Author Archives: Kyle Wehmann

Why is a Program Evaluation Impact Team so Important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internal Stakeholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

External Stakeholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Steps for Nonprofits to Decide to Merge or Not to Merge

handshakeIn March, we released a blog about why organizations in the nonprofit sector might want to consider a merger and discussed the different types of restructure options.  Once a nonprofit decides to move forward in considering a merger, how do you reach consensus on this decision and if a merger is the best fit?

Deciding to merge can be emotional and sometimes political for everyone involved. Therefore, nonprofits often hire a third-party entity to facilitate the decision-making process from an impartial standpoint.  

Transform Consulting Group has helped nonprofits navigate the process of a merger or acquisition.  Last year, we helped Mental Health America of Greater Indianapolis (MHA Indy) decide on whether or not to merge or restructure their organization to remain a separate entity.  Below are five steps we used with MHA Indy, and you can use these tips to help your nonprofit work through the process of a merger or organizational restructure.  

Step 1: Determine the goal(s)

First, your nonprofit needs to determine what you want to accomplish. Why are you having this conversation now?

  • Is your nonprofit in financial crisis, and you need to partner with another nonprofit to become financially stable?
  • Are you looking to expand your reach and want to acquire/merge with another nonprofit or for-profit entity that could potentially grow your footprint?  
  • Is your nonprofit going in a new direction, and you want to spin off a program that doesn’t “fit” with the new direction?   

When MHA Indy reached out to us, they were very clear on their goal.  They wanted to reach agreement with their board on the best path forward for their organization.  They need a third-party, impartial entity to do the research and due diligence and help them identify their options to increase the future vitality of the organization.

To help answer these critical questions, we talked with the staff and board.  You may also want to reach out externally to current/past funders and key donors.  Having a third party entity ask these tough questions can help elicit honest and transparent feedback that is often difficult to share within an organization.

Step 2: Understand the current state

Start with the basics.  It is important to fully understand the organizational cause (mission and vision), overall goal(s) of the nonprofit, and the audience being served.  Answering the questions in the first step will really help direct a deep dive into the organization.

  • Review the nonprofit’s current programs and services to assess impact, value and relevance in the industry.
  • Review the nonprofit’s financials, including fundraising and programming strategies over the past 5 and 10 years to identify trends and noticeable changes.  
  • Who are you serving?  Have there been changes to your targeted population?  If yes, what are the implications?  
  • What perspectives do your staff, board and funders have about your nonprofit?

We reviewed MHA Indy’s past funding, history of programming in Indy and also changes occurring nationally and within the state.  Due to some changes with a large funder’s priorities, they had seen a significant decline in their funding that they had not been able to recoup.  There had also been a change to the status of other MHA chapters in their area that affected their funding and programming.  All of this culminated in the “perfect storm” that got them to this point of critical decision-making.

This step in the process helps everyone understand the important context and answer “how did we get here”.

Step 3: Research

During this step you want to gather as much information as possible to inform the decision-making process.  The key is to be objective and have an open mind to think outside the box as well as stay true to your answer(s) in Step 1.

  • Are there a lot of nonprofits providing similar services in your geographic area?  Identify if the service(s) you are providing is a “crowded” market.  If yes, what makes your nonprofit stand out (or not) from others?
  • Has there been a policy shift in your arena where services or programming are no longer needed or being provided in a different way?  What have other similar nonprofits like yours done to adapt to the change that you could potentially replicate?  
  • Are there organizations that share a common mission but might be missing your services (e.g., mental health or parent education) and could provide a comprehensive array of services if you joined forces?  Look at the landscape in your geographic area to see if there might be some natural allies to consider a merger or partnership.
  • If you are looking to increase your reach either through a new service, geographic area or target population, identify who is doing it well in any of those categories for a possible merger opportunity.

MHA Indy wanted to know if there were other nonprofits (whether they were MHA chapters or a nonprofit) that had successfully “reinvented” themselves to turn around their financials and programming.  They were also interested in possible merger/ acquisition opportunities with nonprofits who shared similar values and could complement each other other.  They wanted to know their options for restructuring, so we did all of the research to gather this information.  We talked with key stakeholders: national and state contacts, past and current funders and board members to also get their input and insight.

Step 4: Assess all the options

Review all of the viable options identified in Step 3, and discuss the opportunities and concerns with each.

  • Summarize all of the research and stakeholder input about options for the future of the organization.  
  • Narrow down the possible paths forward, such as merger, acquisition, closure, “spin off” or no change.
  • Discuss strategies for each possible path forward and the pros/cons of each option.

We summarized all of the information collected in a report and slide deck to help the board consider their options and determine what, if any, additional information was needed to make a decision.  We had identified a potential partner to merge and began some initial exploratory conversations.Shoes at Arrows

Step 5: Reach consensus

Bring together the leadership team (staff and Board) to reach agreement on the path forward for the organization. By the time you arrive at this step, those involved have started to reach consensus about the best direction for the nonprofit’s future and there aren’t any surprises. Having completed this due diligence process of engagement with all key stakeholders and a comprehensive research period, should help bring everyone together on the same page.  

  • Consult your organization’s by-laws to ensure you understand the decision-making process to take the necessary action.
  • Bring the necessary stakeholders (e.g., Executive Committee or Board of Directors) to vote on any changes for the organization.
  • Engage outside experts, such as lawyers and accountants, to better understand the legal and technical aspects of a merger or partnership (i.e. What would be required of each organization involved?

Based on all of the due diligence and engagement with the key stakeholders throughout the whole process, the MHA Indy board was able to reach consensus pretty quickly at our decision-making/ planning meeting.  When we started the process, the MHA Indy board was very split on their decision about the future of the organization.  Therefore, we were thrilled that we helped them reach unanimous consensus!

Change for any organization is difficult.  Any type of possible organizational restructuring like a merger can be an emotional decision.  Following a comprehensive assessment process like this helps to provide the objective information necessary to make a thoughtful decision about the future of the organization.  

Based on the outcome decided, a consultant may be retained to assist the organization with determining next steps and developing an action plan for moving forward with the merger/acquisition process.  We were excited to continue working with MHA Indy and Families First as they worked through all of the details of the merger.  You can read more about their merger here.

With the continued growth of nonprofits over the past several years, some nonprofits are often unknowingly becoming each other’s competitors for funding, clients, and volunteers.  Few nonprofits are considering organizational realignment in a strategic way to strengthen their effectiveness, reach, and impact.  

Transform Consulting Group can help you determine if a merger would be the best course of action for your organization.  Give us a call or send us an email today!

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Why Your Organization Might Consider a Merger

In the for-profit sector, mergers and acquisitions are common.  However, in the non-profit sector, mergers and acquisitions are hardly discussed, often have a negative connotation and seen as a “last option” when non-profits are in distress.  Relatively few non-profits are using mergers and acquisitions in a strategic way to strengthen their effectiveness, spread best practices, expand reach, and be cost-effective.  Based on the increasing number of non-profits, more public sector organizations should consider a merger or organizational realignment.

According to recent data from the National Center on Charitable Statistics (NCCS), nearly 1.6 million non-profit organizations wScreen Shot 2017-03-27 at 1.08.51 PMere registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  This number continues to grow annually with an estimation of 30,000 new non-profit organizations being created each year in the United States, which is about 1 nonprofit for every 175 Americans!

Many of these new non-profit organizations share similar missions with existing organizations.  As a result, there is a growing increase in duplicating efforts and competing for limited funds and clients.   Non-profits are having to work harder, and sometimes in competition with similar organizations, to raise funds and recruit clients for services… chasing a smaller and smaller piece of the proverbial “pie” of available resources and funding that exist.  This environment of increasing non-profits has resulted in a rising trend of stagnating (or failing) organizations, ultimately diminishing the potential to accelerate impact.

By continually forming new nonprofits rather than evaluating existing organizations to modify or support, can threaten the future viability of the non-profit sector.  It is expensive and time consuming to build any sort of basic infrastructure, to say nothing of doing actual program work.  What if instead of duplicating services and risking inefficiency, non-profit organizations leveraged partnerships through shared, transferred, or combined services, resources or programs?

Benefits of a Merger or Organizational Restructure:

  • Expand geographic reach
  • Expand programming (either the range/scope of programs offered, or the numbers served)
  • Increase cost efficiency
  • Develop new skills
  • Increase funding

There are several types of strategic restructuring that goes beyond simple collaboration to bringing organizations into more formal and long-lasting forms of partnership.  In some cases, realignments are mergers of relatively equal organization; in others, smaller non-profits are folded into larger ones.

Common Types of Organizational Restructures:

  1. Administrative consolidation: Sharing, exchanging, or contracting of administrative functions to support the administrative efficiency of an organization. For example, one organization serves as the fiscal agent of another organization.
  2. Acquisition: Acquiring one organization into an existing organization.  For example, a prevention program is acquired by a residential treatment program.
  3. Consolidation: Combining two separate organizations into a single new entity.  For example, two separate school corporations forming a new consolidated school corporation.
  4. Joint programming: Launching and managing of one or more programs together. For example, two non-profits coming together to offer a combined summer camp program.
  5. Joint venture corporation: Creating a new organization with at least one other organization with a shared common purpose. A joint venture may include a cross-sector joint venture between a non-profit and for-profit organization.
  6. Merger: Combining all programmatic and administrative functions of two or more organizations.  For example, a mental health agency and multi-service agency merge to create a new and more comprehensive non-profit.
  7. Program transfer: Separating one or more of a non-profit’s programs and transferring it to another organization.  For example, a suicide/ crisis line program is transferred from a 211 agency to a mental health agency.

The process of considering a merger or other organizational restructure can be a political and emotional decision for all involved, so it is helpful to have a third-party individual or organization like a consultant facilitate the discussion.Stay tuned for the next blog in this series about how we worked with two organizations to facilitate consensus on their decision to restructure and steps you can apply!

In the meantime, if you have any questions about mergers and partnerships please contact us.

Some of this information was adapted from MergeMinnesota: Nonprofit merger as an opportunity for survival and growth.

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4 Steps to Complete a Program Evaluation

Program evaluation helps organizations determine if the change that they set to accomplish actually occurred. Change can be knowledge gained, attitude change, or behavior change. For example, did a literacy tutoring program help the students who were not reading on grade level actually catch up to reading on grade level by the end of the program period? Or, are the low-income children who participated in a high-quality pre-K program ready for kindergarten?  

At Transform Consulting Group, we are data nerds and love helping organizations develop and implement evaluation plans to assess their change by using a four-step process.
4 eval steps

Program Evaluation in Four Steps:

  1. Establish clear outcomes
  2. Create or modify data tools and systems
  3. Analyze the data
  4. Use data to make informed decisions

The first step is to ensure there are clear outcomes in place that support an organization or program’s goals. We work to develop SMART outcomes: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. In this step, we typically review or develop a logic model, which is just a technical description of aligning your programs to the change (or outcomes) that you want to accomplish. For example, a college-readiness program may want to increase the number of students who can (1) identify a major or career they are interested in pursuing after high school; or (2) understand how to apply for college financial aid.  

The second step focuses on having the right data tools and systems in place to measure and report back on the designated outcomes. Transform Consulting Group helps organizations determine the most appropriate tool(s) to collect, track, and monitor accomplishment of the identified outcomes. We consider organizational capacity (staff time, knowledge, and budget) when suggesting data tools. Some examples could include participant surveys, assessments, and student academic records. We work to have data tools that are valid and reliable and will provide the data necessary to monitor progress.

The third step is to analyze the data once it has been collected, and present the results in an easily-understood format. Data is measured to determine whether program outcomes were met and the change, if any, that occurred. This is often the step where organizations get stuck, because they don’t have the staff time or knowledge to complete the analysis. [Stay tuned for a separate post on simple ways to analyze your data!] We tell our clients that this is the fun part because we can see if what they set out to accomplish actually occurred!  

Some common research questions that drive many organizations to conduct program evaluations to get answers include:

  • Are program participants being reached as intended? If yes, why? If not, we also want to know why.
  • To what extent are desired program changes occurring? Was there a significant difference or just a small difference? Is there a specific group that is not being impacted?
  • Is the program worth the resources it costs? What is the “return on investment” for this program or service?

The fourth step is to discuss the results of the program evaluation and make informed decisions based on what the data tells us. We will compile a summary report and/or slide deck presentation of the evaluation data for stakeholders internally and externally to review the results and discuss the implications. Good evaluations often lead to recommendations for improvement such as enhanced professional development, diversified participant recruitment strategies, and/or program model changes. This is an opportunity to discuss data collected and implications for future programming, including ongoing program evaluation practices within the organization.

In today’s era of accountability, what gets measured gets done. If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure[1]. Transform Consulting Group equips organizations to celebrate their successes and inform opportunities for growth. Contact us today for more information on how Transform Consulting Group can help assess the impact of your organization.  
[1] Reinventing Government, Osborne and Gaebler, 1992.

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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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