Category Archives: Program Development

What is the Breakeven Point for Your Early Childhood Education Program?

For early childhood education programs, as well as other nonprofits, it is important to know the organization’s “breakeven point.” This is the point at which your expenses and revenue break even, meaning you have enough funding to run your program.breakeven-point

Operating a high-quality early childhood education program is expensive. Child Care Aware of America produced a report in 2017 called Parents and the High Cost of Care. This report discusses the aspects of high-quality programs that drive up the cost. It also acknowledges the gap between the cost of operating a program and the amount that families can afford to pay.

Often, program administrators cannot pass that entire expense on to families of young children because most families cannot afford the full cost. Child Care Aware of America finds that nationally, on average, married couples spend 10% of their income on child care for one child while single parents spend 36%. Therefore, many programs end up stitching together various funding streams in order to make it to their breakeven point.

At Transform Consulting Group, we’ve partnered with Early Learning Indiana on a project designed to improve the financial stability and sustainability of early childhood education programs. We’re currently working with 10 early childhood education programs in Indiana to help them access new funding streams and accomplish their financial goals.

For many programs, their financial goal was to improve their internal systems, procedures, and accounting practices. They did not know exactly how much they needed to bring in weekly, monthly, or annually to meet their financial obligations—let alone make any changes, such as increasing staff wages, expanding to serve more children, or implementing a scholarship or tuition assistance program.

For this project, we adapted a tool developed by First Children’s Finance that helps programs determine their breakeven point. This tool enables programs to determine the total expenses and revenue of their overall program. It also calculates the number of children they need to enroll in each classroom in order for each room to break even. If your program doesn’t already calculate your breakeven points, there are many reasons to start now!

Why Calculate Your Breakeven Point?

Calculating your breakeven point for your overall program and each classroom tells you whether or not your current levels of revenue truly cover all your expenses. Many early childhood education programs know that the tuition parents can afford to pay does not cover their costs, but they may not know what their true deficit is. Other programs know their overall annual surplus or deficit, but they don’t know how much revenue they need to break even in each classroom.

For example, it is more expensive to operate infant classrooms than preschool classrooms. If you calculate your breakeven points, you may learn that enrolling your preschool rooms at 90% of their capacity will cover the deficit in your infant rooms. Infant care is a significant need in most communities and therefore it is likely an important part of the mission of an early childhood education program. Because of this, programs accept the fact that they will have a deficit in those rooms, but now they can move forward with a plan to recoup their losses.

As in the example above, other types of nonprofits also need to be aware not only of their overall breakeven point, but also the breakeven points of their various programs. An after-school organization might run an arts program, a sports program, and an academic enrichment program. The after-school leadership team may learn that the arts program isn’t currently breaking even but scaling up the program would help the bottom line.

When Should You Calculate Your Breakeven Point?

Some organizations may decide to use a breakeven tool annually, updating it to provide a check on how they are budgeting. Another use of a breakeven tool is when an organization is considering a change like one of the following:

  • Moving to a different location with different space constraints
  • Expanding one or more existing programs
  • Adding a new program
  • Anticipating the loss of a particular funding source

One of the ten early childhood education programs we worked with during this project was Mt. Pleasant Child Development Center. They were excited to be able to use the breakeven tool as a check on how each of their classrooms’ breakeven points factor into their budget. They also wanted to use the information gleaned from the tool to determine how much funding they can reinvest in their staff benefits.

At TCG, we understand that performing this kind of financial assessment can be difficult and time-consuming. If your program needs support with evaluating your current budget or help with achieving your future goals, contact us today!

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Training Your Team

As a new employee (week 8 on the job), I’m learning more and more about Transform Consulting Group. I have found that we don’t stop working where other consultants might.

At other consulting groups, the typical client engagement cycle is this: Research is finished.  Meeting is over. Report is delivered. On to the next client.

Client:  Now what?

Consultant:  I wonder what they did with our recommendations.

TCG goes further – we help you implement change.

At Transform Consulting Group we go further in helping our clients implement change. One way we do this is through training our client’s staff.

CLD TrainingJust like no funder wants to adopt a grantee forever, no client wants to hire a consultant forever. We want to make sure that the work we have completed for the client will be sustained beyond our engagement with the client.  

We work with several clients to support their evaluation needs. This might include evaluating a program for a grant, developing an evaluation plan and process, or developing a data dashboard. Evaluation can be intimidating for many of our client’s staff, so we make sure we develop data tools and plans that they can manage and implement beyond our engagement. In order to accomplish this, we might embed a series of trainings for staff throughout our evaluation project.

We are currently doing this right now for the Center for Leadership Development. We have provided the following training topics mainly around analyzing data:

Our trainings include detailed slides, a recording of our training, and handouts. These are all useful tools that can be shared with new staff at an organization.

We also offer trainings on other topics for which we provide services. Some of our popular trainings include:CQI Training UW Central IN

Not only does the organization benefit, but according to research, employees want professional development!  It makes them feel that the company is investing in them and their development, which can increase employee retention.  A win-win!

At Transform Consulting Group, we understand the importance of evaluation and the critical step of implementation.  If your organization needs help developing its staff or would like to engage with a consultant that can help you through the entire evaluation process, contact us today to learn more!

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3 Steps for Creating a Fund Development Case Statement

A fund development case statement is a broad three- to five-page overview of your nonprofit organization that highlights who you are and what sets you apart from other similar nonprofits. Your case statement sets a foundation for grant applications and donation requests.  

Fund Dev Case Statement Blog

At Transform Consulting Group, we use 3 steps when partnering with organizations to create a fund development case statement. We recently used these steps to develop a case statement for the Johnson County Learning Center (JCLC): Early Learning Community. JCLC provides early childhood education for families in Johnson County. Right now, they are seeking to increase their overall funding and diversify their funding streams. They are new to fund development, so one of our solutions was to help develop their case statement.

Step 1: What is the Need?

Address the compelling need for your organization or cause. Why do you exist? What happened to spark the founding of the organization? Why do you continue to operate? What problem(s) in particular are you working to solve? Consider the following:

    • Demographics: Who is your target population? What are some key data points that characterize them and demonstrate their unmet need?
    • Services: Is there a lack of services like yours? Are you filling a critical gap? Do you provide speciality services that are needed and missing?
    • Research: What does the literature say about why your work matters? What studies have been done that demonstrate the importance of your work and cause?

Tip: Use available, relevant information. Perhaps organizations in your community or region have conducted needs assessments. For state and national data sources, check out our blog.

For JCLC’s case statement, we used Census data to help funders and donors get a sense of the community’s demographics. Since they work in the early learning and education industry, we pulled data from the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee’s (ELAC) county profiles and interactive dashboard and the Indiana Department of Education.

Step 2: What are You Currently Doing?

Address what you are currently doing to meet the need. How does your organization fill the existing gap in your community? Consider the following:

    • Programming: What are the programs and services that you offer? What makes them uniquely effective?
    • Impact: What are your results and accomplishments, including the numbers served and outcomes? What positive trends or recent changes have you identified?
    • Stories: Who can tell personal stories about the positive impact of your organization in their lives?

Tip: Use existing language from your website, annual report, and newsletters.

JCLC had already developed content for their website to communicate their mission and programming. In addition, they pulled some data reports to provide more detail about their reach and partnerships. We were able to use their existing language and data as a foundation for their fund development case statement.

Step 3: What are Your Plans for the Future?

Address what else you hope to accomplish that will better meet the need of your target population. This is why you are asking for grant funding. Consider the following:

    • Unmet Need: Why do you want this grant funding? Is there a population or geographic area you are unable to serve?
    • Your Case: How is what you are currently doing (while great) not enough to meet the compelling need? What are your limitations?
    • Your Proposal: How would you use the funding in order to meet the need?
      • Expand Services: Is the need overwhelming and you need to serve more?
      • Enhance Services: Do you need to refine your services or programs in a particular way, such as specializing or retooling them to meet the needs of the target population?
      • Launch New Services: Do you need to start something new to fill a gap, perhaps based on new research; a new community needs assessment; or a changing target population?

Tip: There’s no need to start from scratch if you don’t have to! Consider if you have written similar information for other grants or reporting requirements. More than likely you have this information in multiple places and just need to thoughtfully pull it together.

Data from ELAC and Child Care Aware of America shows that in Johnson County, there are many families who cannot afford the cost of early childhood education. At the same time, a growing body of research shows the positive impact for children, especially low-income children, attending a high-quality early education program. These children can achieve positive academic, social, and economic outcomes (ELAC Annual Report, 2018). There is a need for community investment to create a more robust scholarship program that would help make sure all families can access the education needed for their youngest children. Now, JCLC will share this data with local funders to seek the specific dollar amounts necessary to increase the number of children served by their scholarship program.

If your nonprofit needs to seek additional funding or you would like help reviewing or creating a fund development case statement, contact us today to get your organization on the way to financial strength and sustainability!

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Benchmarking Organizations Similar To Yours

If you are looking to make a change in your organization, then you may want to start by benchmarking the practices of organizations similar to yours. There’s no need to spend your valuable time and energy reinventing the wheel. There are other organizations with programs similar to yours, in regions similar to yours, with funding needs similar to yours. Learn from them!CHIP

Transform Consulting Group recently went through the process of benchmarking other nonprofit organizations for our client, CHIP: The Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention. CHIP is in the process of growing its programming and is seeking to partner with new funders.

2 Reasons You May Benefit From Benchmarking

  1. One reason you might benefit from benchmarking is if you want to change your programming or expand to serve different clients or another location. Start by benchmarking the best practices of organizations with similar programming—both locally and in other regions similar to yours. Then, focus on nonprofits that have already successfully navigated a comparable change or expansion.

    For our work with CHIP, they were already experts on funding sources of local homeless service providers since they function as a leader in the homelessness system in Indianapolis. We were able to help them by benchmarking other homeless service system leaders in similar cities across the country. Through this process, we identified different funding streams that CHIP is now leveraging. We also investigated various ways that other organizations have developed partnerships with homeless service providers, as well as public-private partnerships. Then, we analyzed the aspects of these structures that aligned with CHIP’s goals for development and expansion.
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  2. Another reason benchmarking may benefit your organization is if you want to diversify your funding streams. First, research organizations with similar programming in different regions to learn about funders and funding sources that may also be available to you. Then, benchmark other organizations in your region with programming that is different from yours. Some of those organizations’ funding strategies may be applicable to you.

3 Strategies For Conducting Benchmarking Research

  1. Online Research – In today’s Information Age, the majority of information that we want to know is readily available at our fingertips. Doing research online goes beyond just looking at an organization’s website. You can dig deeper by looking at their annual reports and other publications. In addition, remember to check out their social media posts for more information about how they operate. Also, use a search engine, such as Google, to find out what others are saying about the organization.
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  2. Review 990s – Some nonprofit organizations share detailed information about their funding sources on their website or in their annual reports, but others do not. Most nonprofits have to file an annual tax form called a Form 990. If an organization doesn’t put it on their website, you can find their 990 elsewhere online.
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    Since our work with CHIP is centered on fund development, we paid particular attention to 990s in our research. We analyzed and compared the amount of funding coming from various sources, such as philanthropic grants, member dues, and government grants.
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  3. Key Informant Interviews – Electronic research is very useful, but sometimes you can learn more from a conversation with an expert. If you identify a few organizations that are very relevant to your work and goals, then reach out to staff there. Before your conversation with them, be sure to plan your questions ahead of time. Keep your questions focused on your goals in order to make the most of your time and theirs!

Tracking Key Indicators

Track your findings, and synthesize what you’ve learned! Before starting your research, set up a tracking system that works for you and your team. Then, document what you learn. Finally, figure out how your learnings can positively impact your organization! assess-01

These are some key indicators you may want to track.

  • Organization Nam
  • Location & Service Area
  • Population Served & Demographics
  • Organization Size & Number of Staff
  • Programs, Initiatives, & Focus Areas
  • Funding Sources & Funders
  • Interesting Data & Ideas
  • Collaboration with Partners

If your organization wants to make a change in order to have a bigger impact, Transform Consulting Group can help you with the necessary research & analysis to achieve your goals. Contact us today to get started!

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4 Steps to Complete a Feasibility Study

Too often non-profits and government agencies immediately begin implementing a new program or service area. They see a need with their clients or a gap in the existing services, so they elect to help meet that need. This all sounds good, right? The challenge is that there has not been enough time to complete a comprehensive planning and assessment process to develop the program or service. One service we offer our clients to meet this need is completing a feasibility study.plan-act-do-study-cycle4

We follow the Plan-Do-Study-Act or “PDSA” continuous quality improvement cycle (learn more in this blog).  We help clients assess, design, launch and evaluate programs and services in order to meet community needs and apply the latest research. When following this approach, we most often find that clients tend to skip the first step “Plan” and jump straight to “Do” as mentioned above. We work to help our clients thoughtfully plan out their services, programs, and interventions before they implement them to get the impact and desired change they are working towards.

Implementing a feasibility study is a great tool to complete a thoughtful planning process. A well designed feasibility study will help an organization assess 1) if what they are thinking of implementing is possible and 2) how to consider implementing it.

Shoes at ArrowsWe are currently working with a group of community leaders in Jay County to complete the feasibility of converting an old elementary school building into an early childhood center. Like many rural communities, Jay County has a declining population that has impacted their local schools in continuing to operate multiple school buildings, which has resulted in school consolidations and closures. At the same time, their rural community also struggles with attracting new employers due to a lack of child care for a growing workforce. Their community leaders had the idea of converting a closed elementary school into an early childhood center but wanted assistance in completing a feasibility study first.

4 Steps to Complete a Feasibility Study

 

1. Market Analysis

During this step you want to gather key information about your targeted population. This includes collecting demographic information from online public sources. This helps create a composite of your targeted community and population. We also suggest completing a landscape assessment to identify any other organization providing similar services or working with the target population. Lastly, it’s important to gather some qualitative feedback from various key stakeholders in the community to determine what they think the needs and gaps are as well as build community will for possibly launching a new service. This can be done through focus groups, surveys, and key informant interviews.

The purpose of this step is to ensure that there is in fact a need for your proposed program/ service. Check out this blog for more insight on completing a community needs assessment!

2. Program Design

During this step you will want to complete some research on your targeted service area. For Jay County, we are gathering the latest research on early childhood program models and services that lead to the desired outcomes they are seeking. Our landscape scan is also looking at existing program models in the community so as to not duplicate existing options but to consider complimentary program models that will meet the needs of communities. If you are seeking external funding, you may want to adopt or align your program around research-based models that have demonstrated outcomes. This will provide confidence to potential funders in implementing a new program.

The purpose of this step is to determine the best model and design for implementing your program. Check out this blog for more tips on finding evidence-based programs

3. Business Model

The next step is to develop the business model for operating the program. During this phase of the feasibility study you will gather important financial information that will help you understand what it will cost to implement the program and potential sources of funding. You should create a budget and possibly complete some financial forecasting to show start-up costs and when the program would “break even” or be self-sustaining. This step should also assess the operations behind implementing the program, which includes the staffing model, materials and services, training, facility, technology, equipment and other program needs.

With Jay County, we are completing walk throughs of three possible locations with an architect and construction group to inform the best location to operate an early childhood center. This will inform the potential capacity to serve children, the staffing needs and ultimately budget the break down for start-up costs versus ongoing maintenance costs. The purpose of this step is to think through all of the components needed to successfully implement the program.

Check out this blog for some tips to establish financial goals.

4. Communications Plan

The last (and sometimes forgotten) step is to develop a communications strategy if you decide to launch the new program. After spending all of this time assessing and planning the design of the program, you want to ensure that the targeted audience knows about the program and enrolls/ participates. The communications plan would include determining the current knowledge base in the community, so there might need to be some education and awareness about why you are providing this service especially if it is new and different.

In Jay County, we are launching a PR Campaign through a series of op-eds penned by different key stakeholders (employers, teachers, judge, doctor, etc.) in the community all talking about why expanding early childhood is critical to meet the community’s needs. Your communications plan should include the different channels (social media, newspaper, radio, text, mailings, etc.) that residents use to gather information. In a parent survey (our potential client for early childhood services), we asked them where they get their information and their preferred method of communication. Based on this assessment, develop a start-up marketing plan and community education plan for the proposed new program that will meet participation goals and engage the key stakeholders and partners in the community.

Check out this blog for tips on creating an op-ed campaign and this blog for getting media attention.

Completing a feasibility study may seem unnecessary or slow down your timeline, but the time you invest up front will see a return in a well thought out model that will be set up for success and to accomplish your goals. Completing intentional design through the PDSA model is a critical differentiator for Transform Consulting Group and many clients point specifically to this process improving their own internal operations which accelerates impact. Contact us if we can help you complete a feasibility study!

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When Is It Time to Change Your Program?

At non-profit organizations, programs are often developed to meet a need in the community and drive positive change. Over time community demographics and culture may change, along with the needs of the clients. Organizations may find themselves in a position where they are not satisfied with their current impact, there is a lack of funding to support the program, or there is new research to inform the structure of the program or other items to consider. Any of these items might be a good indication that it is time to review your program or update it.

Four FactorsIMG_0736 to Consider Updating Your Program

  1. Dissatisfaction with Current Impact

As the needs of clients change, organizations may find that the impact of programs on participants is not as strong as they had hoped. This could be for many reasons. For example, programs’ services may no longer address the needs of the community. Programs may need to be adapted and different outcomes may need to be established in order to see a greater impact on participants. There are many reasons why program impact may tend to weaken. It is important to determine the root cause for low impact on program participants, in order to determine the next steps to move towards program re-development.

  1. Lack of Funding to Support the Program

Organizations strategically use funding that aligns with programs and services. In doing so, some non-profits rely so much on grants that it becomes challenging to sustain a program. Funding for programs is not permanent. Organizations may lose funding for a variety of reasons. The funder may have chosen to focus on a different social issue, funders may be dissatisfied with program outcomes and impact, or the funds just simply run dry. Based on some of the reasons listed, some funders may ask organizations for sustainability plans when submitting an application for funding.

  1. New Research Developments

In today’s information age, research is on-going and growing. As new developments are made in various disciplines, programs need to align to the latest research trends and practices. Funders want to fund data-driven, research-based programs that demonstrate impact. Programs could become outdated if the organization does not remain relevant with federal, state, and local trends.

  1. Changing Demographics

Many of today’s communities and residents seem to be ever changing. Some organizations do a great job of assessing their targeted communities and understanding the changing trends and demographics. It is important to make sure that the programs and services your organization is providing are serving the intended audience. It is possible that you may need to update your programs to better serve the current target population or look at providing your services in a new community if that is a better fit with your mission and goals. See this blog post to help you consider relocating or moving into a new community!

We have helped other organizations in determining that it was time to update their program. In working with United Way of Central Indiana on their ReadUP program, we helped them assess how to expand their reach and capacity by leveraging AmeriCorps volunteers. They wanted to grow their reach based on the need in the community but didn’t know how to make it happen with their current capacity. It also turned into a good opportunity reassess the target population and align with the latest research.

Has your organization’s programs experienced some of the stated challenges? If you believe it is time to change your program, contact us today!

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Why Are Financial Goals Important?

Your organization probably has a mission statement and strategies in place for achieving your program goals, but do you also have concrete financial goals? Whether you administer a nonprofit, faith-based organization, or a small business, you have to think about the financial health of your organization.

Your mission and program goals are, by definition, tied to financial goals. Serving your clients and families, as well as paying your staff, requires funding. If you haven’t thought about the health of your current budget or your future financial goals, now is the time! The 4 steps outlined below can guide you.

Step 1: Assess your organization’s finances.

  • First, you may need to spend time reviewing your current revenue, expenses, and the quality of your bookkeeping. In this process, engage your leadership team, board of directors, and/or financial consultants.
  • If needed, determine how to improve your accounting practices. Keep in mind that accounting and other supportive services are part of what enables your programming to have the desired impact.
  • If your organization is not consistently breaking even, then that will inform your financial goals. If your revenue exceeds your costs, how are you reinvesting it in your mission?

Step 2: Set specific goals for your program, such as increasing funding or serving more clients.

  • Separate from the process of reviewing your budget, do you have ideas for the future of your program?
  • Does your organization have an up-to-date strategic plan? In your planning process, did you start by determining the end results that you want to see?
    • What are your plans for program improvement? Goals for Financial Goals Blog
    • Is your organization looking to replicate its services in another geographic region?
    • Did your needs assessment indicate that you should expand to serve a broader range of clients and families?
  • As you are going through the process of turning big ideas into program goals, be sure that you make your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely, or SMART.

Step 3: Set financial goals that will enable you to meet your program goals. What will it cost to meet these goals?

  • You may have some goals for your organization that do not require additional funding. Perhaps you need to prioritize your current funding and/or staff time.
  • Other goals, like serving additional clients, expanding to a new region, and increasing staff wages, do require additional funding.
  • Quantify your specific short-term and long-term funding goals. Then, specify how these goals help you achieve your desired outcomes.Financial Goals-Blog image

Step 4: Develop specific strategies to accomplish your financial goals.

  • One possible strategy is decreasing your current costs. Review your spending from the past few years to see if there are opportunities to save money.
    • You may find that your organization is using resources for activities that are not as closely tied to your mission as they should be.
    • Could you negotiate with any of your vendors for lower service fees?
  • Bringing in additional revenue can be a daunting task. Break it down into smaller pieces.
    • What type of funding are you already accessing that could be increased?
      • Could you raise more from individual or corporate donors?
      • Could you increase your fees for services?
    •  What other funding sources are you not already accessing?
      • Could you write a grant for the first time?
      • Is there government funding available that supports your field?

As you assess the overall health of your organization, remember to focus on areas in which your background is not strong. If you are the director of early childhood education program, then your experience and education is likely in the field of child development. You probably have a lot of ideas to improve the quality of education at your program. Also be sure to consult experts in other areas, like finance, to ensure you are making the most impact!

Our team is currently engaged in a project funded by Partnerships for Early Learners, a program of Early Learning Indiana. We are working with 10 early learning programs across Indiana to help them meet their financial goals. Going through this 4-step process is different for each program. The programs are structured differently and bring unique skills to the table. Despite their differences, each program has been able to set specific goals and find funding strategies that will work best for them.

If you’re ready to jump into this process and need some help with goal setting or fund development, contact us at Transform Consulting Group for a free consultation!

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How to Measure Character and Leadership Development

In many youth development and education programs, improving character and leadership development are common goals. Measuring them can become challenging due to their close relationship and broad understanding. This is why it is important to establish clear definitions of character development and leadership development before completing an evaluation.

We are currently working with a college and career readiness program,  the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), on their internal data collection and evaluation process. Two key principles of CLD are character development and leadership effectiveness. In order to determine the best way to measure these two focus areas, we walked CLD Leadership through a process where the team defined the two key focus areas, assessed their alignment across the 13 different programs and services, developed short-term IMG_0398outcomes that align with the definitions, and mapped their alignment to long-term aspirational outcomes.

1. Establish Clear Definitions

The Center for Leadership Development has a model that utilizes principles like character development and leadership effectiveness to measure the college and/or career readiness of its participants. In order to effectively measure the two principles separately, the team needed to establish clear definitions of character development and leadership effectiveness for the organization. For example, one-character trait of college and career readiness is discipline. One must be disciplined in order to complete assignments on time whether it be in a school or professional setting.

2. Ensure Alignment with Programming

To ensure programs had the proper alignment with the core principles, the CLD leadership team identified programs with strong focuses on character development and leadership effectiveness. We walked the leadership team through each program to ensure the programs focuses aligned with the two principles and their definitions.  This process creates an understanding with the team and makes sure the measures are connected to the curriculum or services.

3. Develop Short-term Outcomes

Once character development and leadership effectiveness were defined, CLD’s leadership team began to brainstorm short-term outcomes for these focus areas. These short-term outcomes were developed based on the established definitions. For example, the CLD leadership team identified self-discipline as part of what defines character development for the organization. If the program has a focus on character development, there should be a short-term outcome that will provide a measure in order to show an increase, decline or no change in the self-discipline of a participant. This will help the staff understand if the curriculum and program is addressing these specific areas and moving closer to accomplishing its goals.

4. Align to Long-term Outcomes

The CLD leadership team also needed to ensure that the principles aligned with the long-term goals of the organization. The team reviewed research and discussed the rationale behind why character and leadership development are critical components to propel students to a college and career path. The goal of ensuring alignment between the principles and long-term goals is to avoid losing sight of the long-term vision and impact, and to make sure everything remains connected.

Many programs that focus on developing strong character and leadership abilities in youth focus on these efforts simultaneously. It can be challenging to measure character traits and leadership traits separately when character development sets the foundation for building strong leadership skills. Although this challenge exists, organizations can overcome this hurdle by first establishing clear, organizational definitions in order to move forward with creating short-term outcomes to measure the impact of a program and the organization as a whole. We at Transform Consulting Group are here to support the data and evaluation needs for your organization. Contact us today!  

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Why You Should Consider Implementing STEM Curriculum

It’s all the buzz right now, so what is STEM? The acronym STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s an approach to education that’s designed to revolutionize the typical teaching of subjects like math and science by incorporating technology and engineering into regular curriculum.

STEM Education shifts the typical teacher-centered classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning and hands-on activities. Some programs have added “A” for art making the acronym “STEAM”. By adding art, educators are promoting creativity and flexible thinking among students in a science and mathematics context.Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 9.47.29 PM

Workforce and economic development experts strongly support the need for a STEM/STEAM focus, which may be why it’s such a hot topic right now:

  • According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics & Statistics Administration, career opportunities related to STEM over the past ten years have grown three times as fast as non-STEM jobs.
  • In 2018, there are projected to be 2.4 million STEM jobs in the U.S that could go unfilled due to the lack of qualified workers.
  • STEM occupations have wages significantly above the national average wage for all occupations. The national average wage for all STEM occupations was $87,570, nearly double the national average wage for non-STEM occupations ($45,700).

In a recent project, our team worked with an organization to apply for a 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant. This non-profit organization offers after-school programming for middle school and high school students. Part of their grant application included implementing STEAM in their weekly curriculum and connecting students to local STEAM career pathways. As we worked to implement this curriculum shift, the organization saw four major benefits.

Benefits of STEM / STEAM:

  1. Help students accomplish their postsecondary education attainment and career goals.
  2. Address the community’s career pathways gap.
  3. Pave the way for new partnerships.
  4. Open doors for securing additional funding to sustain the program.
1. Help students accomplish their postsecondary education attainment and career goals.
 

By offering STEM / STEAM focused curriculum, you are supporting students’ development of skills, knowledge, and experiences necessary for success in postsecondary education and economically viable career options. This focus encourages strong community partnerships, which allow students to participate in internships and apprenticeships. It also provides additional opportunities for creative and innovative academic enrichment that support students in developmental areas such as academic, social/emotional, civic engagement, wellness, etc. By exposing students to various STEM / STEAM careers, it helps them identify their postsecondary education and career pathway.

2. Address the community’s career pathways gap.

By offering a STEM / STEAM program, you can help set your community up for success by encouraging skills needed for the local workforce. In our example regarding the 21st CCLC grant application, we found that a STEM / STEAM focus for students could really pay off for the entire county. In one school district included in the program, 55% of the students enrolled in college within a year following graduation. Unfortunately, the students are not persisting through completion. Currently, only 29% of the county adults hold an Associate’s degree or higher. That is less than half of the students who enrolled in postsecondary education and the state’s projected goal and need for 60% of adults to have postsecondary education. In this same community, manufacturing jobs – high-skilled and high paying jobs – represent almost half of the employment in the county. Expanding students’ knowledge of STEM-related careers and creating stronger partnerships as well as career pathways will be a game changer in this county!

Boy Assembling Robotic Kit In Bedroom

3. Pave the way for new partnerships.

With a structured STEM / STEAM curriculum, organizations can pull in local partnerships to enhance programming. With the organization mentioned above, we had numerous businesses in the community agree to facilitate field trips, presentations, and hands on activities to enrich the programming for students while also educating the students about local career pathways available. This is invaluable experience for a student who is trying to figure out what their options are after graduation. It is also a beneficial partnership for businesses who need to maintain their workforce pipeline.

4. Open doors for securing additional funding to sustain the program.

Because STEM / STEAM is all the hype right now, there are numerous funding streams available to support your work. Funders see this as a significant need in our education and workforce systems and are looking to support organizations who can successfully address this need. For the 21st CCLC grant, priority points were given to organizations who included STEM / STEAM in their programming. There is ample data available to convince local businesses and philanthropic partners to invest. Having a clear, focused curriculum in place can open NEW doors for additional funding streams.

As education and technology continues to transform the way we live, work, and learn, STEM / STEAM is something to consider for organizations serving young people. If your organization is ready to take the plunge and shift your curriculum focus, we’d love to work with you. We can help find funding, research programs, write your grant, evaluate existing efforts, and more. Contact us today and let’s chat!

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Three Tips to Scale Up Your Social Program

Social programs are often developed to address service-gaps within communities. As the program evolves and retains strong outcomes over time, organizations may look for ways to expand the services.

The Wallace Foundation recently produced a report called Strategies to Scale Up Social Programs. In this report, researchers conducted a study focusing on what it takes to scale up programs and identified three key strategies.

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Three Strategies to Consider to Scale Up Your Program

1. Organizational Structure:

There are three organizational structures to consider when determining the proper path for scaling up a program.

  • Branching:  If an organization chooses “branching” as a strategy, the program will be offered at multiple sites under the control of the lead organization. Utilizing this strategy may mean slower growth and expansion for the program due to the fact that the lead agency must manage the various sites. The benefit of branching for program expansion is that the lead agency remains in control of the program delivery and model.
  • Affiliate: Organizations utilizing the affiliate path are able to offer and expand their program to other sites. In this option, the partnering organization has basic control over the program like the leading agency would in the branching pathway. Sometimes these independent organizations are under contract with the lead organization who developed the program.
  • Distributing network: This option allows for an organization to develop the content of a program, but leans heavily on its partners to implement the contents of the program as they have been written. These organizations tend to have a national or regional geographic reach.
2. Partnerships:

Scaling up a program involves multiple partnerships.  No lead organization can successfully scale on their own. Successful organizations who participated in the study noted that supporting and implementing partnerships are very important to bring programs to scale. When making the decision on who to partner with, consider the following:

  • Resources – What resource gaps (i.e. funding, implementation, etc.) can the partnering organization support to bring the program to scale?
  • Organizational Structure – Which partnering organization can best assist with the organizational type of bringing the program to scale?
  • Knowledge and Experience – Does this partner have experience and knowledge within this particular field? Who can help guide the process?
3. Program Model:

When bringing programs to scale, the program model was well defined and possibly refined with demonstrated impact prior to scaling. After scaling, it is not uncommon for the program model to be altered due to program adaptation or reinvention. Based on this study in particular, reinventions of programs often occur in order to change the delivery model, target audience, or program’s focus.  To ensure that the program model remains intact as much as possible, lead organizations may provide implementation guidance to those implementing partners. Online resources like toolkits are also a helpful resource for partner organizations to reference. Although this strategy may help in program fidelity, the overall monitoring process for the lead organization to maintain program control varies. Some organizations utilize tools such as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), dashboards, on-going evaluations, etc.

Client Spotlight

We are working with a college and career readiness client to help them evaluate their impact. One of their goals for completing the evaluation is to make the case for scaling the program to other communities. It has been the discussion for many years at this organization. However, before they could begin the steps identified above, they first need to affirm that they have a well structured program model with demonstrated impact. Then we could take them through the three steps noted to determine if scaling is an option and the appropriate path forward!  

We, here at Transform Consulting Group, are equipped to assist your organization with bringing programs to scale during a time where social needs, communities, and family demographics are forever changing. If you want help with bringing you program to scale or need assistance addressing reinventions and adaptations contact us today!

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