is beneficial to have an external evaluator (like TCG!). An external evaluator will be able to assess the operations of your program from an unbiased lens. This is especially helpful if a program has multiple sites. An external evaluator can assess all sites/facilitators for consistency more objectively than a program staff member. (If you’re interested in learning more about how to evaluate multi-site programs, view our blog post here!).

In our evaluation project with the Wabash YMCA, the decision to conduct an evaluation with an external group was made by their funders. This decision ensures that the evaluation is high quality and objective.

The other three W’s will be discussed in a later blog post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, contact us today to learn more about our evaluation services!

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3 Strategic Plan Tools to Create

Congratulations! You have journeyed through the 4 steps of our Strategic Planning Process and you’re ready for the final step: Create. (We covered step 1, step 2, and step 3 in previous blogs).

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.19 PM

The goal of a strategic plan is to develop timely, relevant and action-oriented plans for the future of your organization. Once you have a clear direction, it is time to make sense of the information and package it in a way that is meaningful and possible to implement.  

At TCG, we believe a strategic plan has little value if it is a report that sits on your shelf, never to be seen again. We don’t create long strategic plan reports that you can’t use. We want you to use it, share it and review it on a regular basis.

When working with clients, we recommend and create 3 different strategic plan tools:

1. One-page strategic plan – This is a one-page summary of your goals and top strategies. This tool can be shared externally with partners, funders, and other key stakeholders as well as internally with staff.

When creating a strategic plan for the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we wanted a one-page overview that highlighted the following key elements:Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.33 PM

a. Stakeholders involved (especially since this is a collective impact, multi-sector plan)

b. Goals

c. Strategies

d. Outcomes

Each one-pager for the strategic plan that we create is unique to the client but essentially covers their top goals and strategies.

2. Strategic plan report – This report explains the process of how the strategic plan was completed, the information that was collected, and more details about the goals and strategies. This is typically an internal document that is shared with staff and the board to use when reflecting on the process. It’s especially helpful to document this information for when there are leadership transitions with the staff and board.

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.03.53 PM

3. Implementation plan – Too often we find that organizations get stuck with figuring out how to take the big picture elements in the strategic plan and make them operational. We create an “implementation plan” to unpack the strategic plan into actionable steps for staff, committees and the board. The main audience for the implementation plan is staff, board and committee members who are most likely responsible for implementation.  Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 2.04.09 PM


This could be set up like a calendar or a chart that describes who is responsible for each step. We also love using Tableau to create a strategic plan dashboard to track and monitor action items and milestones. The point is that we want all parties involved to have a clear understanding of the timeline, so that they can put the plan in motion.

Is your organization ready to jump into a strategic planning process? Learn more about our strategic planning services here. Contact us today, and we’d love to chat about how our team can meet your needs.

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Marketing 101: 6 Places to List Your Organization Online

At Transform Consulting Group, we know how important it is to market your organization within the online world. Marketing 101- 6 Places to List Your Organization Online
That’s why we have so many blogs in our
Marketing 101 series dedicated to your online presence (here and here).  

There are many online directories to look through. It can be confusing to determine which search engines to use.  We know your time is valuable, so we created a list with our top six go-to directories, starting with the most popular, that you can use to promote your work!

6 Places to List Your Organization Online

1. Google my Business

You have probably heard of or even used Google my Business. Google my business is free and is the “monster” of all search engines. Google logs an average of 7.8 billion searches per day – directing traffic to specific business pages. They have become the prime example of how search engines can help any company become successful.

2. Bing Places for Business

This is a Microsoft product, which means that Bing is the default search engine for most Windows desktop and tablet versions. It allows anyone to add multiple business locations, photos, videos, and more. Bing has an easy, fast, and free registration for anyone to use and add their business.

3. Yahoo Local Listing

Yahoo’s service draws millions of searches every day. It allows anyone to post a basic listing for free. You can choose to pay a minimal free to add more detail and photos within your organization description (but we have had success with the free version!). There is a smaller fee in order to add and more description and a larger fee in if you want your organization to be listed in more than 40 directories. The basic listing is just as sufficient because the most important thing is getting the name out there for the public to see.

4. Yelp

Yelp is one of the best, free engines for honest consumer reviews. Small businesses might not think to use Yelp because it is popular for restaurants and hotels, but it is also a great source for advertising small nonprofits. Yelp stands out from the others because it allows organizations to connect with their clients and/or stakeholders and send them messages for more in depth advertising. They have a unique reporting tool to gain reviews of the best business trends.

5. MerchantCircle

MerchantCircle is a free network that focuses on small business connecting with local customers and other small businesses in the same area. Users can boost their listings, post their own blogs, and take advantage of other marketing tools aimed at making their business stronger.

6. Yellow Pages

Yes, it is true, the Yellow Pages are still an efficient way to advertise a business. It has become a well-organized, online version of the classic search guide. Along with marketing, TCG appreciates good data that can help make a company stronger. Yellow Pages has become the best network that offers detailed ad performance data. The downside to yellow pages, is the fee. The fee can become high depending on the size of the advertisement. This would be something to consider when advertising a business through Yellow Pages. Learn more about the price breakdown here

Not only is it important to have your organization listed, but what information you include in your profile is vital! Make sure to fill in all fields with updated information about your business, so that it is accurate and easy for consumers to learn more about your organization.

At TCG, we’re excited about the causes you support and the work you do in your communities. Can we help you position your organization better online? Contact us today to learn more!

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3 Steps to Establish Clear Outcomes

Evaluation is key in determining if your program is making the desired impact. While critical, evaluation can be an overwhelming and intimidating process for organizations. We have worked with several clients to help them embark on the journey of evaluating their program(s). At Transform Consulting Group, we follow a four-step evaluation process. The first step of establishing clear outcomes can be one of the most difficult. You know what your mission is and you know your vision for a better community, but how do these translate into measurable outcomes?

4 eval steps

 

1. Establish clear outcomes

2.  Create or modify data tools and system

3. Analyze the data

4. Use data to make informed decisions

 

Outputs vs. Outcomes

When determining outcomes, the conversation usually starts with program outputs. Outputs are what your program produces: activities, services and participants. Tracking, analyzing and reporting your program outputs is a valuable way of displaying an organization’s work! For example, let’s say an after-school tutoring program served 650 students during the 2017-2018 school year. You could further break that number down by age and frequency of services:

Age group Session Frequency Number of participants Total number of sessions provided
3rd-5th grades Weekly for 10 weeks 320 320×10=3,200
6th-8th grades Weekly for 15 weeks 330 330×15=4,950
Total tutoring sessions provided= 8,150

With a few simple calculations, we have a powerful representation of the work this tutoring team has accomplished! However, outputs alone don’t display programmatic impact.

Outcomes go one more step in showing impact. Outcomes are the changes in knowledge or behavior that you want your clients to experience as a result of your program. They are the “so what” of your services and activities. There are three levels of outcomes that you want to set and measure:

  1. Short-term: What changes in knowledge, attitude or behavior do you want to see in your clients by the time they complete your program or service?
  2. Intermediate: What changes do you want to see in client knowledge, attitude or behavior 6 months-12 months following program completion?
  3. Long-term: What changes do you want to see in client knowledge, attitude or behavior 1+ years after program completion?

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We recently worked with the Center for Leadership Development (CLD) to develop short-term, intermediate and long-term outcomes. They are focused on helping get more students of color to and through postsecondary education. Here are three steps that we used to help them establish clear outcomes that assess the impact of their organization.

1. Align to Organizational Mission and Purpose

When you set outcomes, you want to make sure that they align with your organizational mission and benchmarks. CLD’s programming and organizational benchmarks are centered around five principles for success: character development, educational excellence, leadership effectiveness, community service, and career achievement. We helped them establish several outcomes that aligned with their programs, missions, and key principles. 

2. Review Funder’s Priorities 

When receiving grant funding or large donations, organizations often make commitments about what they will accomplish with those funds. Therefore, you want to make sure that future outcomes still align with your current funding priorities and commitments. We worked with CLD to make sure that their many outcomes aligned with the commitments they had made with their current funders.

3. Develop SMART Outcomes

When working with clients to develop outcomes, we follow the “SMART” rubric. We plan to write a full blog to go more in-depth about the SMART rubric, but for now the main takeaway is that they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.

One of CLD’s long-term desired outcomes is for 75% of their participants to earn a bachelor’s degree or credential within six years of high school graduation. This outcome aligns perfectly with their mission and funding commitments, but is it SMART? Let’s check!

Copy of Establishing Clear Outcomes draft (2)With their clear outcomes established, CLD now has a road map of where they want their participants to go. This road map not only helps CLD stay on course, but it also helps to paint a picture of their desired impact for their funders and supporters. Now they are ready to move on to the next step of their evaluation: Creating or modifying data tools and systems!

If you’re ready to evaluate your program, but are hesitant to take the first step, contact us today!

 

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Tools Your Board of Directors Need to be Effective

Every nonprofit organization and school has a Board of Directors that is meant to help govern the organization. There are many companies, books, and webinars that solely focus on supporting Board of Directors. Over the years, we have found and developed some key tools that are easy to apply to help organization and their Boards govern more effectively.

Board of DirectorsWhile some of these Board tools might seem standard, we still find that these are missing and/or have not been well developed. We could write a blog post about each of these tools (and maybe we will!). This is a quick overview of the value and purpose of each tool to help your organization think about how you might integrate them into your Board of Directors.

8 Tools to Strengthen Your Board of Directors

  1. Bylaws: This is a legal document and also a roadmap for actions that the organization can take. While there are plenty of bylaw templates online, your organization should customize the bylaws. Some basic items to include in bylaws include: number of board members, how board members are selected, board meetings, committees, voting procedures, conflicts of interest, etc. We recommend that organizations annually review their bylaws and make sure that they are clear and provide good instruction to guide the Board of Directors.
  2. Board Manual or Handbook: The Board handbook is the “toolbox” for Board members that provides more detail than the bylaws. This is a great resource to review during new Board member orientation. Some of the key elements that we look for and include in Board Handbooks are: Organization Overview, Contact Information, Board Meetings, Finances and Fundraising, Governance, Committees, Board Policies, and Board Resources.
  3. Board Member Job Description: The last thing that an Executive Director or Board President wants to hear from a Board member is, “I didn’t know I was joining the Board to do ______.” One of the most prominent issues that we come across in working with Board of Directors is a lack of clear expectations for the Board of Directors. A Board Member Job Description is exactly as it sounds and similar to an employee job description. It clearly articulates what is expected of the Board member, such as meeting attendance, committee involvement, other organization involvement (e.g, attendance at certain events), a “give or get” policy (related to fundraising), and member terms. This information should all be communicated during the recruitment process, so that when the Board member is signing the form there are no surprises and everyone is in agreement about expectations.
  4. Board Self-Assessment: In healthy organizations, there are ongoing performance reviews and assessments to check-in on how well the organization and its employees are functioning. The Board Self-Assessment is a good exercise for the Board to reflect on how well the Board is functioning against some key best practices. This could be a good practice to complete with
    a 3-year strategic plan. We have developed a 3-page Board self-assessment tool, and there are many online. Indiana Youth Institute has a self-assessment tool online here. The Boys and Girls Club of America developed A Framework for Continuous Improvement of Nonprofit Board Effectiveness that could also be used as a self-assessment.
  5. 1:1 Individual Board Member Check In: One strategy to engage current Board members is to schedule individual annual meetings with each Board member and the Executive Director and Board President/ Vice President. These individual check-in meetings provide a great opportunity to review the expectations of being a Board member, celebrate the successes and engagement of the last year and follow-up on any concerns. It is also a great time for the Board member to affirm their commitment for the coming year, such as financial pledge, leadership and/or committee roles and any connections to make.
  6. Board Meeting Calendar and Key Decisions Meeting Calendar: This is a “two-fer”. Yes, it may seem simple to state that a Board tool is a meeting calendar/ schedule, but you would be surprised by how many organizations do not have a clear meeting schedule and then struggle with attendance. We suggest sending out the Board meeting calendar for the year to all Board members and including any additional important dates (e.g., annual member meeting, required fundraising event, etc.). In addition, in order to help drive strategic decisions at the Board meeting we suggest developing a “key decision meeting calendar”. Every organization has some key decisions that the Board will need to vote on and/or participate in, so it is helpful to put those on the calendar, such as annual budget review, program evaluation reports, and strategic plans (planning, check-in or updates).
  7. Board Member Recruitment Process: While the bylaws should outline at a high-level the process to approve new Board members a more detailed recruitment plan is helpful to standardize the process. We often work with many organizations who struggle with small Board of Directors and are wanting to recruit more Board members but lack a clear understanding of the type of Board member that would be a good fit and a process to recruit. We have developed several Board recruitment tools: a board composition assessment (what are your current “assets” and “strengths” on the Board and then your “gaps”); a nomination form that Board members can submit when they want to recommend a candidate; a new member application to gather some key information from prospects; and interview questions that Board members use when meeting with a prospective member.
  8. Communication Flowchart: The last thing that an organization wants is to have one of their board members approached by a volunteer or staff member making a request, and the board member not know the procedure for how certain decisions are made. A communication flowchart explains how decisions are made within the organization and the role of the Board of Directors and its Committees.

How well is your Board functioning? Would any of these help improve the effectiveness of your Board? Transform Consulting Group would love to work with your organization to identify opportunities to strengthen your Board and ultimately the impact of your organization. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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How to Reach Consensus on Your Strategic Plan

We are continuing our blog series on strategic planning by focusing on Step 3 of our 4 Step Strategic Planning Process: Facilitate Consensus. Read more about our previous strategic planning blogs in this series here, here, and here.  The main purpose of this third step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach agreement about the future direction.  

Organizations will often form strategic planning committees or task leadership teams to complete their strategic plan. This means that different types of people with various perspectives and insights will have to learn to work together on a common goal. We actually encourage collaboration and engagement in the strategic planning process and discuss it more Step 1 in this blog.

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After you have formed your planning team and gathered some critical information about the organization, your targeted clients and community you are now ready to come together to reach consensus about the future. The following five recommendations will help your team reach consensus:

  1. Issue Homework – Prepare a packet of information that summarizes all of the data and information that has been collected. Most likely there will be some important information that would be helpful for the group to read in advance of coming together. We like to package that information into a “pre-read” report or slide deck presentation (see more here).
  2.  Host Planning Sessions – Set aside time for the planning team to come back together once all of the information has been gathered. Depending on your planning team’s availability, this may need to be broken out into a couple of sessions.
  3.  Facilitate Group Discussion – If your budget allows, it is very helpful to have a consultant (ahem, TCG!) facilitate your planning discussions. This way all members of your team will be able to engage in the discussion. They are also equipped with adult learning strategies and can design a highly engaging and interactive process for your team.

wabash strategic plan4.  Focus on the “What” First – We often see many planning team members who want to jump into the strategies and problem-solve the needs/ gaps identified. The first step in consensus building is to reach agreement on the “What” you want to accomplish. We call this setting your big goals and top areas of focus. We also try to limit our clients to 3-5 big goals/ focus areas. Once you have this set, then you can get into the “How” you will accomplish your goals through strategies.

5. Take the Temperature – As you are moving through this process, it is important to check in with your planning team at these meetings and maybe even afterwards. You want your planning team to be confident in the agreements that have been made and to not have any ill feelings of team members. While not everyone may get what they think is important, everyone should be in collective agreement about the plan. During these planning sessions, your consultant or team lead should check the non-verbal and verbal cues of team members throughout the process and respond as needed.

By the end of step 3, facilitating consensus, your team should feel excitement and enthusiasm about the possibilities for the future and the plan! If not, that might be indicator that the consensus is not there with the whole group. In that case, you may need to come back together and have an honest discussion.

A strategic plan is not something to take lightly or go through the motions. It can set the path for the future of an organization and help bring about transformational change. When you take the time and effort to follow these five recommendations, your organization will be on its way.

If you are ready to start your strategic plan, contact us. We would love to support organization’s strategic planning needs.

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