Tag Archives: Research

Are You Data Literate?

Recently the TCG team participated in a data visualization challenge at the Indy Big Data Conference, and this experience has led me to writing a blog on data literacy.  What is data literacy? Merriam Webster defines being literate as “having knowledge or competence”, and being competent with data is a foundational skill we all need in this age of big data.

Now, you don’t have to love math or know how to write code to be data literate.  What you need to be comfortable doing is asking what, how, why, and so what of data.

  • What data is being collected?  (e.g., age, county, number of individuals with a college degree)
  • How is the data being collected?  (e.g., application, agency records, census survey)
  • Why?  Especially when it comes to data analysis, don’t be afraid to ask why.  (e.g., Why did you focus on this subset of the population? Why were those data points analyzed?)
  • So what?  (e.g., How does the number of individuals without a college degree impact our strategy to address this issue?)    

For TCG’s presentation (check it out here), we reviewed multiple datasets provided by the Indiana Management Performance Hub.  We had to learn what each variable meant, how the values were determined or collected, and why those variables were important to those data sources.  Figuring out the data meant learning about workforce development measures and industry codes. Analysis of the data involved selecting certain data to focus on and incorporating different views and additional data to answer the questions we had.  Listing our recommendations answered the “so what” for the data we chose to analyze and present.

Data presentation

Data literacy is very important to the data visualization world as well.  Before making the data “pretty” with charts or data visualization software (like Tableau which we featured in this blog), you have to know your data and know your metrics.  That way when you see your dashboard or charts showing 1,000 current donors with a 25% retention rate from last year, you will know if that is correct.  Programs like Tableau (which imports your data to visualize) can’t tell you if you’re creating the right chart with the right variables. It takes the same level of critical thinking that is applied to the data itself.       

Common Mistakes with Data Visualization:

  • Not spot checking data to make sure things are correct (such as population totals).
  • Too much data.  More is not always better, and lots of data can be overwhelming and may take away from the goal of the analysis.
  • Selecting the wrong variables.  A chart can be created to compare apples to oranges, but it may not be of any value.Data Literacy Tableau
  • Not using percentages when comparing groups with different totals.  This is one I see quite often and is a reminder to always question data. In the example below, Marion County (center of map) looks like it has the most young children and the most young children in poverty because Marion County has the largest population.  If you look at percent of young children in poverty, other counties show just as high of a percentage as Marion County.
  • Lacking context.  Without knowing the source of the data or data totals, the statistics may be less convincing.  Industry knowledge is also important to context in order to visualize the most valuable data and to answer “So what?”.  

Not sure how comfortable you are with data?  Start with your own! Ask questions and see what you can uncover.  Check out some of our favorite sources of data that can add to your analysis.  As you dig in, Transform Consulting Group is ready to assist with our evaluation, research, and strategic planning services as well as data visualization training and products.  Contact us today to ask questions and learn more!

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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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5 Steps for Grant Writing

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

5 Steps for Grant Writing

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

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

Foundation Grants:
Government Grants:
Trade Industry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transformational Organization Spotlight: TechSoup

TechSoup is transforming organizations and having a ripple effect in the non-profit world. TechSoup is dedicated to connecting nonprofits, charities, foundations, and public libraries with technology products, services, and free learning resources needed ticon-what-we-do-techsoup Big.jpgo make informed technology decisions and investments. TechSoup partners with key technology players such as Adobe, Cisco, and Microsoft to provide donated and discounted software and refurbished hardware for eligible non-profit organizations.

Through its website, TechSoup provides two types of memberships: 1) for the eligible entities identified above, and 2) for non-eligible entities. Eligible organizations are able to access free and discounted resources. Non-eligible organizations are able to access resources through TechSoup’s articles, blogs and webinars posted online. The average nonprofit saves $12,000 on technology products over the course of its TechSoup membership!

Technology is an integral part of any organization, especially in today’s Information Age. Staying current with technology allows an organization to sustain quality service and efficiency levels, while saving money. However, choosing new technologies can be overwhelming and sometimes an outside expert is needed. TechSoup has partnered with several technology consulting services to provide consultation for non-profits to assist them in making such decisions. This is yet another benefit of TechSoup!

Transform Consulting Group applauds TechSoup for its leadership in connecting non-profits with great technology resources, services and information. Transform Consulting Group is dedicated to helping organizations stay current with the latest research and best practices. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or contact Transform today to learn more!

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Do you have a “fixed” or “growth” mindset?

mindset

World-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has been studying people’s mindsets since the 1960s. With decades of research on achievement and success, she found most people fall into two categories:

People with a “fixed” mindset believe they are stuck with the intelligence or ability they are born with. They spend time worrying about the adequacy of their talents instead of developing them, or avoid challenges for fear of looking and feeling dumb. They think talent alone creates success—without effort.

People with a “growth” mindset believe intelligence can be developed. The more they learn, the smarter they become. They work hard and welcome challenges. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.

Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in business, education, sports, and personal relationships. Growth Mindset involves reframing failure as a state of mind rather than a state of being. Words like “smart” and “gifted” are replaced with “focus,” “determination,” and “hard work.” And, it can be taught early.

In one study, Dweck and other Stanford and University of Chicago researchers visited 54 families over two years to assess how they praised their toddler-aged children. Five years later, the children were surveyed on their attitudes toward challenges and learning. As expected, those who had heard more praise as toddlers for their efforts (rather than their intelligence), tended to be more interested in challenges. These now-school-aged children had developed a growth mindset.

Can a fixed mindset become unfixed? Dweck had the same question. She studied middle-schoolers and college students with fixed mindsets and found students were able to improve their grades when they were taught that the brain is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets. The brain is exercised by embracing challenges, practicing skills, and learning new things.

At the Lenox Academy for Gifted Middle School Students in Brooklyn, N.Y., kids no longer hear the words “smart” or “gifted”. Instead, teachers praise students for their focus and determination. “You must have worked really hard!” This way, kids grow less afraid of making mistakes, and more willing to ask for help. In the three years since employing a growth mindset framework, test scores at Lenox have jumped 10 to 15 points.

“Around here,” says a former Lenox Academy student, “the secret to success is failure.”

Transform Consulting Group applauds the Lennox Academy and other organizations that have implemented a growth mindset framework into their programs to increase student achievement and success. Transform Consulting Group can help develop or revitalize programs at your organization utilizing latest industry trends and best practices. Contact us today to learn more!

 

 

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