Category Archives: Nonprofit

10 Tips for Your Year-End Giving Campaign

2017 is quickly coming to an end! Before you know it, we’ll be saying “Happy New Year” and plans for 2018 will be underway.

blog infographic 1We’re heading into the season of giving. It is that time of year where donor dollars increase significantly. Year-end giving trends suggest that nearly one third of annual giving happens in December.

At Transform Consulting Group, we highlighted tips for ending your fiscal year strong in this blog. One way to finish the year on a high note, is to kick off a year-end campaign with these simple tips:

  1. Start Planning Now: You can’t wait until the last few weeks of December to reach out to donors or to make the first “ask.” Get a plan in place today that you can implement over the next few weeks.

  2. Send Something: Whether it’s a holiday greeting in the mail or an email blast wrapping up the year, your current donors need to hear from you. You can highlight an accomplishment from this year, share a specific need heading into the New Year, or just thank the donor for their past generosity. Most likely your donors are hearing from other organizations too, and you need to be on their radar.blog infographic 2

  3. Engage Volunteers: Take the time to appreciate your volunteers this year. Thank them for the time they
    invested in your organization. You may even decide to give a special gift to those who met X amount of service hours. Volunteers are twice as likely to donate to your organization. These are the people who are already engaged in your mission and have seen first-hand the work you do. 

  4. Enlist Your Board: Your board of directors can be your biggest asset this time of year. Have board members write personal thank you notes, make phone calls or accompany you to meetings with donors.

  5. Segment Your Contact List: Your strategy should be different for different donors or partners. Organize your contacts into specific lists and plan your approach for each group such as: major donors, once a year donors, volunteers, alumni (past clients if appropriate), board, etc.

  6. Go Visual: Create consistent images and visuals for all aspects of your campaign. Try highlighting major accomplishments or data using infographics (check out our blog series on infographics here). Feature client success stories and quotes with photos (if appropriate). Create images and banners to display on all social media platforms. You can even set up a microsite just for your holiday campaign that clearly showcases your goals and progress over the next few weeks.

  7. Plan A Giving Day: We highlighted tips for implementing your own “Giving Day” in this blog. This can be a unique day that your organization chooses to ramp up efforts or you may decide to take advantage of Giving Tuesday. Regardless of what you choose, make sure you continue promoting your cause until December 31st. Surveys show 12% of funding comes in during the last 3 days of the year, so you shouldn’t just rely on one day for giving, but it can be a great tool to kickstart your efforts.

  8. Make It Easy To Give: Provide your donors with several options for giving and make the options clear! Create a button on your website for donations. Have a link on your social media pages that directs followers to give. Send pre-stamped envelopes for those donors who you know would rather give via check or cash.

  9. Focus On Donor Stewardship: It’s very rare that you can ask a person for money, and they give it to you on the spot. You need to steward a relationship with them first. Build trust and learn about the causes they are interested in. Donor stewardship is important for engaging new donors but also for helping to move current donors to the next level of giving. Don’t expect that your holiday postcard sent in December will be enough to gain significant traction. Make plans to meet up with specific people who you know can give more or should be giving period. Start those conversations today.
    year-end-campaign-donordrive-300x256
  10. Make It Personal: Regardless of what methods you use to ask for gifts (email blast, mailings, one-on-one meetings), you need to bring the focus back to the people you serve and causes you are working to impact. Put a face to your mission and make it personal. Share specific stories of how your programs changed a family’s life. Introduce a donor to that single mom who went back to school. Highlight exactly where the donor’s dollars are going and who will be impacted. Along with the personal anecdotal stories, don’t forget to include your outcome results. Need help with having good data to share? Check out this blog or our services.

At Transform Consulting Group, we understand the many challenges that organizations face and often it begins with funding limitations. We want to work with you on ways to maximize your funding, so that you can move your cause forward. We love thinking outside of the box to come up with unique ways to engage current and new donors. Contact us today and let’s put your year-end campaign into motion!

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Shared Services: How Can Your Organization Maximize Impact While Minimizing Costs?

Many organizations struggle to secure enough funding to have the maximum impact on the goals aligned to their mission. In addition to seeking new funding to support your organization’s goals, you can examine your current expenses to find ways of reducing costs in order to put more money into programs that help accomplish your mission.

There is a national trend of small and medium-size organizations coming together to “share services,” specifically noncore business services. If your business or organization is small, you may not have the budget to enable you to hire specialists on your staff for all operations, such as payroll, human resources, marketing, and accounting. By participating in shared services, your organization might be increasing your funding by lowering your costs! Shared Services Blog

Is Using Shared Services Right For Your Organization?

  • Shared services can take different forms, but typically a supporting organization has staff that handle operations for member organizations.
  • Member organizations pay fees to receive shared services. These fees are often lower than the cost of employing in-house specialized staff or seeking these services independently.
  • While guidelines can vary, in general, any organization or business—for-profit or nonprofit—can use shared services. Smaller organizations may reap more benefits, but larger entities are not prohibited from participating.
  • Shared services require collaboration.
    • Members must be willing to disclose their financial and business practices. This may feel uncomfortable for some. However, it allows members to get the full benefits of the shared knowledge and expertise of centralized staff.
    • Individual organizations maintain autonomy over some decisions—such as personnel management. However, issues related to centralized services require collaboration.

What Do Shared Services Look Like In Action?

Transform Consulting Group actually uses shared services in our business model! Human Capital Concepts (HCC) provides us with human resources expertise, as well as payroll and benefits administration. HCC is a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), which means that our Transform staff members are co-employed by HCC along with their other clients. Therefore, we are part of a larger employee pool—allowing us to get the best rates for our health insurance and 401K plans. As a small business, we don’t have to worry about having a human resources director in order to maintain compliance with state and federal laws. Because of the services we receive from HCC, we can focus on projects that advance our mission!

Chambliss Center for Children in Chattanooga, TN is a nonprofit organization that operates an early childhood care and education program that serves over 300 children. In addition to operating their own site, they have management agreements with 5 other early childhood programs in the community. Administrative staff at Chambliss Center for Children manage the day-to-day operations of these 5 programs, but each of the programs has their own board of directors. Some of the services include payroll and benefits administration; insurance contract coordination; maintenance; and purchasing of food and supplies. The programs report that some of the positive impacts for them are the ability to increase teacher wages; decreased staff turnover; and improved program quality!

What Can You Do If You’re Interested?

Contact local and statewide partners to learn about shared services providers in your area.

  • Your local United Way
  • Your community foundation
  • Local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce
  • Area small business resource center

Transform Consulting Group provides an array of services related to fundraising strategies. Shared services may be a good fit for your organization as one piece of your overall fund development plan. For more information about increasing your impact while decreasing your costs, contact us for a free consultation!

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Does Your Organization Have a Continuous Quality Improvement Process?

During a time where communities and policies are changing, it is important to ensure the programs and services within those communities are constantly evolving to meet the needs of families. The Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) model is an on-going process for organizations to be able to determine whether or not a change made led to an improvement in quality. In order to move towards making the necessary improvements, a review of what occurred is conducted through a CQI process like the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle.

Steps to Complete a PDSA Cycleplan-act-do-study-cycle4

At Transform Consulting Group, we utilize this consistent approach when working with organizations to help them find solutions.

Plan:

Before beginning your PDSA cycle, you will need to have identified a problem you would like to address for quality improvement. The problem identified will guide your purpose for the review. Once you have chosen a change idea to focus on you will need to go through the following steps to plan to test your idea for change:

  • Define the goals
  • Define your research question(s)
  • Make predictions
  • Determine details for implementation of change or intervention
  • Plan of action for data collection

During this phase, we work with the client to thoughtfully plan to implement their new or current program/ service. So often, organizations jump immediately to step 2 – “Do” without completing this critical first step.  During the Planning, we define what we hope to accomplish especially if we are proposing a change.  Then we determine how the proposed change/ intervention will be implemented and work through all of the details.  Lastly, we finalize how data will be collected.

Do:

This phase of the PDSA cycle requires you to conduct the test for the change or intervention. It is during this phase that you will complete the following tasks:

  • Carry out the intervention
  • Collect data
  • Begin data analysis

This step in the process is what most organizations know and are doing. Organizations are delivering interventions everyday with their services. They might be intentionally or unintentionally modifying their intervention.  The “Do” step in this process is not new to organizations.  It is wrapping it around the other three steps that make this work transformational!

Study:

The study phase of the cycle is the time where once you have completed your intervention, you analyze the data and study what did or did not occur.   Organizations will want to review their predictions and assumptions made before conducting the test. You will want to take the following steps during this phase of the cycle:

  • Complete data analysis
  • Compare data to predictions
  • Summarize the information

Organizations often skip over this step in the process or do not spend enough time thoughtfully reviewing the data. For some organizations, their data can be considered “high stakes” and there is a tendency to want to focus on the positive changes/ results that occurred and glance over the changes that did not occur or the benchmarks that were not met.  During this phase, it is so important for an organization to be transparent and honest with themselves when reviewing the data.

Act:

Based on the summarized information, this last phase of the cycle allows you to determine what modifications may need to be made to ensure that the goals you set will be met. Your organization may decide to modify a program element or change how a service is delivered; you may decide to target a different population or use a new curriculum.  Once you have determined whether or not to adapt, adopt, or abandon your intervention, you will be prepared to do the following:

  • Plan next cycle
  • Decide whether the change can be implemented

During this last step, your organization takes all of the information gathered to make data-informed decisions that will ultimately improve your results.  This is the exciting part of the process, and one that you don’t want to skip. This step and the overall PDSA process will help your organization continue to improve the quality of services provided and impact in the community.

In this blog, “Is it time to redesign your program?”, we shared several examples of clients who we used the PDSA process to help them test and implement new interventions/ modifications to make to their programs to improve their outcomes. The CQI process allows organizations to have a plan of action once a problem or service gap has been identified.

At Transform Consulting Group, we follow this consistent approach when helping you find solutions to accelerate your impact. If you are looking to improve the quality of a service or program to facilitate positive change, contact us today!

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Is it time to redesign your program?

Organizations – public and private – go through different stages of development.  During this life cycle, it is not uncommon for an organization to update or modify their programs and services.  At the same time, however, some organizations can be stagnant and need to update their programs. time 3How do you know when it is time for your organization to refresh your program?

Below are three questions you should ask yourself to determine if it is time to update your program.

  1. Are we making the impact that we hoped to make?
  2. Is our program aligned with the latest research?
  3. Is our program meeting the needs of the target population?

If you answer no to any of these questions, then it might be time to seriously review your program. You may not need a complete redesign of your program, but it’s time to reevaluate.

When we have worked with other organizations to help them improve their impact by updating their program model, there have been a range of changes that we proposed implementing to achieve their results.

In one case, we worked with a large volunteer literacy tutoring program who was not making the impact they had hoped to make.  Through our assessment, we proposed the following changes that were then implemented:

  • Clarify the target population – we learned that the target population to enroll in and receive this literacy tutoring program needed to be more focused.  Students who were reading just below grade level benefited the most from this program.  Students who were more than one grade level behind were not a good fit for this type of tutoring program.  
  • Strengthen the curriculum and training – Since this program relies on volunteers – non-professional educators –  to deliver the tutoring, the curriculum is critical.  After researching other effective literacy tutoring programs delivering the impact we had hoped, we saw a theme in the curriculum and instructional practices that they were implementing.  We adopted a specific model of instruction and updated the training for volunteers.
  • Expand the capacity – the need for this organization’s work was high in the community, but their ability to meet the need was limited to the available volunteers.  They were interested in expanding their capacity through AmeriCorps members who would be able to significantly expand the number of students enrolled in and benefiting from the program.  We helped them determine how AmeriCorps members could enhance the staff capacity of their program and restructure the program model.

With another client who is working to help get first generation college graduate students, they were struggling to deliver the outcomes to their funders.  As we started helping them pull their program data together, the results were not what they had hoped.  After reviewing the data and the program activities, it did not take long to identify some gaps and opportunities in the program.  From our work, we proposed and helped them implement the following changes:

  • Develop new curriculum – Over the years as new staff have worked on the program, the curriculum had “evolved” into a hodge podge of worksheets and lesson plans that were slightly modified each year.  There was not a clear alignment of the curriculum with the identified outcomes.  Rather than modifying what they had in place, we decided to start over in developing a new curriculum that clearly aligned to the outcomes and would be “turn key” for staff to implement.
  • Align multiple programs – This organization operated a school-year program as well as a summer program.  Both programs shared similar objectives of helping get more first generation college graduates.  However, they operated as two separate programs.  We initially started to focus on the school-year program but quickly realized that the “dosage” or impact potential with the summer program was much more focused (40 hours x 6 weeks = 240 hours of “intervention” versus 1.5 hours x 32 weeks = 48 hours of “intervention”).  When we combined the two programs as one overall program, we expanded the “dosage” exposure as well as the possibilities of impact.
  • Focus the target population – The organization was working with multiple schools across a city.  In some cases, it was a middle school in one district and a high school in another district.  Instead, we targeted 2 districts and ensured that we had the middle schools that fed into the high schools for continuity purposes since this program enrolled 7th – 12th grade students with the goal of students enrolling each year.  This change provided efficiencies for the staff and also helped ensure that the students targeted for the program would receive the greatest exposure of enrolling multiple years.

In today’s information era, there is more research that is available to inform our work and ensure that we are implementing best practice strategies to affect change.  In addition, the populations and communities that organizations are serving are changing, and need to evolve with them.  Lastly, local, state and federal policies and priorities are shifting.  Organizations that can adapt to this changing environment can grow and potentially expand their impact.

If you want help assessing the shifting landscape in your community or industry, or you answered ‘no’ to one of the three questions above, then contact us.  We would love to learn more about your program and goals to see how we could support you.

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Plan a “Giving Day” to Raise Funds and Build Awareness

Are you tired of putting so much time and energy into another fundraising event? Maybe you’re going to the same donors repeatedly asking for money, and you want to start broadening your reach. Many organizations across the country are jumping on the concept of a “Giving Day.” A Giving Day is a day-long online fundraising effort that unites a community around local causes. It’s an initiative that many non-profit organizations and educational institutions are utilizing to diversify their funding streams.Giving Day 2

Unlike your typical fundraising in-person event, Giving Days are focused primarily online. There is usually a landing page for giving and then social media outlets are utilized to build hype and engage an audience.

Benefits of a Giving Day
  1. It’s more than fundraising: A Giving Day is not just a fundraiser, but it’s an awareness campaign. A Giving Day allows you the opportunity to share your mission, your organization’s story and purpose all day long.
  2. It’s more accessible: The advantage of hosting a Giving Day over an event is that people can engage on THEIR time. They don’t have to drive to a certain location or schedule a 2-hour timeslot. They can hop on their social media channels to watch interviews, read testimonials, and choose to give when it’s convenient for them.
  3. It broadens your audience: You don’t have to limit yourself to your local community. With an online campaign you can engage EVERYONE! You can reach people across the state, the country or the world through one simple click on their computer.
  4. It builds momentum: The task of planning a Giving Day can be daunting during year one. However, this is a campaign you revisit every year. Once you have the plan in motion and start building excitement, each year gets easier.

WDM Creative, a public relations and creative firm, wrapped up another successful Giving Day Campaign with the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indianapolis (RHI) on September 22nd. They have created a systematic approach and strategy to tackling Giving Days. They graciously shared some insight on their process.

Giving Day “Must Haves”
  1. 6 Months for Planning: WDM President Lori Winkler suggests a 6-month timeline to adequately plan your Giving Day. This time leading up to your actual day of giving is a great opportunity to build excitement and start promoting your campaign.
  2. Sponsorships & Match Dollars: It’s important to have some dollars planned before the actual Giving Day rolls around. Talk to corporations to partner with you, not just on the day of giving, but during the months leading up to the event! Have conversations with donors who may be willing to offerGiving Day 1 matches or incentives throughout your full Giving Day to build excitement or competition.
  3. Website Platform: It’s important to have a landing page up and running months prior to your Giving Day. Update content regularly as you nail down the schedule of the day or new corporate partners. Then have another page ready for the actual Giving Day where people can start making donations and see the money being raised in real time. Make sure your platform can handle the influx of visitors. Your 24-hour giving period is not the time for technical malfunctions!
  4. Social Media: Amp up your social media engagement for months prior to the Giving Day. You can create a Facebook Event like WDM did with RHI’s Giving Day. They also utilized Facebook Live and had hourly interviews with a variety of key stakeholders to share their story about the impact of the cause: patients, staff, researchers, donors, etc.
  5. Marketing Plan: You’ll want to develop a brand specifically for your Giving Day. Create logos, collateral material, etc. that accurately describes your organization and the goal of your Giving Day. These are all tools you can then reuse every year.
  6. Manpower: Whether you’re able to bring on a team like WDM or have a committee of volunteers, understand that you’ll need manpower to plan your day just as you would for an event. Even though your main focus is your online engagement, you may want a hub to generate excitement locally. This hub serves as a place for people to bring in cash donations and/or interviews to take place. If you’re hosting it at your organization, it is a great visual for staff or clients who walk through your doors daily. You may want an Emcee, someone who can shoot video for live Facebook interviews, people monitoring social media platforms and posting updates.
  7. Day Schedule: Plan out your day and market the schedule. Maybe you’ll host small competitions or matching opportunities. If there is a timeframe that you want to ramp up donations, consider providing a gift or incentives to donors during that time. If you have a special spokesperson that you’ll be interviewing live, then communicate often when viewers can tune in

At WDM, they have found that Giving Days not only lead to new donors, but also elevates current donors’ giving. It’s a great strategy for an organization who is willing to think outside the box to accelerate impact.

If you’re looking for new strategies to fundraise, contact us today and we’d love to chat about our services!

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4 Tips for Writing an Effective RFP

We are fortunate to work on both sides of the grant making process. We work with funders administering grants to organizations to help carry out their mission and purpose.  We also work with organizations pursuing grants from funders and have written several blogs about grant writing here and here.Tips for RFP

In this blog, we are going to focus on the funder side of the grant making process and strategies that funders can employ to improve the outcomes of their grant awards.  Yes, the structure of a Request for Proposal (RFP) can have a positive or negative impact on the outcomes of grantees and funders accomplishing their goals.

Whether a funder is establishing a new grant program or looking to update their current grant, how your RFP is structured can influence the outcome of how the grant funds are ultimately used.  This is why we are sharing our tips to help improve the overall grant making process starting with the RFP.

1. Have a Clear Purpose for the Grant Program.

One of the first questions we ask funders is what do they hope to accomplish from this grant funding source.  As a prospective grantee, since we work with many of them, it can be really challenging to write a grant application when there is not a clear purpose and focus.  Having identified goals, program priorities and guidelines helps the funder select grantees who are best aligned with supporting the accomplishment of their goals.  It also helps the prospective applicants know how their organization, programs and services are a good fit (or not) for supporting the funder’s goals.

We worked with a funder who wanted to review one of their current grant programs.  They were not seeing the outcomes they had hoped from the grant program and after reviewing their RFP, we saw some areas for improvement.  Their identified goals were very broad and general, so the applicants were submitting proposals that lacked focus and direction.  We worked with the funder to get clear about what they wanted to accomplish with this grant program and revised the RFP to better communicate the goals, priority focus areas and expectations.  The next grant cycle resulted in not only better applications but ultimately grantees with intentional purpose to support the funder’s goals!

2. Seek Partner Feedback and Alignment.

Grant programs are administered by the funder but can be developed through a collaborative process.  We are seeing a growing trend of funders reaching out to partners for feedback and input to inform a grant program.  This is especially helpful when launching a new grant program and/or seeking revisions to a grant program.  When doing this, we recommend including partners who will not have a conflict of interest for participating in the grant development / RFP process.  We also suggest a variety of stakeholders with different perspectives.  This may include researchers, consultants, past recipients, trade association representatives and other funders.

We worked with a government agency to help them implement a new state grant program.  The client could have developed the grant program and RFP internally, but they saw the value (and we agreed!) in seeking input from key stakeholders to help inform the development of the grant program.  Over the course of 3-4 months, the stakeholder group spent time reviewing data in the state, researching best practices in other states and developing the program goals and guidelines. The result was a comprehensive RFP that laid a solid foundation for the new grant program.  While it was more time up-front spent planning, it created tremendous buy-in and ownership in the industry as the new grant program launched.

3. Develop a Well Structured and Organized RFP.

While it might seem mundane and simplistic, the simple details of how a RFP is packaged can make all of the difference to the application, selection and award/ monitoring process.  It truly sets the tone for the grant program.  Here are some simple tips that we find helpful when writing the RFP and responding to them as grant writers:

  • Include a “Table of Contents” that outlines the key elements included in the RFP package.
  • Use “Headers and Footers” to identify page numbers, date of the RFP, and name of the RFP.
  • Use a “Numbering System” to communicate each new section, such as Introduction, Submission Instructions, Narrative Requirements, Forms, etc.
  • Use “Section Headers” to identify different sections within the big Numbering System.
  • Include “Forms” that communicate how you want the information provided.  This could include forms for a Budget, Evaluation Plan, Target Population Demographics, etc.  Forms can also be a great space saver.
  • State the “Selection Criteria” that will be used to rate the applicants.  If you have identified points for particular sections that is even better.
  • Include a “Checklist” with the order of the grant application package.  This not only helps the applicant double check that they have all of the required items, but is also an internal check for the funder that everything needed is being requested.

We worked with a client who awards funding to support before, after and summer school programming.  The program and RFP process had been operating on “auto pilot” for many years being passed on from one staff person to the next.  As a result, the RFP application and forms had become a consolidation of different forms and information that resulted in a disconnected RFP packet.  It was no wonder when the applications came in that they too were not well organized or structured, which made the review process very difficult.  We worked with the client to review the application package and identify what information was necessary, the order in which the information was needed and what could be removed.  We removed half of the RFP from its previous version, and there was much more clarity/ focus in the new RFP!

4. Go Digital with the Application Process.

With the growth of technology, there are a variety of options and systems that can be implemented to help make the RFP process more efficient and effective for both the funder and applicant.  When possible, we encourage clients to use digital forms for posting grant application information and receiving applications.  A free option is Google Forms.  There are several low-cost online options for creating and accepting forms that we encourage funders to consider if their budget allows.  Some funders choose to design their own system embedded on their website to accept grant applications. Whatever the path, there are options available for nearly every type of funder and their budget.  We often see a ROI on time saved through the use of technology, and applicants tend to appreciate these digital systems.

We worked with a funder who still wanted to have multiple hard copies of the grant proposals and on a CD-ROM.  A flash drive was not acceptable.  Many computers are being made without CD-ROMs.  The client hadn’t considered new digital systems available to submit grants that could make the process easier for both them and their applicants.  We presented different options that they might consider for their RFP.  The funder ended up taking a “baby step” of accepting email submissions.  We hope that the next step will be using one of the digital options.

By investing some up-front time in thoughtfully planning and structuring a grant program’s RFP application, the funder will see positive benefits in helping to accelerate their impact.  Transform Consulting Group is available to support funders in accomplishing their goals through the grant making process.  Let us know if you have a new program you need assistance setting up or want someone to take a look at an existing program.

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4 Steps for Creating an Op-Ed Campaign

Is there a cause or issue you’re tackling, and you want to raise public awareness? We talked about gaining media attention by writing press releases in this blog as a way to help communicate your organization’s efforts to your community. Another strategy for building awareness around your work is to kick off an op-ed campaign.

An op-ed is an opinion piece written by a freelance writer, usually on behalf of an organization or nonprofit.
ANYONE can write an op-ed, and it can be a great strategy for educating the public on a cause, an event or sharing opinions about an issue.Op-Ed Blog

Too often nonprofits are so focused on providing great services and programs that they forget about educating others in the community about the important issues they are working to address. You don’t need a marketing firm to implement this work if you follow the steps below.

  1. Narrow your focus

What do you want your op-eds to communicate? While you may have several people contributing letters with different angles (see step 2), you want to communicate a consistent message. Even though the letters submitted will come from a variety of people with various angles, they must have this consistent theme throughout.

  1. Brainstorm possible writers

The number of writers and op-eds aren’t as important as who you choose to write. It is important to have a diverse group of writers who are well-respected and well-known people in your community. You want writers who the public will listen to. You also want different backgrounds and angles so that at the end of your op-ed campaign, you have communicated the FULL story.

The “messengers” are just as important as the “message”. You should think about having folks on the receiving end of your services, if appropriate, share their perspective. You will also want to have unusual stakeholders contribute. For a campaign to raise awareness about early learning, you might want to have your chamber write an op ed about how it affects workforce development.

  1. Determine your writing process

Once you determine your writers, spend time creating a systematic process. We recommend these steps to get you started:

  • Outreach: Someone needs to make the formal “ask.” This could be a staff member, volunteer, or donor, but it’s helpful that the “ask” comes from someone who already has a relationship with your prospect.
  • Educate: Make sure the writer understands your overall goals. Provide the writer with background information and possible data to incorporate in their letter. Brainstorm specific talking points and the angle you want them to take. The more information you can provide, the more likely they are to stay on message and align with your overall goals.
  • Create a template: While you want the writer to feel free to express their own thoughts and opinions, it is helpful to create an outline, talking points or template for them to follow. This will keep them on track and alleviate any confusion they may have as they begin the writing process. Think of some of the questions they may ask: How long should my letter be? What is the timeline? What areas should I focus on? What is the call to action or conclusion?

    Creating a tips sheets for writing op-eds will help your writers draft a compelling story that will engage the audience.
  • Edit: Decide who will edit the letters and make sure they explain any suggested changes to the writer. You want the writer to stay engaged throughout the entire process, and you want them to feel proud to have their name attached to the final piece.
  • Submit the letter: Determine who will submit the letters, and where they will be submitted. In some communities, newspapers ONLY accept letters from locals. Do your research on the submission process and any requirements.

    If the writer is submitting the letter, provide them clear steps for submitting it with all contact information for the local newspapers to make the process as simple as possible.
  1. Maintain authenticity

Real people are going to be attaching their names to these op-eds, and you want their personal voices to shine. Encourage your writers to share real-life examples and their personal experiences about how this issue has impacted them. Nobody wants to pick up the newspaper and read an op-ed that looks like a research paper. Ultimately, readers want a story that engages them and relates to them.

At Transform Consulting Group, we want to help you communicate your work and build awareness for the important causes you’re working to address. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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5 Steps for Grant Writing

You have a grant that you want to apply for and submit an application.  First, check out the types of grants available and our checklist to ensure your organization is ready before jumping into the grant writing process. Okay, now it’s time to start writing your grant!

5 Steps for Grant Writing

At Transform Consulting Group, we have identified 5 simple steps for grant writing:

1. Research: Spend time getting informed and researching grant opportunities. There are millions available through grants, and it can feel like a full-time job just trying to find them all! The purpose of the research step is to identify all of the potential funders who align with your organization’s mission and purpose.
Here are some good places to start in your search:

Foundation Grants:
Government Grants:
Trade Industry:

Within your organization’s area of expertise, there are “intermediary” organizations that are current with the latest news. Regularly check out those organization’s websites, sign-up for newsletters, and monitor who is doing what or trends in the industry. They often will promote grant opportunities for your industry!

2. Monitor Grants: Once you have identified your “affinity” funders, create a list of those possible funders.  In today’s information age, you can find out a lot about funders by monitoring their internet footprint.  We recommend subscribing to funders’ social media channels and signing up for their newsletters. This will help you receive information about grant updates (e.g., changes in grant focus or new application information), receive updates about the status of programs, and be informed about their latest news. This will help provide great context to writing your proposals and developing a partnership with the funder. .

3. Track Grants: You can pay for grant tracking software, invest in an internal database or use basic Excel or Google sheets to track grants. We suggest tracking important information, such as the funder, their focus area(s), timeline for when grants are due, the point of contact, and any application details.

As you start to do outreach with funders and submit applications, you will want to track your grant application outreach.  For example, you would include notes about who you talked to and their feedback.  When you submit an application include the focus area, amount requested and status. Having all of this information included in a shared system helps to keep your team on the same page and also creates a record history for future staff or contractors.

4. Develop Relationships: Most funders look to their grantees as a partner and extension of their mission.  When working to develop a grant proposal to a funder, you want to first have a relationship with that funder. You can do this through a personal connection, social media outreach, cold calling, a letter of inquiry or by networking at different community groups and meetings. When looking to build relationships, we suggest focusing on the “program officer”.

Program officers oversee a “portfolio” of programs usually in a focus area, such as youth, environment, safety, etc. A program officer for a government entity would “manage” a grant program. At a minimum give them a call and schedule a meeting to learn more about their focus areas and goals as well as share about your organization and possible areas of alignment.  Some next steps might be to invite the program officer(s) to an organization event to observe your services in action or learn about them.  We liken this engagement to “dating” – a period of getting to know each other to see if there is a good fit!

The one caveat here is to make sure that you follow the grant guidelines.  In most cases, government grants preclude you from communicating with the granting agency beyond asking clarifying questions related to the application.  You may need to cultivate these relationships when there is not an open grant application.  Always follow the grant guidelines to ensure that you do not disqualify your organization from submitting a grant application!

5. Submit: Winning grants involve submitting grants! You will want to carve time out of your schedule to regularly work on devoting time to the items above and submitting grant applications.

In this blog, we discussed the low success rate of grant writing. Some studies suggest as low as 7% of organizations receive funding after submitting a grant proposal. While there is no silver bullet, we have found that following the steps above gets you on the path to success.

At Transform Consulting Group, we understand the different types of funders and their grant application process. We know what funders want and how to interpret and follow complex federal, state or private grant applications. We are available to support your efforts at all levels of grant development including the strategy, research, narrative, and final submission. Contact us today and let’s chat!

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Two-Generational Approach for Greater Impact

There are amazing organizations working hard to support the development and achievements of young children. Similarly, there are outstanding organizations working hard to connect adults with proper resources to attain success.

It might seem like supporting each of those populations separately would naturally complement the other. However, a recent reflection on this topic has shown that intentionally supporting the development and personal growth of the children and adults together (a two-generational approach) can have a larger, positive impact for both generations. By working simultaneously together, it ensures that programs and services are not fragmented and therefore do not leave either the child(ren) or adult(s) behind.

Research has documented the impact of a parent’s education level, financial stability, and even overall health as having a negative or positive impact on their child’s outcomes. Similarly, children’s education and healthy development have major implications for the parents.

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WHAT IS A TWO-GENERATIONAL APPROACH?

The Ascend program at the Aspen Institute gives an overview of a two-generational approach:

Two-generation approaches provide opportunities for and meet the needs of children and their parents together. They build education, economic assets, social capital, and health and well-being to create a legacy of economic security that passes from one generation to the next.”  

Ascend identifies four core components needed to create a successful two-generational approach:

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  1. Education
  2. Economic assets
  3. Social capital
  4. Health and well-being

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is another organization that has analyzed a two-generational approach and has outlined three key components:

  1. Provide parents with multiple pathways to get family-supporting jobs. This leads to achieving financial stability.

    – One study found that children whose family income was below the federal poverty level — which today      is about $24,000 for a family of four — completed fewer years of school, worked and earned less as adults, relied more on food assistance and suffered from poorer health than kids whose family income was at least twice that level. But an extra $3,000 annually for these families during a child’s earliest years could translate into an increase of more than 15 percent in what that same child earns as an adult.

  2. Ensure access to high-quality early childhood education and enriching elementary school experiences.

    – Greater coordination among early learning centers, schools and other programs for kids can further support healthy development from birth through the early elementary years.

  3. Equip parents to better support their children socially and emotionally and to advocate for their kids’ education.

     When parents are able to reduce their stress and anxiety, they can better respond to their children’s emotional needs.

Simply put, a two-generational approach looks at what both the parent(s) and child(ren) needs, and works to provide the necessary resources (education, healthcare, childcare, etc.) for both generations to be successful.

GREAT FAMILIES 2020

United Way of Central Indiana (UWCI) is applying this emerging research of a two-generation approach and modeling it in their Great Families 2020 Social Innovation Fund initiative. Great Families 2020 is a five-year initiative aimed at improving family stability for vulnerable children and their parents living in four neighborhoods in Indianapolis. Great Families 2020 will be piloting a two-generation approach, where neighborhood networks in education (including high-quality early childhood education), financial stability (Center for Working Families), and health services are integrated to serve the whole family.

Funding for this initiative consists of a federal Social Innovation Fund grant totaling $7 million and matching dollars from the community for a total investment of approximately $20.6 million.

UWCI just announced their final four programs that will implement the Great Families model in their neighborhood.  Our President, Amanda Lopez, was invited to help select the community grantees.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

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Your organization may not have a multi-million dollar federal grant to implement this research, but there are still steps that you can take:

    1. Review the research. Become familiar with this approach and initiatives underway nationally and locally to stay informed. Knowledge is power!
    2. Review your current programs and funding focus. Perhaps you will see that you have fragmented services that are missing that other generation. Can you partner with other agencies to accelerate the accomplishment of your goals? Can you apply for funding that supports a two-generation approach?
    3. Reach out. Sometimes the best way to reflect on opportunities for growth is to connect with organizations that are successfully modeling your ideal funding stream/program/outreach strategy, etc. So use the research you will do to connect with organizations that are successfully using a two-generation approach to achieve greater impact to hear how they are doing it.

At Transform Consulting Group, our clients are working with both populations: young children and their parents.  We are helping our clients increase their partnerships internally within their organization or externally with other partners to improve outcomes for children and parents. If you are interested in learning more about two-generation approaches or funding opportunities to support your work, please contact us for a free consultation!

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Top Ten Do’s and Don’t’s of Hiring

As a small business owner, I have the opportunity to hire new team members.  I did not take any courses in college or graduate school that taught me how to hire staff.  (Sidebar, I did not even know I was going to be a businessHiring Blog image 2 owner back then!)  However, over the past several years I learned some key strategies on what to do and what not to do when hiring.

Do’s and Don’t’s of Hiring New Team Members

  1. Do: Before you even start the application process, you have to have a clear understanding of your organization’s needs and how this role will fill the gap.  If you are replacing an exiting employee, do you want your new hire to have the same skill set?  Is your organization going in a new direction, and you want your new hire to have a set of skills to support that new direction?  This type of analysis should help inform any revisions to the job posting and the questions you ask during the interview.
  2. Don’t: Use only the standard methods of sharing the job posting.  Know your audience and market to determine the best methods and platforms to share the job opening.  For some organizations, it makes sense to post ads in the local newspaper.  For others, posts on social media platforms and trade associations works better.At TCG, we use a mixed-methods approach of paying a nominal fee to post with a trade association for nonprofit organizations, announcing it in our electronic newsletter and sharing across our social media platforms.  Keep an eye on your response rate and be willing to adjust your methods to get the results needed.
  3. Do: Think beyond the content skills you are seeking to the soft skills necessary to be successful in your organization.  Our staff must be sharp and also have the disposition to work collaboratively internally with their team and externally with our clients.  Therefore, we need team members who have the “smarts” and are also great communicators, problem solvers and partners.
  4. Don’t: Use the standard interview and hiring process. Rethink the traditional interview process and assess how it is working for you.  Are there steps that you can eliminate and still get good results?We diligently scan the best applications and only select the ones who are possible candidates to go through to the first round, which is a phone interview.  After the first round, you may be able to stop here and make a decision.  There’s no reason to drag on the process if you know who to hire and don’t need more information.  This will save you and your team time and money. If you are still unsure, assign a “homework” task to the possible candidates.  This could include a short writing sample, data viz, or blog post – whatever is relevant to the nature of the job.  A “homework” assignment could be more revealing than a second interview and show how much they want the position as well as their skills in action.
  5. Do: Describe the work culture and environment that you have to offer.  More and more employees are looking for a job in a work environment that they will be motivated in and thrive.  Do staff work in their office by themselves all day, or is it a collaborative open space environment? Not all employees are successful in a collaborative, open environment.  More and more employees want a flexible work schedule, ability to work remotely, and collaborate with staff while still working independently.  Do you have a clear sense of your work environment, culture and who will and will not be a good fit?  To your best ability, describe it in your job description or during the interview process.
  6. Don’t: Use the standard interview questions: Where do you see yourself in five years; What are your strengths; What are your weaknesses? The answers are often scripted and don’t really provide the insight necessary. Really think about the skills needed to perform the job and ask questions that give you the information needed. Some of my favorite interview questions include: Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?; We have to quickly learn about new industries and causes for our diverse clients. Tell me how you became informed and knowledgeable about a new issue area.  What would you do differently, if anything, the next time that you needed to learn something new?; Assume that you come to work here. One year from now you finish work one Friday evening thinking that accepting this job was the best thing you ever did. What happened during the year for you to feel that way?; Some of our team works remotely while others work in the office. This means you could be working independently for several days a week and then meeting with a client or a team member on the other days.  What experience do you have working in this type of environment and how would you be successful?
  7. Do: Be open to new possibilities.  In reviewing resumes and applications, the applicant may not “fit” the part on paper, but could be great in your company.  I look for skills that are transferable even if they are not in the same field or industry.  I also look for increasing leadership in the projects and experiences noted.  I have also learned that some more seasoned applicants are looking for career shifts and might be willing to take a pay cut to work with your organization that will help support their career shift.  Others might be looking for less responsibility and more work-life balance.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  8. Don’t: Ignore the applicants.  At every step of the hiring process, it is important to follow-up with all applicants.  Don’t leave anyone wondering if they made it to the next round or not.  I am shocked when I hear friends and colleagues share stories of interviewing for positions and then receiving no response.  I understand that the interview process might take longer to make a decision, so I will check in with the applicants and let them know it is taking longer or tell them then if they are no longer being considered.  I consider all potential applicants as possible clients or employees.  They may not be a fit for the position today, but could be in the future. They could also be a future client depending on their next job, so I want our company to be well represented throughout the interview process.
  9. Do: Say “no” when you know it is not a good fit.  In general, I am a nice person and have a hard time disappointing others. For some applicants, they will convince themselves that this is their dream job, and it is hard to turn someone down.  You will know almost immediately if someone is not the right fit through their application materials and the first interview.  Again, I consider our hiring process an outreach opportunity to meet new individuals in the field.  Therefore, I don’t want to burn any bridges, but at the same time I need to manage expectations for candidates who are not a good or right fit now.
  10. Don’t: Rush the hiring process.  It can be time consuming to thoughtfully review your organization’s needs and prepare a comprehensive job description and posting.  It takes significant time to read each applicant’s materials and respond to every applicant; to set up the interviews and write thoughtful interview questions; to determine the next steps in the hiring process (second interview or homework task); to follow-up with each applicant about next steps; to negotiate “win-win” offers; and to onboard new employees (which is a whole blog in itself!).  However, getting the right candidate is worth it if you invest your time in the front end of the hiring process.  This will hopefully result in more sustainability and productivity in your company, which is something we all want!

Like I said, I never set out to be a business owner hiring employees.  Now that I am in this position, I consider this an awesome responsibility and opportunity.  I have learned that each team member is an extension of our organization — our mission, values and priorities.  I want team members who will represent our organization well and be excited about our work. Learn more about our team and culture here and stay posted on any TCG job openings here

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