Category Archives: Project Management

5 W’s of a Process Evaluation: Part 1

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

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

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

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

WHY CONDUCT A PROCESS EVALUATION

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

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

 

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

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

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

WHO SHOULD CONDUCT YOUR PROCESS EVALUATION

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

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

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

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

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Marketing 101: 6 Ways to Improve Your Website

Improve Website ImageAt Transform Consulting Group, we know your work is important. We also know your time and resources can be limited, regardless of the role you play at your organization. We work with many organizations and programs who are stretched thin working on the front lines with individuals and families to make an impact.

We understand that the behind the scenes marketing gig is rarely your top focus. We also see too many programs fail when they see marketing as a luxury instead of a necessity. The reality is, you need to market in some capacity if you want to grow your organization and continue your good work.

At TCG, we’re here to help. We want to make the process of laying your marketing foundation as easy and painless as possible. That’s why we’re continuing with our Marketing 101 blog series. We covered tips for branding here, best practices for enhancing your social media here, and this blog will unpack 6 simple ways to improve your website.

If you don’t already have a website, then set one up as soon as possible! There are two major reasons why you need even the most basic website:

  • Your clients expect it. Six out of ten consumers expect brands to provide online content about their business, and more than half go directly to the website for information.

  • You control the message. You don’t always have power over what people say about you on social media or on other platforms, but on your website, you are in charge of the narrative. This is your space for telling your organization’s story.

If you don’t have a website, check out free sites like WordPress, and get something posted as soon as possible!

If you do already have a website then you’re halfway there! Now it’s time to take things up a notch with these 6 tips:

1. Capture Attention Quickly

You don’t have much time to capture attention online. The average page visit lasts less than a minute. This Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 4.33.15 PMmeans you must grab the viewers’ attention quickly, and give them reasons to stay on your page. Your homepage should clearly state who you are and who you serve. You can’t necessarily give away all the information on the first page, but a visitor should be able to gain some basic understanding of your organization during that first glance.

Take a look at our TCG homepage. Without even scrolling, visitors can click on a testimonial video and see our mission statement front and center.

2. Use Active Voice

Whenever possible, use active voice when writing the narrative on your website. Passive sentences end up being wordy and vague. Active voice encourages active readers. You want readers who are engaged and who, hopefully, act! Using active voice also helps increase your SEO (search engine optimization – see more in tip #5).

3. Be Personal

People want to know you, like you and trust you before they work with you. Show behind the scene glimpses of Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 4.46.36 PMwhat goes on at your organization and your culture. Use conversational language and avoid technical terms that aren’t approachable.

At TCG, we’re proud of the culture we have created, and we want to showcase it! One way we do this is by highlighting our perks on the career page. We also have individualized bios for each team member.

4. Make it Mobile Friendly

Nearly 60 percent of online searches happen from a Cell phonemobile device. What does this mean for you? Your website needs to be just as compelling whether someone visits on their desktop or cellphone.

Here are some quick tips for making your site mobile friendly. However, the biggest thing to start doing now is test it. Have your staff members pull up your company’s site on various devices (phones, iPads, laptops of different sizes, etc.) and see how it looks!

5. Improve SEO

You can take courses and spend hundreds and thousands of dollars trying to learn how to make your website searchable, or increase search engine optimization (SEO).

We won’t claim to be website experts. However, there are a few easy (and free!) tricks we’ve learned that you can start doing right now:

  • Publish Relevant Content: Quality content drives your search engine rankings. Create content that is specific to your audience. Identify keyword phrases for each page by thinking through how your readers might search for that specific page.
  • Update Content Regularly: Search engines like to see regularly updated content. This shows your site is relevant and your organization will pop up higher in searches.

6. Track Web Traffic

As with any marketing strategy, spend time assessing if your efforts are working! We use Google Analytics to track monthly data on our website. The setup for Google Analytics is free, but it looks a little different depending on your website host. Here is a tutorial to get started.

Once this is set up on your page, there is SO much information you can collect. Some major data you may want to track includes the following:

  • How many people visit your website daily?
  • How many new or returning visitors come to your site?
  • How many pages are people looking at when they visit your site?
  • How long do visitors stay?
  • What cities are your visitors from?
  • How are your visitors finding you (on social media, organic searches, etc.)?

You can also show side-by-side comparisons of different months or weeks to gain a good understanding of if you’re heading in the right direction.  This is a great method for tracking progress and areas to improve!

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 5.30.53 PM

At TCG, we want to help you accelerate your impact – whether that’s with your marketing efforts or through our other services. Contact us today and learn more!

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4 Tools to Collaborate with Key Stakeholders

Do you ever find yourself on a path with no direction? A strategic plan may be what you need to put you on the path to success. A strategic plan is essentially a road map for an organization’s program and goals. Transform Consulting Group helps programs develop their strategic plans with our 4 step process, which you can read more about in a previous blog. This blog focuses on step one in the process: Collaborate.

Collaborate Highlighted

We pride ourselves on step one, collaboration, to work with our clients and not for them. During the strategic planning process we work with you to identify the appropriate key stakeholders to inform the planning process. By engaging diverse stakeholders in organization’s planning process we not only help to increase buy in and ownership from those key stakeholders but also solicit rich feedback to inform the final plan.

The key stakeholders will vary depending on your organization, but typically they consist of external and internal stakeholders: involve some of the following individuals or groups:

Internal Stakeholders
External Stakeholders
  • Staff at different position levels in the organization
  • Current and past funders and donors
  • Board of Directors
  • Key community partners
  • Volunteers
  • Public
  • Clients

Once the key stakeholders are identified, how do we gather feedback from them to inform the planning process? We like to use a variety of methods to solicit stakeholder feedback. We ultimately select the tool based on appropriateness for the audience (for example a focus group may not be a better method for students and parents depending on literacy levels), timeline and budget. Our go to four tools for collecting stakeholder feedback are the following:

1. Surveys

This is a common method to use but to get really great feedback from surveys you need to hone your approach of how you administer it and the types of questions asked.

  • When creating a survey, consider the audience. For example, if you plan to survey youth, assess the reading level of the questions to make sure it is developmentally appropriate.
  • While you are considering the audience, think about the best method to share the survey. Is there a time when the audience regularly meets when a survey could be shared and collected in person at a meeting? Is the audience a broad community group making it difficult to reach the audience in one place?
  • You may need to connect with community resources to distribute the survey. We have partnered with the local economic development group to share online surveys to get local employer feedback.
  • Once you have determined the audience and the best way to distribute the survey, decide the most effective platform to create the survey. Platforms include printed copies or electronic. Electronically, we use SurveyMonkey, but there are several free, online tools available.

2. Focus Groups

If you want to get more in depth feedback beyond basic survey questions, a focus group or listening session may be the appropriate tool.

  • Create guided open-ended questions that prompt conversation during the focus group.
  • Again, identify if the stakeholder group has a regular meeting time when you could be added to the agenda to ask some questions and gather their feedback. We have done these at conferences, community meetings, and parent councils just to name a few.
  • Focus groups can be done in combination with surveys. We’ve done focus groups first to ask broad questions to a small group that will then inform a survey that goes out to the large group. We’ve also done focus groups after a survey to go deeper on the some of the questions asked in a survey.

3. Interviews

There is often a community member or business leader with expertise around the area of a strategic plan.

  • If they are not already a part of the planning process, invite them for an interview to gather feedback and information related to the strategic plan topic.
  • The stakeholders for individual interviews are typically people who have deep history, knowledge, experience or stake with the organization.
  • Similar to the focus group, outline open-ended questions, but leave room for unguided conversation as well depending on what they want to share.

4. Invitation to Planning Meetings

Some stakeholders are key decision makers and influencers in the community.

  • Bringing them to the table throughout the process will help keep them informed to know how to better share the message and goals of the strategic plan.
  • They will also be able to bring a different perspective from those within the organization, which helps avoid groupthink.
  • You could invite these stakeholders to one of your planning retreats to unpack all of the data and feedback collected and assist with identifying the key goals and strategies.

By5 Big PictureTo get more ideas about how to collaborate on a strategic plan, look at other successful organizations.

By5 is a leading organization for early childhood awareness in Muncie and Delaware County, Indiana. They have created a strategic plan through the collaboration of task force and volunteer efforts to improve the developmental opportunities for children ages 0-5.

When we were working with the Community Foundation of Wabash County to create a strategic plan for their coalition focused on early education we benchmarked other communities for lessons learned and strategies.

fullsizeoutput_3b5

Once the key stakeholders are identified and tools have been distributed for feedback, move onto step two, Assess. Follow our blog posts to find out effective methods for assessing your organization and community to inform your strategic plan. Contact us today to learn more about our strategic planning process and how we can work together to identify the appropriate key stakeholders and tools to inform the planning process.

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Marketing 101: 5 Ways to Enhance Your Social Media

At Transform Consulting Group, we see many organizations launch services and programs in response to an obvious need in the community or a gap to address. Your organization is getting into your work, because you have a passion for a cause. Too often nonprofits spend their time on making their programs and services amazing and not as much time on their marketing efforts.Social Media Image

We don’t expect you to be a marketing genius. We want to equip you with simple tools, so that you can do what you do best and it starts with your marketing.

We launched our Marketing 101 series with 5 Tips for Building Your Brand. In this blog we are focusing on your social media presence and will provide simple tips you can immediately implement with little time, budget or resources.

First, you may be wondering why invest time in social media? Social media is continuing to grow everyday – with over 69% of adults now using some sort of social media platform. It is a simple, low-cost way to promote your organization.

There are numerous social media platforms you can decide to utilize for your nonprofit. We understand your time is limited and recommend choosing 1 or 2 social media platforms to get started. There is no reason to spend time on every available social media site and stretch yourself too thin. By choosing 1 or 2 platforms, you can spend the necessary time making sure your efforts get the biggest bang.

There is a little science to choosing what social media platform to invest in, and it really depends on your audience and message. However, we suggest at least starting with Facebook. Facebook is the largest platform, with over 1 billion users daily. Other options to consider are Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and the list goes on. Regardless of your chosen platform, these best practices can be implemented!

5 Ways to Enhance Your Social Media

  1. Post Regularly

Your followers need to hear from you on a consistent basis. Your posting schedule will vary depending on your social media platform. On Facebook, you should post at least one time a day. Twitter operates at a much faster pace and if you truly want your content viewed then you will need to post 3-5 times a day. On sites like LinkedIn, you may find that posting 3-5 times a week is most appropriate for your audience.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 3.47.28 PMThis may seem daunting at first which is why we recommend scheduling your posts when possible. On Facebook for example, you can schedule as many posts as you want for free by clicking on the blue box on your wall.

There are also many tools available for scheduling posts on multiple social media sites. We use Hootsuite to schedule posts for Transform Consulting Group.

The hardest thing about posting regularly is coming up with compelling and relevant content! When crafting your content, consider posting the following:

  • Articles related to your cause to demonstrate your knowledge on the issue areas you are addressing;
  • Event information for upcoming activities within your organization or community;
  • Data and statistics that highlight your impact and successes;
  • Pictures of your work in action (pending client approval/permission;
  • Content shared by partners or other organizations in your network.

  1. Utilize free analytics tools

On most social media platforms, there are built in analytics tools you can use for free. (Facebook calls these tools “Insights” and you’ll find the tab in the top banner. LinkedIn and Twitter have tabs called “Analytics”).

These tools are only useful if you know what data to track. Here is an example of the data we monitor on Facebook on our company page and for clients like the Indiana Heart Gallery:

  • Reach – This number tells you how many people are viewing your content or page. It also includes people who haven’t “followed” your page, but can see your content.
  • Post Engagement – This number shows how often people are “liking” or “sharing” your content. By scrolling to the bottom of the “Insight” page, you can see the engagement on every post and use this information to determine the types of posts your audience is interested in.
  • People (found on the left side of the screen, under “Insights”) – This tab shows basic demographic data about the people who “like” your page. Determine the gender, age, and location of your target audience. Are those the same people who are viewing your content? If not, you may need to change up the things you are posting to attract the demographic you want to engage.
  • When Your Fans are Online (click on “Insights” and “Posts” on the left side of the screen) – This data will show you what days of the week and time of day your fans are online. This is valuable information as you start scheduling posts. Use this data to determine when you should post to ensure the most eyes see your content.
  1. Use visuals

Photos and videos perform better on all social media platforms. Avoid posts that just include text, but instead upload images or videos that capture your fans’ attention. Always make sure to include a photo when posting links to articles or a page on your website.

  1. Experiment with adsScreen Shot 2018-04-11 at 3.49.17 PM

We have had good luck with Facebook Ads for as little as $10 per post for our client the Indiana Heart Gallery.

The Indiana Heart Gallery has great engagement with followers on social media, but we wanted to target individuals who don’t already know about the Heart Gallery for our major events. The advantage of utilizing ads is that your content will reach people who aren’t already engaged with your page.

Whatever platform you utilize for ads, make sure you are specific about your target audience. Most platforms allow you to choose specific demographics, location, etc. of the people you want to target. Spend time making sure your content is appealing to the same target audience you are targeting with your ad.

  1. Engage with “Fans”

Respond quickly to messages, retweet partners’ post, share content, “like” comments on your wall, etc. The more you engage, the more often your company will pop up in people’s newsfeed!

At TCG, we are passionate about helping you move your mission forward. Are you interested in partnering? Contact us today and learn more!

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Summarizing the 2018 ELAC Interactive Annual Report

Indiana’s Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) recently released its new 2018 Annual Report that was discussed in this blog post.

interactive-reportThis year, a new feature was developed along with the Annual Report – an Interactive Annual Report dashboard using Tableau. This dashboard allows the audience to take a deeper dive into the early childhood education data included in the Annual Report.

While the visualization of a data dashboard can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming. The interactive dashboards were inspired by the Indiana Commission of Higher Education’s use of dashboards. ELAC saw the opportunity to share the data that has been collected in a user-friendly format for community stakeholders. When you are browsing the new interactive dashboard, make sure to check out these eight key features!

8 Key Features of the ELAC Interactive Dashboard:

  1. There are five main sections of the dashboard: (1) Young Children and Families (2) Accessibility (3) High-Quality (4) Affordability and (5) Kindergarten Readiness. Simply, select the rectangle tab for the section you want to see.
  2. Data is compiled from multiple sources: The data that ELAC reports comes from multiple sources. A dashboard is a good format to pull together multiple data points and present it in a user-friendly format. ar-sources
  3. Each chart is included to answer a key research question: Check out the gray boxes to identify the questions that the data is answering. This can guide the information that you are seeking to find.
  4. Different charts are utilized to visualize the data: Each tab includes a variety of charts to answer the key research questions. For example, maps are included in each section to display how the data varies across the state.
  5. Data can be filtered by different categories: Charts have the option of being filtered by location, age or program type. There are filtering options throughout the dashboard, at the top of pages or along individual charts. filters
  6. Definitions and data sources are included: The Accessibility, High-Quality and Affordability tabs feature a “Hover for Help” option at the top of the page that features definitions related to content on the page. Throughout any page of the dashboard, hover over charts for more data and definitions. hover-example
  7. Data includes a ranking of counties: Each tab features a county ranking chart to help counties easily identify how they compare to the rest of Indiana’s 92 counties.
  8. Data can be shared or downloaded: The Tableau Toolbar is located on the bottom right of the dashboard. You can click on it Undo/ Redo/ Reset filters applied. You can share the dashboard with the url link and also via social channels, and you can also download it as a PDF.

If you have questions or comments about the ELAC Interactive Annual Report dashboard, email elacindiana@gmail.com or contact Transform Consulting Group.

Like what you see? Transform Consulting Group can help your organization develop a data dashboard customized to your needs. Contact us today for a consultation!

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How Are Indiana’s Youngest Children Doing? The 2018 ELAC Annual Report Gives Insight.

Indiana’s Early Learning Advisory Committee (ELAC) just released its 2018 Annual Report—the fifth since ELAC’s inception in 2013. Annually, ELAC completes a needs assessment for the state’s early learning system and recommends solutions. The goal is to baseline where Indiana is using key indicators and to make best practice recommendations to address the gaps. The result of this year’s annual needs assessment is three key reports and tools: 

ELAC’s seven appointed members work alongside 150 workgroup volunteers who focus on different aspects of the state’s early learning system. All this energy centers on providing early childhood care and education that is accessible, high-quality, and affordable to all families.

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 11.40.14 AM

How Are Children Ages 0-5 Doing Today?

  • Of the 506,761 children in Indiana ages 0-5, 65% need care because all parents are working. This includes working parents who are single as well as households where both parents work outside the home.Figure 3
  • Of those children who need care, only 41% are enrolled in known programs. The other three-fifths of children are in informal care settings—with a relative, friend, or neighbor—where the quality of care is unknown.
  • Of the young children who need care, only 15% are enrolled in high-quality programs. A high-quality program not only ensures that children are safe, but also supports their cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development for kindergarten readiness and beyond.

What Are Some Of Indiana’s Accomplishments On Behalf Of Young Children?Figure 15

  • There are more high-quality early childhood care and education programs available. In 2012, Indiana had just over 700 high-quality programs. There are now almost 1,200.
  • Today there are 4.5 times more children enrolled in high-quality programs than there were five years ago.
  • Over half of the counties increased their number of high-quality programs.

What Is The Unmet Need Identified In The 2018 ELAC Annual Report?

  • There are communities in Indiana with no high-quality programs.
  • The tuition cost of high-quality early childhood care and education programs is unaffordable, and the available financial assistance for low-income families is  insufficient.
  • There is a lack of high-quality seats for infants. Only 7% of children ages 0-5 in high-quality programs are infants. Tuition Comparison

How Can I Find Out More?

  • As in past years, ELAC has published a full annual report, which includes statewide data on Indiana.
  • ELAC has also compiled updated 2018 county-level data for all 92 Indiana counties to aid local stakeholders and coalitions in their work. Use the map to select your county. You can review your county’s profile in an interactive dashboard or a PDF report!
  • There is a newly created feature this year! ELAC published an interactive dashboard with all of the data in the annual report—allowing you to learn more about specific data points and easily present data to stakeholders. There are also comparisons between counties to see how well your community is doing compared to others.

Transform Consulting Group is proud to support ELAC’s work to help each of our youngest learners reach their full potential!

Transform Consulting Group can also help your organization or coalition with data analysis, creating dashboards to visualize your data, and meaningful reporting. Contact us to multiply your impact!

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4 Ways to Raise Awareness for Your Cause

There are so many worthy causes to support, which can make it tricky when working to promote YOURS. How can you leverage specific times of the year to create buzz around your mission? How do you make your campaign stand out against the others?

One important project that our team is proud to manage is the Indiana Heart Gallery for the Indiana Department of Child Services. The Heart Gallery is a traveling photo exhibit featuring children in foster care who are available for adoption. (You can learn more in this past blog post).

While we work year-round to promote foster adoption, we really amp up our efforts during November which is National Adoption Month. We latch onto the buzz already generated throughout the month to bring attention to the need for adopting older children. While this cause may be different from your organization’s, the methods we used to raise awareness can still be applied!

1. Host a Press Conference

Get ahead of the message by hosting a press conference to communicate your efforts. On November 1st, the Indiana IMG_3487Heart Gallery had a press conference to kick off National Adoption Month. We were able to use this platform to set the stage for a month long campaign. We invited partners with similar goals to join us and highlighted their efforts as well. We also brought in big name speakers, like the Indiana Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura and Supreme Court Judge Mary Willis, to add credibility to our presentation and attract attention. This press conference allowed us to educate the public on National Adoption Month as a whole, communicate the goal of the Indiana Heart Gallery, and promote upcoming events.

2. Throw an Event

Occasionally, you have to do things differently. Offer your supporters (or potential supporters) a fun night out or an unique opportunity to get involved.

While the Indiana Heart Gallery travels to different venues every month, it’s usually a standalone exhibit. This structure works great for achieving our month-to-month goals, but occasionally we need to spice things up and offer a different way to engage the public in our project.

IMG_2582We do this by hosting Family Fun Events. During these events, we have adoption staff on-hand to answer specific questions about the foster to adopt process and usually have fun freebies to entice families to come!

For example, we hosted a Family Night at both the Memorial HealthWorks! Kids Museum in South Bend and the Children’s Museum of Evansville. We cover the entry into the museum, refreshments, prizes, photo booth and then feature the Indiana Heart Gallery. We share personal stories of adoption and connect families to local resources. The goal is to engage people who don’t know much about foster adoption and allow for an informal setting for them to learn more.

These events led to many families ready to take the steps toward adoption! It was an informal, fun environment where they could learn key information about foster adoption without any commitments.

3. Amp up Social Media

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 11.47.46 AMEven if you’re already very active on social media, don’t be afraid to try new things. Especially during your awareness building campaigns. For the Indiana Heart Gallery, we have a strong following on both Facebook and Twitter. Typically we will post daily news, statistics, and information about our events. During November, we used Facebook ads to really enhance our campaign and start reaching those people who have never heard of us. With a small budget, we were able to set specific demographic criteria and reached nearly 2,000 new people to share our message.

We also did strategic email blast posts to supporters and partners alerting them of events happening in their area and to share information about National Adoption Month. Think differently about leveraging the communication tools you have available to promote your cause.

4. Send Compelling Press Releases

We shared tips for writing press releases in this blog. Press releases are a great way to communicate your cause. For the Indiana Heart Gallery, we often use press releases to highlight events, but they can also be used to share information or statistics about your cause. Send them strategically during your campaign and remember to always follow up with calls, emails, or additional information!

Our TCG team worked hard to pull together all the above (and more!) to make November a success for our client and ultimately the children waiting for a family to call their own. It’s what we do when we manage a project. Want to learn more about how we can partner on your next big project or campaign? Contact us today!

 

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3 Steps to Facilitate a Strategic Planning Retreat

17855554_690376437789787_5551209555832880363_oWhat comes to mind when someone says the word “retreat”? In the dictionary, “retreat” has a few different meanings: an act of moving back or withdrawing; a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax; an act of changing one’s decisions, plans, or attitude, especially as a result of criticism from others. If we apply these definitions to a “planning retreat”, we can conclude that it is a meeting where a group can step back from regular daily activities to discuss decisions, plans and goals to help inform a strategic plan and future decisions. This means you don’t need to leave town to have an effective planning retreat!

Whether you are leading a planning retreat or participating in one, what makes an effective planning retreat? The facilitator can ensure the group has a plan and accomplishes their goals. A participant can help keep the conversation on topic, as it is common for a group to want to jump into the solutions of a plan before determining the focus areas.

Earlier this year, we discussed the 4 Steps of Strategic Planning. Step three is to “facilitate consensus”, which usually occurs at a planning retreat. The main purpose of this step is for the planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction for the organization, including goals and strategies. We follow three key steps to lead an effective planning retreat.

1. Provide Summarized Materials

First, create a pre-read packet of summarized materials from the first two steps of the strategic planning process. This helps equip the planning team with rich feedback from the key stakeholders (step 1: collaborate) and understand the context (step 2: assess). You also want to give your planning team enough time to review and process the information before the day-of retreat. This allows the group to make thoughtful recommendations. There are several ways to present a pre-read packet: a narrative report, a PowerPoint presentation or an interactive online file.

During a project with the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Committee, we created a Tableau Public file titled the “Impact of Early Childhood Education in Wabash County”. This included five tabs summarizing key community demographic data, program information and stakeholder feedback from employers and parents. The titles for visuals were worded as a question to help the audience pull out key messages from the information. During the planning retreat, we reviewed this information but they had already seen it and digested the information. This allowed us to start having some meaningful conversations.

2. Identify “What” You Want to Accomplish

After leading the team through a review of the information, the majority of time is spent to make meaning with the data and identify goals and strategies for the future. Having some great discussion questions is helpful to focus the conversation with participants and help them use the information presented.

Many participants at planning retreats want to jump right into strategies or solutions. We work hard to help steer the conversation to reaching agreement first on the “what” we want to accomplish with the strategic plan. Help the group to narrow their ideas to 3-5 key focus areas or goals to help carry the strategic plan forward. By bringing the team together, they will have consensus. As we have mentioned earlier, buy-in from the team is crucial to keep momentum going for the strategic plan.

This discussion time can be done as a full team, split into small groups or partners depending on the size of the planning team. If you do break into small groups make sure you come back together as a large group and collectively reach consensus about the goals/ focus areas. We like to use stickers to help participants “vote” or prioritize their top choices.

3. Determine “How” You Will Accomplish It

Finally, after the “what” is determined, transition the team to discuss the development of key strategies and solutions that address the focus areas. This is the “how” we will accomplish the goals of the strategic plan. Similar to the previous step, discussion can be as a group or broken up into teams.

The timeline of your strategic plan will help determine how many strategies are appropriate for each goal/ focus area. Again, we encourage participants to narrow the focus to 5-7 key strategies. If you have 5 goals and 5-7 strategies per goal, then there could be upwards of 35 strategies that your organization will be working to implement. We work really hard to support organizations in having aspirational strategic plans as well as realistic and achievable.18403781_704582429702521_8230617511511406933_o

Once you have your top goals and strategies identified, then you can “workshop” them into a more detailed operations or implementation plan that explains the who, what, and when in much more detail. This is what sets apart a strategic plan from sitting on the shelf and not being implemented to a strategic plan that truly moves the organization or community forward.

There are different tools and activities that can be used during the facilitation step of the strategic planning process. Depending on what works best, the main thing to remember is to engage, focus and prioritize.

Now that you have hosted an effective planning retreat you are ready for the final step of the strategic planning process – create. If you need assistance with facilitating an effective planning retreat, or with any step of the planning process, Transform Consulting Group is here to help. Contact us today!

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How to Avoid Program Complacency

It can be rewarding providing a program or service that is meeting an important need in the community! Part of providing your program or service is meeting the contractual and grant obligations laid out, but how do you go beyond that and ensure you keep things fresh? This is essential as you manage the program overtime.

4 Steps

Using a program we manage, we outline how we have refreshed our approach and avoided being complacent to achieve greater impact:

Focus on Mission

It is vital to understand the purpose and mission of the program being implemented, especially as you look to make updates.

    • 1762937-Pat-Riley-Quote-Complacency-is-the-last-hurdle-standing-betweenThe Indiana Heart Gallery (aka Heart Gallery) is a program created by the Indiana Department of Child Services in 2007 as one way to help children in foster care across Indiana find a family to call their own. Many of the children featured in the Heart Gallery are older or special needs children, minorities, or members of a sibling group. The Heart Gallery is unique because of the professional portraits of these youth that create the display, which connects a face to a sometimes invisible need.
    • The primary purpose of the Heart Gallery is to raise awareness about foster-adoption in Indiana and to help find families for the children featured.  As we consider changes and opportunities for the program, we continue to go back to how this would support the purpose of the Heart Gallery.
Evaluate Program Implementation

A big part of meeting your goals is how you deliver the services.  It can be helpful to reassess your processes, procedures, and systems that support your program. Ask yourself, “Is this the best process to implement __, or do we do it this way because it’s always been done this way?”; “What are the opportunities for growth?”

    • We partner with organizations across the state to host the Heart Gallery.  After some review and discussion, we found that the same types of venues tended to be the ones hosting the Heart Gallery: churches, YMCAs, and libraries . While those venues had the target audience of the Heart Gallery (venues where families frequent and can take a moment to visit the display), we wanted to expand beyond those venues to reach other potential adoptive families across the state.
    • Not only did we review the types of venues the Heart Gallery was on display, but we took a deeper look at where those venues were located. For example, we found we were visiting all of the DCS regions of the state, but had not been on display at every county across the state.
Gather Feedback

Find out what your staff and external partners would like to see different about the project.

    • With the Heart Gallery, we send a survey to the main contact who hosts the Heart Gallery.  This helps us understand how we can better support our host partners and solicit new ideas. As well, we have a tracking sheet dedicated to venue feedback for staff to share thoughts and ideas on each venue. Through this we learned that front-line staff at some venues wanted more information on the Heart Gallery in order to better answer common questions. This resulted in the development of a Host Packet, which is shared electronically with the contact for the venue to pass along to staff, and in hard copy when the display is setup to leave on-site.
    • The Project Manager also had conversations with staff about what is working and what could be improved. Through those conversations it was discovered that the collateral materials (banner, brochure, swag) would benefit from a revamp in design and use, including the development of new outreach tools.
Plan for Change

Use feedback gathered and meet with staff to outline the priorities of suggested changes. Take into consideration the updates that will have the biggest impact on the purpose of the project, as well as efficiencies for staff.

    • Through conversations with Heart Gallery staff, it was determined that updating the collateral materials and processes for targeting locations would have the most immediate impact on the purpose of the project and staff efficiencies. Mainly, rebranding the materials in place, developing a few new tools, and implementing outreach tours for targeted outreach.
    • The Project Manager developed an Outreach Tour Proposal, based on the upcoming Heart Gallery schedule to find new host partners in specific geographic areas. The team discussed how to make it a successful event to reach the program’s goals.  After the first outreach tour, the team reconvened to assess how it went, what changes to make to the next one and systems/processes to put into make to standardize it for other team members. Through planning and reassessing, the outreach tours are now an effective outreach strategy for the Heart Gallery.
    • We are scheduling a planning retreat for the Heart Gallery this fall to discuss 2018 goals.  Making time to reflect on your programs, services, their impact and how they are delivered can get your staff reenergized and get you closer to accomplishing your goals.

Contact Us

Does it feel like your programs or staff are stuck in a rut?  It might be time to reassess your programs, how they are delivered and the impact you want to accomplish.  At Transform Consulting Group, we want to help give your programs a boost. Contact us today for a free consultation!

 

If you would like to learn more about the Heart Gallery, you can go to http://www.in.gov/dcs/3033.htm or www.adoptachild.in.gov.

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