Category Archives: Nonprofit

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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Are You Grant Ready?

Do you have big plans for your organization and now just need the funds to get the ball rolling? We covered the different types of grants here – foundation and government grants – but how do you know if your organization is ready to jump into the grant writing process?

The competition for grants can be fierce, and most of the time there are more organizations applying for grant money than there is money available to award. Some numbers show that as low as 7% of organizations receive funding after submitting a grant proposal.

It can become very frustrating to put so much time and resources into the tedious grant writing process only to be turned down. At Transform Consulting Group, we work with our clients to make sure they have checklist-ss-1920focused on other key priority areas BEFORE taking the grant writing plunge. This leads to a much more successful process. Here is our checklist you can use to make sure your organization is grant ready:

Organizational Leadership:

Are your organization’s leaders engaged and on the same page? Do you have a Board of Directors who is actively meeting and contributing their time and talent to the organization? Funders might ask for a list of the Board members, their attendance, previous Board meeting (especially noting if this new grant program was discussed) and percentage or amount that Board members give. If you’re concerned that your leadership may not be up to par, check out our Board Development services here.

Mission, Vision and Goals:

Do you have a clear mission, vision and goals for the future? Make sure your organization has laid the proper foundation of your purpose, so that you can best communicate who you are. This also helps ensure that there is good alignment between your organization’s purpose and the funder’s goals.

Accounting Practices and Systems:

Do you have policies and procedures in place to ensure proper accounting of funds? It’s vital to have accounting practices and systems in place to make sure that any funding you receive is properly used and tracked. Funders may want to see a good track record of managing other funds.

Operating Budget:

Do you have a clear organizational budget that outlines your operating expenses and supports why you need additional funds? Funders want to know how will you use the money you receive from grants. They may want to see your organization’s full budget to determine how much of this grant will support the organization. Is this a large percentage of the organization or a small percentage?

Strategic Plan:  

Do you have a plan for the next 3-5 years?  How does this service or grant program that you are seeking funding for support your plan?  You’ll need to work with your staff, partners and stakeholders to evaluate the current position of your organization and set a plan for achieving short and long term goals. If you’re having trouble figuring out the direction of your organization, take a look at our Strategic Plan services here.  We may be able to help!

History of Effectiveness:

Do you have a track record of accomplishing your goals and doing what you say you will do?  Everyone wants to be on the winning team, right? When applying for grants, funders want to know that you are a reliable partner.

Organizational Capacity:

Do you have sufficient capacity (staff, infrastructure and resources) to manage this program or services if you receive the grant funding? Before taking on more funding, you have to make sure that you have the capacity to handle it. For example, if you’re asking for funding to expand a particular program then you need to show your current staff or facility can handle it. If you don’t have the current capacity, then determine what you need to get there.

After completing this grant readiness checklist, you might determine that you are not ready yet.  Applying for grants takes time, resources and focus.  It might be a better use of your time to work on one of the checklist items identified above.  In the meantime, you can seek other funding to support your organization while you work on these items. Check out our fund development services and blogs for ideas of other resources to support your work.  Contact us for help in becoming grant ready!

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Why is a Program Evaluation Impact Team so Important?

Impact Image- blogHow does an organization know it’s meeting its goals and objectives?  An outside team can be hired to put tools and systems in place, which is a good start, but investing money in outside consulting only can leave organizations floundering in a constantly evolving reality.  What if instead of investing solely in an outside group, an organization invests simultaneously in its own people?  It is exceedingly important to invest in the right team of people to help an organization to push forward, to evaluate and sustain systems, while keeping a “pulse” on the organization.  That’s what an impact team does.     

In a past blog, we talk about the 4 steps of a program evaluation. The impact team would work closely with the outside evaluator to complete the four steps and keep the evaluation cycle going beyond the consultation engagement! They are essentially your internal “CQI” or continuous quality improvement team.

An impact team is a cross-cutting team of staff that come together on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly) to ask critical questions, review data, and make meaning of the information; basically, to integrate program evaluation into the organization.  They would discuss how the data is being collected to ensure the processes and systems in place are being followed. They would also review the big goals identified in the logic model and discuss if the targets have been met and why/ why not.  Lastly, and most importantly, they would identify data-informed recommendations to improve the outcomes.

Transform Consulting Group worked closely with Center for Leadership and Development to implement a system for in-house evaluation and train their impact team to ensure integration of evaluation within the organization and cross-department alignment. Policies and procedures were put into place to guide system processes and outline impact team member roles and responsibilities. The team was trained on how to collect data using the agreed-upon tools.  A data management plan and schedule were created to align with the organization’s programming schedule and keep the impact team on track with data collection and analysis throughput the year.  This ensured new evaluation results would always be ready in accordance with important fundraising events and annual strategic planning sessions.

Who should be on an impact team?  The executive decision-makers?  All management?  Maybe just the staff who worked on the programs being evaluated?  Only if you want a myopic view of your organization’s reach.  The impact team should consist of staff at all levels to have different perspectives.  Information will be interpreted differently by each person on the team based on their unique capabilities, experiences and strengths.

What is interesting?  What stands out?  Some results may be more obvious to different members of the team.  This is what makes a great impact team.  Take time to think about the best people at each level of the organization and don’t be afraid to adjust those involved as things change.  An impact team will be engaged in the most crucial elements of the organization.  Make sure to include members capable of critical thinking and connecting the dots—systems level thinkers, not just task-masters.  Those who can perform high-level analysis, problem solving, and decision making are essential, but don’t exclude those doing work on the ground floor.  Their understanding of what it takes to execute the organization’s vision on a daily basis is invaluable.  Build a team from all levels that is excited, engaged, and willing to be honest about what works and what doesn’t.

This is the start of where the big decisions are made.  The informational “tools” to make big decisions start with the evaluation data (the hard evidence) and the folks who can interpret what the data is saying.  An organization’s impact team would present evaluation results and subsequent recommendations to the board and leadership team regularly.  Organizations are equipped with make data-informed recommendations for decision making, such as modifying programming elements, letting go of a program, refining the target population, requiring more professional development for program staff, adjusting program dosage for participants, and other organizational or programmatic changes.

Transform Consulting Group can help you create and sustain a winning program evaluation impact team for your organization.  Please contact us today to learn more!

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Grants 101 – Types of Grants

We love seeing our partners accelerate their impact and serve their communities in a variety of ways. However, we understand the challenges you face and know that to do good work, you need money.  Grant writing is one strategy for raising funds to accelerate your organization’s impact.

There are two types of grants: Foundations and Government and both come with their benefits and challenges.

Foundations

Foundation grants can be community and public, private and family, or corporate.  According to Giving USA, foundations gave $59.28 billion in 2016.

Giving-USA-2017-Infographic

Benefits:
  • Foundation grants are usually broad in scope. They cover a variety of causes and are offered to organizations of all sizes.
  • These grants are usually more flexible. There is often freedom in making the grant work best for your goals and needs.
  • Once you receive a foundation grant, you will realize how much more hands-on foundation representatives are with your organization. There is a relational aspect as you go through the process and utilize the funds.  
  • Often the application for foundation grants is less cumbersome.
Challenges:
  • Foundation grants have a limited timeline.  They are typically for one-year and often for smaller amounts.  
  • Foundation grants are more relationship-oriented as noted above, which can be a benefit AND a challenge. If you are a recipient of a grant from a foundation, you will likely work closely with the people gifting the funds and are more susceptible to their opinions and ideas.

Government Grants

Screen Shot 2017-07-07 at 9.43.29 AM
Government grants are awarded at the federal, state and local level. The federal government spends over $500 billion a year distributing grants to state and local governments. 

Benefits:
  • Government grants are usually awarded in larger amounts and are often gifted over multiple years.
  • Government grants are more stable funding sources, and you can use these grants to make goals/plans for the long-term impact of your organization.
  • Government grants can be a great way to scale and expand a program or service.
Challenges:
  • The guidelines and requirements for government grants at any level are often more prescriptive and rigorous than foundation grants.
  • Applications for government grants can be cumbersome and often require more information on your organization, track record of success and results, and strong systems in place.
  • The competition for government grants is often high.
  • There are usually more reporting and accounting requirements with government grants, which can be a challenging process to monitor.

funder_grantee6At Transform Consulting Group, we sit on both sides of the table. We work with the funders to develop, implement and manage funding programs AND grantees (or recipients) of those funding sources. We know looking for, writing, or applying for grants can become a daunting task so stayed tuned for future blogs with helpful tips for taking your next step.

Many clients approach us with unique challenges or opportunities when we begin working together. Because we have worked with the funders and grantees, we are able to bring a holistic perspective and understanding to our clients regardless of what side of the table we sit. This often leads to meaningful engagement and collaboration – which we love!

Is your organization ready to tackle a grant, but don’t have the manpower to work through the application? Are you wondering what grants are available for your specific cause? Contact us today!

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4 Ways to Share Data Publicly

Congratulations! You successfully gathered data to look deeper into the effectiveness of your programs, decided WHO you’re sharing the information with and now it’s time to figure out HOW to share the data.

We talked about the different audiences you should share your data with in this blog, such as internally with staff and volunteers and externally with funders and partners. Once you determine your audience, you may decide on a variety of ways to communicate your latest information.

First, it’s important to know your audience and be willing to shape your message in a way that is easy to understand and compelling. Some things to consider about your audience may include their age, educational background, industry or non-industry, and economic levels. For example, the way you communicate to a wealthy, influential donor should look different than the way you communicate to your staff or clients.

Here are some examples of how you can share data with a variety of audiences:

  1. Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.27.32 AMAnnual Report

An annual report is a great way to package your year’s efforts and data. You can use several visual elements to make important data stand out, include photos of the people you serve, while also including descriptive text to provide additional information. For tips on how to spice up your annual report, check out this blog

  1. Email BlastScreen Shot 2017-06-12 at 11.00.23 AM

Many of you are already regularly emailing your target audience, so consider using those email blasts to spotlight recent data. If your data shows positive results of a programs, then share it! Include photos or success stories from clients to highlight and make sure you’re presenting the facts in an “easy-to-read”, visual way.

We did this at TCG and sent out a “Year in Review” email blast to current and potential clients highlighting our efforts and successes throughout the calendar year.

  1. Marketing Materials

If your data is showing huge successes, then you want to make sure EVERYONE hears about it!

  • Brochures: Consider re-creating marketing materials to highlight specific results and outcomes beyond just the standard details about programs provided and “numbers served”.
  • Letterhead: Add a simple line at the bottom of your organization’s letterhead such as “95% of students enrolled in our summer programs saw significant improvements in test scores.”
  • Email Signatures: Have all staff members update their email signatures to include a link to the Annual Report or another statement on a specific data point.

The great thing about using marketing materials is that you are able to communicate data to people outside your circle. EVERYONE who receives an email or letter from you can see your data and it doesn’t have to be a person who already has a stake in your organization.

  1. Social Media Campaign

Your data tells a story about your organization and social media platforms are great for sharing!

  • Upload your Annual Report online and share the link often on your channels.
  • Share pieces of data from the annual report on a weekly basis through a specific data point or graphic.
  • Swap out your Facebook or Twitter banner to highlight a specific success.
  • Make your social media posts visual!  One tip to keep in mind: before you post long winded paragraphsScreen Shot 2017-06-12 at 10.50.34 AM packed full of numbers, try creating infographics to communicate the data in a visual way. You can then upload your infographics as photos on your social media channels and make it easy for your followers to share.

We did this recently when sharing 2016 stats for the Indiana Heart Gallery to our social media followers. While the infographic to the right doesn’t tell the whole story, it does gives a quick look at the numbers. For more tips on creating infographics, check out our past blogs here and here.

It’s important to note that the examples listed above are just a starting point. The great thing about sharing data and telling your story is that the possibilities for HOW you do it are endless. Get creative and don’t be afraid to try out new things!

Whether you’re at step one and need help gathering data or you already have great data compiled and need help sharing it, contact Transform Consulting Group today and we’d love to chat!

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You Finally Have Data! Who Should You Share It With and Why?

Data-BlogImagine your organization recently conducted a program evaluation.  Data was gathered from one of the programs offered and an analysis of the data revealed your program outcomes were met, some even exceeded!  This is exciting news and you want to shout it out from the nearest rooftop… We understand this urge, but there are better (and safer) ways to share your evaluation data.  In this blog, we discuss different audiences with whom an organization might share their evaluation results and the benefits of sharing them. Stay tuned for a future post discussing how to share your evaluation data.

At Transform Consulting Group, we love seeing organizations use data to measure and achieve success!  We also love helping organizations “visualize” success in easy-to-understand ways using simple charts and graphics.  Once these data visuals are audience-ready, what are the next steps?  Does an organization need to be intentional about sharing program evaluation data?  Why?

Data is only as good as how it is used.  If an organization collects data, analyzes it and makes beautiful visuals with it, but few people actually see the results, what is gained from the experience?  Probably not much!  This connects back to a blog we wrote called, 4 Steps to Complete a Program Evaluation.  Step number four in the process is to discuss the results of an evaluation and make data-informed decisions.  In order to do this, evaluation data must be shared with the right people.  

Our team typically compile a summary report and/or slide presentation of an organization’s evaluation data for stakeholders to review the results and discuss their implications.  A stakeholder is anyone who has a “stake”—an interest, concern, or investment—in an organization and/or program achieving (or not achieving) its goals.   We categorize data sharing into two different “buckets” -internal and external.  As it sounds, sharing data internally is with folks on the inside of an organization, and external data sharing is with folks on the outside looking in. Within each bucket, we’ve identified three important stakeholder groups and how sharing evaluation results can be beneficial, no matter what the data “says”.

Internal Stakeholders

1. Employees:  It would be challenging to find a dedicated employee who would not care to see evidence of their daily efforts actually paying off and leading to positive change.  The achievement of program outcomes reflected in data can help validate the combined efforts of all staff involved in a program’s design (if applicable) and delivery.  It is important to share evaluation results with staff at all levels and not just employees at the top.  Too often, we see that the information does not trickle down.  Sharing, showcasing and celebrating success builds morale and encourages staff to continue doing great work.  In the business sector, this would be akin to celebrating a top-sales month! 

On the other hand, results of an evaluation may reveal that a program is not achieving its intended outcomes and uncover potential reasons why not.  Evaluation data can “shed light” on issues that staff and/or leadership were not even aware of that could hinder the ability to make an impact.  Based on sharing these results, employees will know to expect workflow or programmatic changes in the near future without confusion or surprise.

At TCG, we recently worked with an organization that provides college and career readiness counseling for high-school students to evaluate their 8-week summer program.  During orientation, students were given a pre-survey to assess their knowledge of college and career readiness subject matter before participating in the program.  On the last day, students were given a post-survey to measure knowledge gained as a result of completing the program.  Evaluation data was presented to program staff and leadership in easy to understand charts and graphs.  Staff became excited when they saw how much college and career readiness knowledge students gained as a result of participating in the program!  They were also glad to find out which areas students reported knowing the least about.  As a result, staff could strengthen those areas of the program prior to the next round of incoming students.  

2. Volunteers:  Organizations that depend on volunteer work are always on the lookout for more help.  Unfortunately, unpaid labor can be hard to come by, especially if volunteers don’t feel like their time and effort is making a difference.  If an organization can show community impact as a result of volunteerism, their volunteers are more likely to feel validated and remain committed to the organization.  Then they may even recruit more volunteers!  In this case, evaluation data helps to promote satisfaction and the feeling of reward.  Volunteers are motivated to stay put and not seek out other volunteer opportunities when they know that their time and talent is making a difference.

3. Board of Directors:  The Board can use evaluation data to begin planning and discussing the future of an organization.  If the data supports outcomes consistently being met, a Board may decide to expand the program’s service delivery to a larger area or broader audience.  If the expansion is successful, the organization sustains a larger community impact and the Board (hopefully) feels a sense of accomplishment and pride in the organization.

For evaluations resulting in unmet program outcomes, the Board may recommend program model changes, or commit to focus on a problem area (i.e. staff professional development) during the upcoming year.  Either way, sharing program evaluation results with Board members equips them to make informed decisions about what is best for the organization going forward.

External Stakeholders

1. Funders:  Funders want to see a return on their investment into any organization.  Many funders require organizations to conduct program evaluations to remain accountable for the results that their funds are directly supporting.  Bottom line, funders want to know if the program is worth the resources that it costs.  Evaluation results help “quantify” worth for funders by showcasing to what extent the desired program changes are occurring.  If a program performs as expected, it is likely that funding dollars will keep flowing.  

Alternatively, if evaluation data shows program outcomes not being met and insignificant or no change is occurring, a funder may decide not to invest or discontinue investing in an organization.  Funders are often supporting multiple organizations at once and want to feel confident their money is well-spent and producing the best results!

2. Partners:  Evaluation data may help make a case for two or more organizations to join forces and provide combined programs or services within a community to maximize impact.  Sharing data can be a positive step in the direction of collaborating and working towards common goals.  Local programs may unknowingly be competing for clients, resources or limited funding.  Some are likely struggling to meet goals.  Awareness of such issues, made apparent through evaluation data, could spark ideas to collaborate and leverage partnerships to provide joint programming.  The result?  Sharing data may lead organizations to do what is best for the community, while also doing what is best for their budget!  

Ideally, routine program evaluation and data sharing will keep organizations accountable to each other in the future.  On the other hand, evaluation data can show when partnerships are no longer working and should be realigned or dissolved.

3. The Public:  Sharing data with communities helps to legitimize an organization’s purpose in the public eye.  Program evaluations are one way to demonstrate community impact.  Evaluation data goes a step farther to show how much impact an organization or program is making.  Nonprofit organizations are public agencies with a responsibility to communicate back to the public about the goodwill that they are making from the public’s investment in them!

Foundations, grant makers and other funders research shared public data about an organization or program to determine whether or not to invest in it.  Evidence of successful programming can suggest an organization itself is well-managed.  This inspires confidence that funding dollars will also be used wisely and generate the greatest return on investment.

Internally, sharing evaluation results can galvanize an organization–arming employees (program staff and management) and the Board of Directors with data they need to ensure program outcomes are being met and take appropriate actions when issues arise.  External stakeholders use data to verify an organization’s credibility and hold it accountable to the outcomes it seeks to achieve.  Ultimately, stakeholders use data to keep an organization on track to accomplish its overall goals.

It’s hard to win a game if your team has no idea of the score—or even worse, what game they are playing.  Sharing evaluation data helps to keep an organization’s impact transparent and everyone involved on the same page.  Stay tuned for our next blog in this series about how to share data and use it to tell your story within different communication channels!  Talk with one of our team members today and learn how you can get the word out about your evaluation results!

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