Author Archives: Amanda Lopez

3 Tips to Use Your Data to Drive Program Improvement

Nationally, only about half of students who start college actually complete and earn college degrees, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. It is much worse for students who start at a community college or 2-year degree program. This means many students are increasing their debt (from student loans) and not reaping the financial benefits of a college degree and higher earnings. In addition, colleges are losing money when students dropout. It’s a lose-lose game.3 Tips to Use Your Data to Drive Program Improvement

Colleges have been getting increasing pressure from the federal government and others to improve their college completion rates. They have turned to data analytics to better understand how they could intervene earlier with students who might be at risk of not completing their degree and dropping out.

When I first heard this podcast from The Hechinger Report on how “Colleges are using big data to track students in an effort to boost graduation rates, but it comes at a cost” it made me want to listen closer.  As a #datalover and #datanerd, this topic certainly peaked my interest. I am also a first generation college graduate and can personally relate to this topic of college dropouts since many (over half) of my high school peers didn’t finish their college degree.

This is not a new strategy (“predictive analytics”) as companies like Amazon and Google are doing this all of the time with our digital footprint. However, it’s new for colleges and non-profit organizations.  

Georgia State is a case study example of how their university has embraced data analytics to improve college completion rates. Their university now has one of the highest rates of college graduation for public universities in the country, and they have closed the racial equity gap. Students of color are graduating at the same rate as white students at Georgia State. 

So how did Georgia State get there? They used their data to drive and inform program improvement. We’ve talked about this here and here.

The podcast also shares the struggles that other universities face in implementing these changes. It’s not enough to purchase the data analysis software, but you also need trained staff who are able to analyze and interpret the data to take action on it. 

We’ve put together 3 tips to get started with using your data to drive program improvement that’s not only based off of the success of Georgia State but our work with other clients who want to improve their impact.

  1. Have a system in place to collect and track meaningful data. Georgia purchased a data system to help them bring all of their data together and identify patterns. At Transform Consulting Group (TCG) we are big fans of using Tableau Software (see more here and here). We love Tableau, because it can make your data easier to review and understand. We are also adept at using whatever data systems our client has to pull out the information that we need to inform decision-making.
  2. Have trained staff who can analyze and interpret the data. Getting the data from your system is the first step. Then you need to have individuals who know how to identify patterns, ask inquisitive questions and develop recommendations. We are big fans of forming an “Impact Team” at an organization who is trained on analyzing and reviewing your data and can help drive action based on the results. Learn more here.
  3. Have a process to determine program improvement changes. Once you have your data and results, you are now at the fun part – you get to take action on changes to make to improve your results! We find that sometimes organizations don’t have a clear process in place to determine what changes – such as a new curriculum, staff training, client outreach – they will make based on the results. We follow a Continuous Quality Improvement Process using the “Plan – Do – Study -Act or (PDSA)” framework to determine what action steps we will take. Other similar processes might be “Lean/Six Sigma”. At Georgia State they decided to hire additional advisors to use the data to reach out to students at risk. This is one of the many changes they have made, based on their data results, to help students stay on track with college graduation. The goal here is to be intentional on how you will use your data to make programmatic changes and then study the result of those changes to know if it’s working or not.

What are some goals that you are not currently satisfied within your organization? Have you considered how data analytics could help you focus in on improving your results?  Bill Gates said, “Without measurement there is no shared accountability.“ We would love to help you improve your impact through data analytics. Contact us to learn more.

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Are You Ready for a Federal Grant?

Receiving a federal grant can be a great way to accelerate your impact. There are many positive attributes in applying for and receiving a federal grant. Federal grants tend to be for larger amounts and are often multi-year funding to name a few. However, federal grant applications are complex and not easy to navigate.

We have successfully helped several organizations apply for and receive multi-million dollar federal grants. These grants have really helped to strengthen the organization’s infrastructure, expand their reach, and impact more individuals. There are some times, however, that we recommend a client not pursue a federal grant opportunity.

Before you invest the time and energy with a federal grant application, make sure these four elements are in place to determine if your organization is ready for a federal grant:grant ready blog


1. Compelling Need

Federal grants are very competitive. When they are national, you can be competing with hundreds of proposals. Nearly every federal grant application will begin with a “Need Section” where the applicant is asked to explain the need for this grant funding and support. One of the ways to stand out is to make sure your geographical community and target population fit the profile of need. Then you will want to pull from various public data sources, using citations, to make the case. Depending on the proposal, we might also include some relevant research and citations  that back up the need and proposed intervention (Check out this blog for our go to data sources!). Treat the writing of this section more like an academic college paper.

2. Program Design

When organizations are ready to apply for a federal grant, they need to have a strong design of their program. Many federal agencies are promoting “research-based” and “evidence-based” programs and services (See this blog for more insight!). If your program does not meet those thresholds, which is not always a requirement, then work to make the case for the program’s rigor and (hopefully) close alignment to evidence-based programs and elements of evidence-based programs.

3. Program Impact

There is an overall trend in grant making where more and more funders are wanting to invest their resources in organizations with sound data and results. They want to see the outcomes and solid data to backup your impact. Make sure your program has outcomes and not just outputs (See this blog for some help with outcomes!). If you are a new program or proposing a new intervention, then it is more difficult since you most likely haven’t proven yourself. This is where having a strong, close alignment to an evidence-based program model is helpful and may serve as a proxy for your impact.

4. Fiscal System and Accountinggrants-gov-logo-lg


Last but certainly not least, your organization needs to have strong fiscal controls in place to account for your federal grant dollars. You never know when the federal government will request an audit of your grant funding, so you want to have good systems in place to be able to account for those specific funds. We had one client go through an audit due to some concerning issues with their federal program officer (not anything they were doing wrong), and it was quite laborious and time consuming since this was their first federal grant. They didn’t have all of the separate accounting systems in place. Make sure you are ready to track, monitor and account for your federal funding.

If your organization can check all four boxes, then it may be time for you to consider a federal grant opportunity that could propel your impact and reach forward. If your organization can’t check all of the boxes yet, then you may need some support to help you get ready. The good news is we can help you in either scenario. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation and see how federal grants may be a good fit for your organization!

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Tools Your Board of Directors Need to be Effective

Every nonprofit organization and school has a Board of Directors that is meant to help govern the organization. There are many companies, books, and webinars that solely focus on supporting Boards of Directors. Over the years, we have found and developed some key tools that are easy to apply to help organizations and their Boards govern more effectively.

Board of DirectorsWhile some of these Board tools might seem standard, we still find that these are missing and/or have not been well developed. We could write a blog post about each of these tools (and maybe we will!). This is a quick overview of the value and purpose of each tool to help your organization think about how you might integrate them into your Board of Directors.

8 Tools to Strengthen Your Board of Directors

  1. Bylaws: This is a legal document and also a roadmap for actions that the organization can take. While there are plenty of bylaws templates online, your organization should customize your bylaws. Some basic items to include in bylaws are: number of board members, how board members are selected, board meetings, committees, voting procedures, conflicts of interest, etc. We recommend that organizations annually review their bylaws and make sure that they are clear and provide good instruction to guide the Board of Directors.
  2. Board Manual or Handbook: The Board handbook is the “toolbox” for Board members that provides more detail than the bylaws. This is a great resource to review during new Board member orientation. Some of the key elements that we look for and include in Board Handbooks are: Organization Overview, Contact Information, Board Meetings, Finances and Fundraising, Governance, Committees, Board Policies, and Board Resources.
  3. Board Member Job Description: The last thing that an Executive Director or Board President wants to hear from a Board member is, “I didn’t know I was joining the Board to do ______.” One of the most prominent issues that we come across in working with Board of Directors is a lack of clear expectations for the Board of Directors. A Board Member Job Description is exactly as it sounds and similar to an employee job description. It clearly articulates what is expected of the Board member, such as meeting attendance, committee involvement, other organization involvement (e.g, attendance at certain events), a “give or get” policy (related to fundraising), and member terms. This information should all be communicated during the recruitment process, so that when the Board member is signing the form there are no surprises and everyone is in agreement about expectations.
  4. Board Self-Assessment: In healthy organizations, there are ongoing performance reviews and assessments to check-in on how well the organization and its employees are functioning. The Board Self-Assessment is a good exercise for the Board to reflect on how well the Board is functioning regarding some key best practices. This could be a good practice to complete with a 3-year strategic plan. We have developed a 3-page Board self-assessment tool, and there are many online.
  5. 1:1 Individual Board Member Check-In: One strategy to engage current Board members is to schedule individual annual meetings with each Board member and the Executive Director and Board President/ Vice President. These individual check-in meetings provide a great opportunity to review the expectations of being a Board member, celebrate the successes and engagement of the last year, and follow up on any concerns. It is also a great time for the Board member to affirm their commitment for the coming year, such as financial pledge, leadership and/or committee roles, and any connections to make.
  6. Board Meeting Calendar and Key Decisions Meeting Calendar: This is a “two-fer”. Yes, it may seem simple to state that a Board tool is a meeting calendar/ schedule, but you would be surprised by how many organizations do not have a clear meeting schedule and then struggle with attendance. We suggest sending out the Board meeting calendar for the year to all Board members and including any additional important dates (e.g., annual member meeting, required fundraising event, etc.). In addition, in order to help drive strategic decisions at the Board meeting we suggest developing a “key decision meeting calendar.” Every organization has some key decisions that the Board will need to vote on and/or participate in, so it is helpful to put those on the calendar, such as annual budget review, program evaluation reports, and strategic plans (planning, check-in, or updates).
  7. Board Member Recruitment Process: While the bylaws should outline at a high-level the process to approve new Board members a more detailed recruitment plan is helpful to standardize the process. We often work with many organizations who struggle with small Boards of Directors and are wanting to recruit more Board members but lack a clear understanding of the type of Board member that would be a good fit and a process for recruitment. We have developed several Board recruitment tools: a board composition assessment (what are your current “assets” and “strengths” on the Board and then your “gaps”); a nomination form that Board members can submit when they want to recommend a candidate; a new member application to gather some key information from prospects; and interview questions that Board members use when meeting with a prospective member.
  8. Communication Flowchart: The last thing that an organization wants is to have one of their board members approached by a volunteer or staff member making a request, and the board member not know the procedure for how certain decisions are made. A communication flowchart explains how decisions are made within the organization and the role of the Board of Directors and its Committees.

How well is your Board functioning? Would any of these tools help improve the effectiveness of your Board? Transform Consulting Group would love to work with your organization to identify opportunities to strengthen your Board and ultimately the impact of your organization. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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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 worked 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 complementary 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 completed walk-throughs of three possible locations with an architect and construction group to inform the best location to operate an early childhood center. This informed 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 created 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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4 Steps of Strategic Planning

We have the privilege of working with a few organizations every year to help them create their “road map” or strategic plan for the next 3-5 years.  In the course of completing these strategic plans, we have developed a formula that guides the process following four key steps.

Our process graphic1. Collaborate

Good strategic plans are not created in isolation in a board room.  We work with you to identify all of the key stakeholders that we need to engage to inform the strategic planning process.  This will vary depending on your organization, but typically involves some of the following key stakeholders:

  • Staff at different levels of the organization
  • Board of Directors
  • Volunteers
  • Current and past funders and donors
  • Key community partners/ stakeholders in the community
  • Clients
  • Public

When we worked with HSE S.P.O.R.T.S. on their strategic plan, we wanted to get feedback from a broad group of stakeholders.  We surveyed the public to gauge their understanding and perception of the organization and received a large response rate.  We also met with some of their key community partners for strategic feedback and met with their staff.  Through these efforts, we received rich feedback to inform the strategic planning team and started to create some buy-in and ownership from the community.

2. Assess

This step of the strategic planning process is so important as it provides the necessary context of understanding your organization and environment.  During this phase, it is important to complete an internal and an external assessment.  The internal assessment includes an analysis of the organization by looking at financial statements, programming, and organizational structure.  You will want to look for trends, gaps and opportunities.  The external assessment may include collecting information about the industry and/or completing a needs assessment of your community or targeted audience.

When we worked with Early Learning Indiana on completing their strategic plan, they wanted their strategic planning team to have a good understanding of the environment in which they operate.  There was a significant amount of change in policies, programming and priorities in the early learning industry that had implications for their work in the future.  Therefore, it was important to understand that context in planning for the future.

When people think of strategic planning, they most often think of having a retreat to develop a strategic plan.  While a retreat can be a good time to complete a strategic plan, it is not necessary.  The main purpose of this step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction.  In order to support this next step, we often prepare a pre-read packet that summarizes all of the information collected in the first two steps.  Then the strategic planning team is equipped with the rich feedback from the stakeholders (Step 1) and understanding the context (Step 2).  

There are a variety of group activities that can be used to help the team process the information and begin to identify “what” we want to accomplish. Once the goals (or “what”) have been identified, then we begin to talk about the “how” we will accomplish the work or the strategies.  There are different tools and activities we use to help move through this work.  The main thing to remember is to prioritize and focus.

3. Facilitate

When people think of strategic planning, they most often think of having a retreat to develop a strategic plan.  While a retreat can be a good time to complete a strategic plan, it is not necessary.  The main purpose of this step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach consensus about the future direction.  In order to support this next step, we often prepare a pre-read packet that summarizes all of the information collected in the first two steps.  Then the strategic planning team is equipped with the rich feedback from the stakeholders (Step 1) and understanding the context (Step 2).

There are a variety of group activities used to help the team process the information and begin to identify “what” we want to accomplish. Once the goals (or “what”) have been identified, then we begin to talk about the “how” we will accomplish the work or the strategies.  There are different tools and activities we use to help move through this work.  The main thing to remember is to prioritize and focus.

4. Create

Now that a clear plan for the future has been reached, it is our job to make sense of all of the information and to package it in a meaningful way for the organization to implement.  We don’t believe in creating long strategic plan reports that sit on shelves.  We want our clients to use and review their strategic plan on a regular basis.  We recommend creating three strategic plan tools:

  1. “Pretty version” strategic plan – this is a one-page overview of your goals and top strategies.  This is a tool that can be shared externally with partners, funders and other key stakeholders as well as internally with staff.  It can live on your website and be part of your communication tools.
  2. Strategic plan report – this explains the full process of how the strategic plan was completed, the information collected (pre-read packet) and more detailed strategic plan report.  This is an internal document for staff use to reflect on the process and have access to all of the comprehensive information collected.
  3. Implementation plan – this tool helps unpack the strategic plan into actionable steps for staff, committees and the board.  It can sometimes be difficult for organizations to take what is written in the strategic plan and put it into action, often resulting in no action or change.  By creating this more detailed implementation plan there is a road map for how the organization will accomplish the goals identified over the next 3-5 years.

From the wise words in the childhood book and movie of Alice in Wonderland, we learned that if we don’t Alice & Wonderland Quote
know where we are going, any road could take us there.  However, it may not be the most effective or efficient path and the outcome could be different than we hoped.  Developing a strategic plan provides that road map for all organizations – nonprofits, businesses, schools and government agencies – to have clear focus of our goals and strategies to accomplish those goals. 

Completing a strategic plan can be a daunting or exhilarating process for some organizations.  We love to partner with organizations to help you think about the future and create a plan that will get you there.  You can find out more about our strategic planning services here.

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4 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Volunteer Committee

When was the last time you were asked to join a committee? Did you have a deep sigh of angst or a smile of excitement. Your reaction was probably the former, which is not uncommon. Most professionals I know are involved in one if not multiple volunteer committees and seem either frustrated or lukewarm about the purpose or progress of the committee.volunteer committee blog

Participating in committees is a great opportunity to get diverse voices and perspectives to inform complicated issues and bring forward new solutions. Committee work can also be a great leadership development and community engagement opportunity for staff. When we take the time to be thoughtful about our role and involvement, then we can accelerate the impact of our committee work.

Part of our project management work includes providing staff support for different volunteer committees. These include the Governor-appointed Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee, Healthy Families Indiana Think Tank, and community-based coalitions (read more here).

Many of my team members are also involved in committees as a volunteer. As a result, we sit on both sides of the table. It’s with this broad perspective that we share the following tips for how you can make the most of your committee work!

1. CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS  

You or your organization were hopefully strategically asked to join this committee. Do you have a clear understanding of your purpose for being on the committee? Are you representing a specific perspective (industry type, stakeholder type, subject matter expertise, etc.), and the leaders are wanting you to share your perspective on behalf of this group? If you are not clear, ask the leaders up front when you are joining.

In addition, what are the leaders expecting you to do on this committee? Is this a working committee that is developing a proposal or reworking policies/ programs? How much time and involvement is expected of you on this committee? Are the leaders of the committee expecting you to share information you learn at the committee with others in your circle or industry?

I was recently asked to join the Wabash County Early Childhood Education Steering Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the strategic plan and supporting the working committees. When I joined, I was informed of the reason I was being asked to join, the purpose of our work, and the time commitment for the Steering Committee. I understand my role and the purpose of the group.

A well-run committee should have these expectations and obligations clearly articulated from the beginning, so there is no “gotcha” later when they ask you to do something you didn’t know you were supposed to do. By having this clarity, you should have a stronger sense of purpose and meaning for participating on this committee.

2. ASSESS YOUR ROLE

Once you know the purpose of the committee and your expectations for involvement, now it is time to assess your personal role and contribution. What type of “talent” can you contribute to the committee?

Do you bring a unique perspective that no one else on the committee shares? Can you gather information or review information in a way that no one else can contribute?

My colleague, Sara Anderson, was asked to join our local county’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Data Committee. Leaders of the committee became aware of our data expertise and had a need for more assistance. Sara learned more about the committee’s data needs, helped them organize the data into a dashboard (see more here and here about our dashboard work!) to visualize and share with the other committees the impact of their work and made recommendations to improve the data being collected.

Reflect on what ways you can add value to the committee’s work and offer it to the leadership and the group. This will provide more purpose and meaning with the committee and also improve the overall work of the group.

3. PREP AND PLAN

Usually before each committee meeting, the leadership will send out meeting materials (agenda, handouts, etc.) in advance of the committee meeting. If you make the time to review those materials and any other follow-up from the last meeting, you will be able to contribute more in the committee meeting. It will give you a sense of purpose for the meeting and how you can participate/ add to the discussion.

By preparing for the committee in advance, you can also be prepared to ask thoughtful questions or gather other helpful information that could contribute to the discussion. Nothing is worse than showing up to a committee meeting where action is supposed to be taken and feeling like the other members did not do the prep needed to have a meaningful discussion.

4. SHARE YOUR LEARNINGS

Hopefully through your engagement on your committees you are learning new information. Now you are informed and equipped to share this information with your colleagues and industry. Again, you might strategically be asked to share information with your network. Even if you are not asked, odds are that they would still benefit from learning about your work.

For the state advisory groups that we staff and provide backbone support, many committee members find value in participating in the groups because they learn what is happening across the state. Then they are more informed to take that information back to their community and network to help get everyone on the same page and expand the discussion.

Assess the information that you have received and learned through your committee work and think about who in your network could find value in it. Maybe it is simply a quick post on a social media channel, including a blurb in your next e-newsletter or sending out an email. Whatever the communication medium, make sure to pass along what you are learning with relevant parties involved!

Do you have a committee that has stalled and needs some help? Contact us for a free consultation to see if we might be able to help you!

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How to Reach Consensus on Your Strategic Plan

We are continuing our blog series on strategic planning by focusing on Step 3 of our 4 Step Strategic Planning Process: Facilitate Consensus. Read more about our previous strategic planning blogs in this series here, here, and here.  The main purpose of this third step is for the strategic planning team to start to reach agreement about the future direction.  

Organizations will often form strategic planning committees or task leadership teams to complete their strategic plan. This means that different types of people with various perspectives and insights will have to learn to work together on a common goal. We actually encourage collaboration and engagement in the strategic planning process and discuss it more Step 1 in this blog.

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After you have formed your planning team and gathered some critical information about the organization, your targeted clients and community you are now ready to come together to reach consensus about the future. The following five recommendations will help your team reach consensus:

  1. Issue Homework – Prepare a packet of information that summarizes all of the data and information that has been collected. Most likely there will be some important information that would be helpful for the group to read in advance of coming together. We like to package that information into a “pre-read” report or slide deck presentation (see more here).
  2.  Host Planning Sessions – Set aside time for the planning team to come back together once all of the information has been gathered. Depending on your planning team’s availability, this may need to be broken out into a couple of sessions.
  3.  Facilitate Group Discussion – If your budget allows, it is very helpful to have a consultant (ahem, TCG!) facilitate your planning discussions. This way all members of your team will be able to engage in the discussion. They are also equipped with adult learning strategies and can design a highly engaging and interactive process for your team.

wabash strategic plan4.  Focus on the “What” First – We often see many planning team members who want to jump into the strategies and problem-solve the needs/ gaps identified. The first step in consensus building is to reach agreement on the “What” you want to accomplish. We call this setting your big goals and top areas of focus. We also try to limit our clients to 3-5 big goals/ focus areas. Once you have this set, then you can get into the “How” you will accomplish your goals through strategies.

5. Take the Temperature – As you are moving through this process, it is important to check in with your planning team at these meetings and maybe even afterwards. You want your planning team to be confident in the agreements that have been made and to not have any ill feelings of team members. While not everyone may get what they think is important, everyone should be in collective agreement about the plan. During these planning sessions, your consultant or team lead should check the non-verbal and verbal cues of team members throughout the process and respond as needed.

By the end of step 3, facilitating consensus, your team should feel excitement and enthusiasm about the possibilities for the future and the plan! If not, that might be indicator that the consensus is not there with the whole group. In that case, you may need to come back together and have an honest discussion.

A strategic plan is not something to take lightly or go through the motions. It can set the path for the future of an organization and help bring about transformational change. When you take the time and effort to follow these five recommendations, your organization will be on its way.

If you are ready to start your strategic plan, contact us. We would love to support organization’s strategic planning needs.

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Board Member Recruitment Tips

Are you looking for new board members at your nonprofit? Board members are an important link to successful fundraising, community engagement and networking. Having the right people on your board is critical to successful organizational impact. Certainly, organizations should recruit Board members from the leadership and staff’s existing set of personal and professional contacts, but also consider finalizing your decision through a more traditional process like that of a job interview.

Presentations-1Some critical questions to consider:

  • What is the role and expectations of your Board members?
  • What skill or relationship gaps do you currently have in your Board?
  • How engaged are your Board members?
  • Have you performed exit interviews for departing board members?

You want to make sure your Board members are a good fit, understand the requirements of the position, have the time and resources to devote to your cause, and bring diversity and balance to your board. At TCG, we can help you assess the effectiveness of your current Board, identify recommendations for improvement and work with you to implement those recommendations.

We have worked with many clients to strengthen their Board of Directors. During our engagement, we focus on the following critical services:

  1. Providing training on best practices in Board governance.
  2. Creating a Board Development Plan that includes a Board composition analysis; key stakeholder contact list; Board nomination process orientation plan and packet; and Board member position description.
  3. Developing and updating key organizational documents, such as by-laws, committee structure, meeting agenda template, calendar of meetings by key topics.
  4. Performing ongoing coaching and consultation to the leadership.

By the end of a board development consultation, new Board members are recruited and “on boarded” effectively. The Board is engaged, empowered and invested in seeing the organization be successful!

Team Unity Friends Meeting Partnership Concept

Your Board is an extension of your leadership and serves as “champions” for your organization. They are too important to not be fully utilized. We understand that it can be hard to devote time and resources to board recruitment and training when you are knee-deep in the delivery of programs and services on a daily basis. Learn more about our board development services, and contact us today to chat about ways we can serve your Board of Directors.

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Strategic Planning Process: Step 2

In this past blog we talked about the 4 Steps of Strategic Planning that we follow. A quick recap of the 4 steps are: Collaborate, Assess, Facilitate and Create. A few weeks ago we shared more about Step 1 in that process: “Collaborate”. Today we are continuing our blog series on strategic planning by focusing on Step 2 in the process: “Assess”.

Assess Highlighted

 

With many of our clients and partners, we find that they immediately want to jump to Steps 3 and 4 of the process, which is about goal and strategy setting. By skipping over Steps 1 and 2, organizations are missing out on a critical opportunity to get buy in and input from key stakeholders as well as embed a thoughtful review in the planning process.

We divide the assessment phase of the strategic planning process into two parts: Internal and External Assessment.

Internal Assessment

  • Organizational review: The internal assessment includes an analysis of the organization by looking at financial statements, programming, and organizational structure.  This might include summary reports of the organization and programs to determine results accomplished. You will want to look for trends, gaps and opportunities.  
  • Stakeholder feedback: We have several blogs that talk about stakeholder feedback here and here. Don’t forget to talk internally within your organization about the strategic plan by reaching out to clients (if appropriate), staff, volunteers, and board of directors.

External Assessment

  • Environmental Scan: The external assessment may include collecting information about the industry and sector that the organization operates. It might be helpful to provide a brief update about the latest research, policies and best practices that inform the work of your organization.
  • Community needs assessment: It might be helpful to complete an updated needs assessment of your community or targeted audience to ensure strong alignment with programs and needs. We have some blogs about this here and here.
  • Stakeholder feedback: Just like an internal assessment, there are some key stakeholders to reach out to for feedback and input to inform your planning process. This might include current and past funders, other community partners, and the public.

While completing a new strategic plan for Healthy Families Indiana, we included both an internal and an external assessment. We gathered key data points about the organization to bring to the planning team for review and discussion. We also completed an organizational history timeline exercise to help bring everyone together about the key milestones accomplished over the life of the program in the state. We sought feedback from various stakeholders within the organization, which included staff at different levels (direct service staff, supervisors and program managers) and across the state.

We also sought feedback from external stakeholders by reaching out to community partners who make referrals and have shared goals. These components provided important context to inform the discussion about goals for the future.

Once we gather all of this information, it is important to do some pre- analysis and synthesis of this information before it is shared with the planning team. We do this in a couple of ways for our clients:

  1. Pre-read report – We develop a narrative report that summarizes all of the information collected in the internal and external assessment. We use graphs and tables to make it as user-friendly as possible. It’s helpful to share this report in advance of a planning meeting or retreat, so that the team can review the information before meeting.
  2. Presentation – A presentation can be a simpler way of compiling the information and sharing it with the planning team. Sometimes we create both a narrative report and a presentation that summarizes the information gathered. The slide deck presentation can be helpful to highlight some of the key findings during the assessment phase.
  3. Dashboard – We talk about creating dashboards in this blog. Basically we love dashboards and how helpful they are to display multiple data points in a user-friendly format. We love to create dashboards that summarize internal and external assessment data to share with the planning team. See this one we created for a community strategic plan.

The main purpose of the “Assess” step in the strategic planning process is to gather important information to share with your planning team, so that they are well informed and equipped to develop a plan for the future. We would love to partner with your organization in developing a strategic plan. Contact us for more information!

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How to use 990 tax forms for grant writing?

Writing grants can be a long, arduous process.  In this past blog, we talked about five steps for grant writing.  Once you have identified possible funders who share alignment with your organization’s mission and goals, you want to gather more information to make a compelling grant request.

Some helpful things to know about a possible funder before submitting a grant application are the following:

  1. Who have they funded in the past?Tax form image
  2. How much have been their grants?
  3. What have been the projects / services funded?
  4. Who is on their Board of Directors?

This research is not an absolute that would change your grant proposal but would help inform the overall approach and priorities to pitch. In general you want to know the types of organizations that they have funded in the past to see if you fit into the category.  For example, if the funder has only supported direct service organizations then they may not fund an intermediary organization. You would still want to ask the funder to make sure you fit their description of possible grantees but this might provide some good insight.

Secondly, it is really important to find out their typical grant funding range. You don’t want your ask to be too small when you could have asked for a higher amount based on their past funding. At the same time, you don’t want your ask too large if that is well beyond what they have funded.  Again, you still want to talk with the funder about what you are proposing, the need and an appropriate amount.

Third, it is helpful to see the types of projects that they have funded. Typically, the funder will list acceptable areas of focus and uses of the grant funds.  However, sometimes that information is not readily available.  For example, would the funder support capital projects, capacity building projects for the organization, or the types of direct services?

Fourth, grant writing is so much more than the technical writing and submission of grant applications.  It is really about building a relationship with the funder and grantee.  The funder is a partner and extension of the work of your organization.  As such, you will want to build a relationship with the funder including the staff and members of their board of directors.

Some funders do a good job of including this information on their website.  However, we find that not all of this information is readily available. A great tool that we turn to is finding the funder’s “Form 990-PF” tax return.

What is Tax Form 990-PF?

Tax exempt organizations must file some version of the Tax Form 990 with the IRS each year to maintain their standing. Non-profit organizations file Form 990, and private foundations file Form 990-PF. The “PF” stands for Private Foundation.

The 990-PF provides fiscal data for the foundation, names of trustees and officers, application information, and a complete grants list.  The last item is most helpful for your research.

The funder lists all of the organizations who received a grant in the past calendar year.  It essentially answers the three items listed above: who they founded, how much and for what!

The 990-PF can also be useful for relationship building with the funder. For example, an organization’s Form 990 includes the contact information for the private foundation if they do not have a website. In addition, the 990 provides the names of the people on the board and the officers whom you might know and start to build relationships.

Where can you find the Form 990-PF for Funders?

In today’s information age, there are some great online tools to find organization’s 990s.  

  1. Search Engines: You can search an organization’s 990 through different online search engines, such as Google by using keywords.
  2. Funder’s Website: Some funders will post their past 990s directly on their website, so start there.
  3. Foundation Center’s 990 Finder: they have developed an online search tool specifically for 990s. There are other organizations, such as Charity Navigator, that post 990s but they link back to the Foundation Center. 

If you are looking to increase and diversify your funding through grant writing, contact us.  We would love to learn more about your goals and see how we can accelerate your impact!

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