Category Archives: Agency

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Strong Language

Use fewer, stronger words to make your grant applications, reports and proposals more successful and effective.

I see so many documents that use soft, cushiony words instead of strong, emphatic words.  Not using strong language in a proposal offers an opportunity for the recipient to say NO, or at least not make a decision.  Using soft terms in a report diminishes the results and accomplishments.  Using weak words in a grant application make you seem hesitant or unsure of the effort/organization for which you seek funding.  Not using strong words is not only a wasted opportunity; it can also have long term impact on funding and perception.

By using weak words, people often use too many words.  Too many words can be perceived as propping up a lame idea or program.  Often you are limited in how many words you can include in a grant application or report.  The reason for the limit is to ensure the writer is succinct.  Weak wording almost always results in excess words.

Another impact of both more words and weak words is that the reader will not read everything you write.  This can result in them not having full understanding of what you are proposing or reporting.  Ask yourself how often you have stopped reading something because your brain froze-up due to the wording and length.

You probably do not even realize that you are using weak words or that you are too wordy.  So here are some examples of ways to strengthen and shorten your message.

  • Instead of saying “will give students an opportunity to . . .” replace will give with
  • In place of shows use demonstrates
  • Replace this sentence: We expect that they will generate insights that will help improve operations

With this: We will gather insights from Key Stakeholders that will improve operations.

  • Instead of: We are requesting funding for training because without a comprehensive understanding of how a human services agency should operate in order to meet the purpose and goals of the agency, staff will not be working at their optimum and most effective level.

Try this:  The requested funding will finance staff training that will improve their efficiency and increase the effectiveness of our services.

  • Substitute for:  This study will attempt to gain an understanding of the community needs and obstacles through a comprehensive community engagement and input effort.

This:  This study will gather pertinent data on needs and obstacles through interviews and focus groups.

  • Another example of wordy to impactful.
  • Wordy:  Using a carefully crafted process, we will lead the Board through an assessment that will result in the discovery of the obstacles and misunderstandings that inhibit the realization of our organization’s goals.

Impactful:  We will use our proven evaluation process to help the Board identify the actions necessary to accomplish our goals.

 

Here are a few examples of weak, unsure words and phrases:

  • Will attempt to (just use will)
  • In an effort to (again, just use will, or maybe pair will with a strong verb such as the ones below)
  • Plan to collect (replace plan to with will)
  • Try
  • Attempt

 

And here are some strong, confident words:

  • Provide
  • Demonstrate
  • Obtain
  • Impact
  • Direct
  • Add
  • Present
  • Outcomes
  • Effect

 

Remember these things the next time your write something important.

  • Fluff does not enhance
  • Extra words do not increase the impact of the statement
  • Brevity is powerful
  • Direct has impact
  • Verbs are stronger than verb phrases
  • Confidence convinces
  • Get to the point
  • And never, ever whine!
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TOP 7 RESOLUTIONS FOR RESEARCHING, REPORTING AND EVALUATING (2018)

Janet Christy, Owner of Leverage & Development, LLC, offers this list of resolutions to help organizations, agencies and businesses be more effective in conducting research, developing reports and evaluating their operations and programs.

 

  1. If you find the answer, it is worth the journey. Research is time consuming if done by you or your staff.  Research costs money if you hire someone else to do it.  However, if you find the needed answer or solution it is well worth the cost of time or dollars.  If you weigh the problems caused by not having the proper information, example, rules, requirements, obstacles, input, statistics, etc., the journey (cost and time) doesn’t look too bad.

 

  1. If you pay for research or a report, read it. When you hand over your valuable and limited dollars to someone for them to perform research, prepare a report or conduct an evaluation, it is a waste to not use it.  Even if you did it only because it was a requirement from your funder, board or boss, it can still provide useful information.  That information can help you improve the performance and effectiveness of your programs and efforts.  It can also provide you useful insight into any aspect of your operation – clients, programs, staff, processes and impediments.  If the report or evaluation provides a plan, then to put it on the shelf after you have spent your money or the time of your staff on developing it is not only wasteful, it is foolish.  At the very least, read what you paid for and then make a conscious decision to use it or not.

 

  1. Exceed Reporting Expectations. Not many people like preparing reports (I’m one of the weirdos that does like it). Because people do not like doing it, they often spend as little time and effort as possible on it.  This is a huge mistake, especially for getting sustained or future funding.  Here are some reporting mistakes that can ruin your reputation with a funder, board or boss:  1) Not providing what they ask for, 2) Not using the format they specify, 3) Submitting late, 4) Not exceeding their expectations.  The problem caused by #4 is that you doing the minimal will look mediocre compared to someone who goes beyond the requirements.  Looking mediocre compared to the competition is the kiss of death to funding in the currently highly competitive landscape.

 

  1. Use facts instead of or in addition to stories/anecdotes.  It does take time to do the things necessary to quantify your outcomes, but quantification is proof of your effectiveness.  Quantification requires research (for statistics), tracking (of your results, not your activities) and measuring (improvements and successes).  Remember that doing the things necessary to quantify is a process, not something you do 2 days before you have to prepare a report for your funder, board, donors or boss.

 

  1. Do not hide from the truth. Evaluation is seen by many organizations and agencies as a judgement.  It can be, but its actual purposes are to help you identify problems (so you can solve them, not so you get punished), determine your successes (so you can publicize and capitalize on them), modify (so you can be even more successful) and prove your value (so you can keep getting funding).  Evaluations uncover important things; they do not invent or cause them.  If you stick your head in the sand, you will likely choke.

 

  1. Do not confuse activities with outcomes. Activities are things you do, outcomes are things you accomplish.  Holding 10 classes on financial literacy is an activity.  Helping 10 families reduce their debt by 50% in one year is an outcome.  Funders and boards want to hear about outcomes, not activities.  If your reports are full of activities instead of outcomes or your evaluators can only find tallies of activities instead of measurement of outcomes, your success and effectiveness is not proved.

 

  1. Fulfill your dreams, not your nightmares. If you get funding or establish partnerships that are not in harmony with your purpose and programs, you will set yourself up for nightmares instead of realizing your dream.  Be sure that you do not seek or accept funding that does any of the following: 1) takes time and money away from your core mission/purpose, 2) costs you more than it provides you (knowing this will require a realistic attitude and tracking), 3) involves requirements and “hoops” that cause more frustration than benefit.

 

Role of Cultural Pageantry and Tradition in Improving People’s Lives

On a recent vacation that included visits to several sports museums I gained a new appreciation for the human need for pageantry and tradition and the purposes they fulfill.

My husband and I visited the Indianapolis 500 Museum and heard all about the history and importance of the winner drinking milk and kissing the bricks.  We even kissed the bricks.  (Full disclosure I got my lips really close to the bricks, but they did not actually touch the bricks.)

At the Kentucky Derby Museum we learned about the ceremonial mounting of the horses, the Derby Hats and the garland of roses given to the winner.  At the Louisville Slugger Museum, I was reminded of the many traditions and ceremonial rituals used by teams and individuals.

All these sports pageantry and tradition activities got me to thinking about others such as Christmas Parades, Beauty Pageants, Easter Bonnets & Finery, etc., etc., etc.  We humans do love pageantry and tradition and ceremony.  If you ever doubt it, try changing a tradition.  For instance one Indy 500 winner decided that since he was part owner in an orange juice company he would drink orange juice instead of milk in the winner’s circle.  According to our tour guide the public watching in horror almost rioted.  To this day, people boo when that driver’s name is mentioned at the Indy Speedway and many other places.

One of the reasons the importance of pageantry, traditions and ceremonies was in my mind so strongly was because of the work I am doing and have done recently with organizations that are trying to help people break unhealthy and confining behaviors and beliefs.   I see programs, grants, events and books addressing things that keep people from being healthy and improving their life.  And as I do evaluations and help people do reporting, I see that the changes, if they come at all, are slow and agonizing.

Could it be that people hold on to traditions and find comfort in pageantry because the continued acceptance and honoring of them provides its own sense of security.  Anyone who has ever attempted to help people understands that change is scary.  The tightness with which people hold on to pageantry and traditions not only illustrates that change is scary, it actually emphasizes the fear.

When I look back at all the programs and efforts I have helped develop, assess, evaluate and report on, I see that the most successful ones embraced the culture of the group that was the target of the help.  The successes and improvements came faster, more often and were sustained when the helping entity showed those being helped how they could improve, but not totally abandon their cultures and the accompanying pageantry and traditions.

When you think about, pageantry and traditions evolve on their own as people and cultures evolve.  The Indy 500 milk drinking tradition again provides an example.  The original milk drinking winner actually drank buttermilk.  It seems that he had grown up drinking buttermilk to refresh himself after working hard in the fields.  So, after he was pretty worn out from driving 500 miles at 100+ miles per hour, he wanted a cold glass of buttermilk.  Today, Indy 500 winners still drink milk, but it has evolved away from buttermilk, since not everyone likes the sour taste.  So any milk is now acceptable, but orange juice is not – evolution accepted, revolution rejected.

So, this causes me to conclude that successful programs and efforts will always need to:

  • Recognize the culture and its pageantry and traditions of the people they are trying to help.
  • Facilitate the ability of the people they are trying to help to honor and observe the security of their culture’s pageantry and traditions.
  • Build in space and time for digression caused by fear of change.
  • Allow the evolution of the pageantry and traditions, instead of ignoring or crushing them.

 

I Hereby Declare Myself A Leader

This is the era of the selfie, self-promotion and social media’s power to create heroes and experts.  Therefore, I have decided to declare myself a People Oriented Research Leader.

I am certain that I have the recognized qualifications for being an issue leader.  I am passionate about the subject.  I make talks about it.  I write articles about it.  I find ways to relate it to almost any conversation topic.  I pontificate on the importance of People Oriented Research to organizations, agencies and businesses.  I believe with all my heart and soul that if we do more People Oriented Research we will know more about what people think, want, feel and comprehend.  I make profound statements about this topic.  I search out and consume information the subject.   I even conduct People Oriented Research.

Further testaments to my right to call myself a People Oriented Research Leader are the things occurring in my professional and personal life.  I am actually paid to conduct People Oriented Research.  I am asked to speak on the subject.  I am asked how to conduct People Oriented Research.  Organizations, agencies and businesses who have never heard of People Oriented Research, but know they need to get information from their members, participants, clients, etc., ask me how to get that vital information.  Groups that do not know that People Oriented Research is an important issue express to me their frustration of not knowing how to make things happen.

Additionally my understanding of the world proves to me that People Oriented Research, of which I am a Leader, is the key to solving many problems and improving many situations.   Such phrases as “a penny for your thoughts” , “let the cat out of the bag” and “straight from the horse’s mouth” illustrate that society values the information and input derived from People Oriented Research.  Other common phrases such as “your guess is as good as mine”, “pull wool over their eyes” and “heard it through the grapevine” demonstrate the repercussions of not doing People Oriented Research.  Because ignorance is not an excuse, it is critical that we conduct People Oriented Research and that we have established Leaders in this field.  I am honored to fulfill that role as a People Oriented Research Leader, even for those that are unaware that it is a major issue.

Yes this is a little tongue in cheek humor on how people become “experts” and on the fact that we often forget to get input from those who are or will be affected.

Tracking Made Easier (or at least less frustrating)

Very often when it is time for me to do an evaluation or assessment of an organization, department or program the proper data is not available.  It is not that it has been lost or that it is confidential.  Nope, it is that it has not been tracked.

Granted tracking is tedious and it does not contribute to the delivery of services.  However, it does help determine success and it definitely affects funding.

Not tracking results in cost — more paid to a consultant, time lost trying to gather at the last minute, frustration and, the worst, lost funding.

Following are some tips that will help you make tracking less tedious, time consuming and frustrating.  These tips will also help you track in a manner that facilitates turning activities into outcomes in your reports.

First of all you must keep your promises.  You must track what you said you would.  You should always strive to meet the expectations of your Funders, Manager, Board or Partners.

You should track as you go.  Recording data regularly means doing it in the manner that will enable you to know at any point that you are on the right track and meet any reporting commitments.  Regularly could be daily, weekly, after each event/session or whatever “as you go” works best for your organization.

Never use the “catch up” method.  Translation: recreating at the end of the month or when the report is written.  This causes all kinds of problems.

  • Inaccurate Reporting – accuracy is assumed by Funders and Managers.  It is your responsibility to be accurate.
  • Cheat your organization or department by not providing all of your accomplishments and not presenting it in the best light
  • Takes more time than recording as you go.
  • Means something else suffers while you dedicate someone’s time to preparing a report that would have virtually written itself if tracking had been done along the way.

Do not rely on an unorganized method such as sticky notes or notations on your calendar.

Honor the specifications of the person or entity that will receive the report (Funder, Manager, Board, Partner, etc.)

  • If they require a specific database — use it, and don’t whine.
  • Meet the recipient’s timelines – don’t ask for leeway or make excuses.
  • Realize that you not meeting specifications may cause your Funder or Department to lose their funding, community support, management favor, or something else vital to survival — don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • If your Funder or Manager does not have specifications for reporting, get approval for the method you want to use.  Not knowing the desired form and contents does not excuse you for not providing what they want.  Remember that ignorance is not an excuse. Do you get a ticket for running a stop sign even if you say you didn’t see the stop sign?

If you do not feel comfortable or confident about tracking, get help in developing a process and timelines.  Help can come from a consultant/evaluator, other organizations/departments, higher education and even the report recipient.

 

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