Category Archives: Reputation

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.

 

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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.

Taking The Pain Out Of Doing Reports

Preparing reports is not the favorite activity of nonprofits and other organizations.  As a matter of fact it is often the least favorite part.  Leaders and program staffs of organizations want to spend their time delivering their services – helping people.  The accounting staff wants to do accounting.  Fund raisers want to raise funds.   Grants staff wants to spend their time on identifying and writing grants.  But reports must be written or the funding dries up.

There are some things that can be done to greatly reduce the pain and frustration of preparing reports.

 

Before the Report

Before you begin preparing the report there are some actions that will not only make the report preparation easier, they will also improve the quality of your reports.  You may be reluctant to spend time on some of these suggestions, but it is really a matter of “pay me now, or pay me more later”.  The time you spend on these groundwork things will save you time and agony when you actually prepare the report.

  • First be certain that you understand the reporting requirements of the one who will receive the report. Recipients can be funders, partners, board members, donors and, sometimes, licensing/certification entities.  Your understand should include:

>  Process

>  Form

>  Timelines

>  Methods

>  Don’t assume anything.  If the requirements and guidelines are not clear — ASK

  • Be very careful that you do not use familiarity as an opportunity to scrimp on the details. When a funder has been giving you money for a long time or a donor has been supporting your efforts for years, you may feel that they are a sure bet.  They know the wonderful things you do and there is no reason that they will stop helping you.  But what if something changes – guidelines, contact person, number of competitors for their money?  Any report you provide should be done as if the recipient knows nothing about you.  Because you never know when that might suddenly be the case.
  • Make a timeline for all facets of the reporting process.

>  Set dates for everything – collection, tallying, analyzing, writing, proofing, etc.

>  Put actions on your calendar and the one for the organization.  Be sure everyone knows the dates.  This makes it a commitment and it needs to be a commitment to actually happen

  • Have someone from outside your organization look at your plan, including outcomes and measurements, to be certain everything is clear and rational. You can trade with another organization (they read yours, you read theirs).  You can hire an outside consultant or maybe use faculty or students at a college or university.
  • Develop a tracking plan that gathers the data as you go. No “catching up” (translation: recreating at the end of the month or when the report is written.)  This practice causes inaccuracies, stress and likely makes something else suffer.  Include dates, remember there is not a commitment unless there are dates associated with an action.  To be sure you are on target to meet your commitments and produce the expected outcomes.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting to the date you are supposed to write the report and find that you are missing things.   It’s better to spend a few minutes at pre-determined intervals to be sure you are on target than to get into a OMG situation where you are running around like a crazy person trying to find and recreate the information for the report.

 

Preparing the Report

When it is time to prepare the report it is crucial that you set aside the proper amount of time to do the work.  Report preparation does not turn out well when it is one task of a multi-tasking session.  Interruptions will actually cause you to spend more time on the report preparation.  Be very careful that you do not use other tasks and people to avoid doing the report.  Here are some tips that will help you do quality reporting and lessen frustration.

  • Do it in the manner required and/or agreed upon. Changing the manner could result in you not having the information needed because you gathered data for the original manner.  It could also mean the report will not meet the requirements of the report recipient.
  • Be on time. If you have done the proper work before the report and you set aside time to do it, this should not be a problem.
  • Do quality reporting.
  • Don’t make excuses. Even if funders are tolerant of excuses, you do yourself no favors for future funding.
  • Have someone outside your organization look at reports to ensure they are clear, concise and impressive. You can use the same organization or person you had review your plan for reporting.
  • Recognize when you need professional help and get it. Your specialty is not preparing reports; the quality and benefits may be higher from getting professional help.  Also, it may be less costly to outsource some or all of the report preparation so that you and your staff have time to do the business of your organization.  Some options for outsourcing:  Consultant, Higher Education, Intern, Board Member or even another organization.

 

Fallout from Inadequate Reporting

There are definitive consequences from reporting that is inadequate or late.  The most serious fallout is loss of funding either immediate or future.  If your funding is reimbursement based, you could not only lose funding, you would also have spent money that you will never recover.  Poor reporting is likely to ruin your chances for future funding from the report recipient and from potential funders, because funders talk.  Inadequate reporting will likely result in the need to supplement the original report; this takes more time than doing it properly the first time.  Supplemental reporting, loss of funding and worrying that the report might not be adequate cause stress.  Something you probably have more than enough of.

 

Benefits of Good and Exceptional Reporting

On the flip side of the consequences of inadequate reporting, there are many benefits of good reporting, even more from exceptional reporting.

  • Meeting the requirements and being on-time shows that you are cooperative and compliant and have respect for the needs and specifications of funders and other report recipients.
  • Using appropriate statistics and examples shows how well you are delivering on your commitments and proves that you are producing the promised outcomes.
  • An exceptional report gives you an opportunity to brag, which in this case is not only satisfying; it also proves your value. If you see reporting as an opportunity to brag instead of an annoyance, your reports will be less aggravating to do and present a positive impression.
  • A report that delivers also provides a foundation on which you can build future proposals, requests and other things. In my experience as a consultant helping organizations with reports I have seen many uses for parts of the report, including:

>  Other grants

>  Funding justifications

>  Development of programs

>  Projections

>  Planning – strategic and tactical

>  Feasibility testing

>  Press releases

>  Annual report

  • A complete report provides an assessment of progress and identification of obstacles to help your staff and board understand the situation and positions you to make adjustments.
  • An exceptional report helps you build consensus and market your organization.

>  It helps you maintain belief and support among your followers

>  It aids you in development of advocates – partners, donors, fans

> It assists you in promoting your organization and programs to potential                   partners, funders and participants

  • A well-done report provides you and your staff with a sense of accomplishment. Seeing in print (or on a monitor) your progress and successes makes them more real and just plain feels good.

What Do Funders Say About The Organizations Who Want Their Money?

As a Non-Profit or Agency do you ever wonder what Funders say behind your back?  Well, you should.  As a consultant and evaluator I have had a lot of opportunities to hear from Funders.  Following are some of the principal comments and complaints they have about the organizations who are seeking money from them.

  • Applicants and Recipients track input and output instead of measuring outcomes.  Input and Output = activities, number of people touched, number of training completers, etc.  Outcome = Product, Systemic Change, improvement, enhancement
  • Organizations are focused on activities, not outcomes and do not usually show what change they plan to bring about or have accomplished.
  • Organizations very often want funding for something (staff, operation, equipment, etc.) and try to disguise their need inside a lame attempt to show they are seeking funding for a project or program that aligns with the Funders’ goals. But Funders have seen this before and they can smell desperation.
  • Funding requests often do not provide adequate proof that the fund seeker can deliver the proposed or expected outcome. The fund seekers often do not use evidence based elements such as:
    • Needs – lacks data
    • Situations – lacks examples and trends
    • Programs – does not appropriately correlate a program to a solution/outcome
    • Training – typically use homegrown instead of evidenced based
    • Improvements – lacks data
    • Differences – lacks measurement and/or proof of the improvement                You cannot say “We’ve got this, we are professionals
  • Reporting often does not prove that the organization is producing the promised outcome; they may be doing it, but are not showing evidence in reports.
  • Organizations usually only think of a Funder as a money source. This often means organizations hamper the ability of a Funder to help with things other than money.  They provide sugar coated reports to make them look good to the Funder.  However, if they shared information on obstacles with a Funder they  look more realistic and they also provide openings for Funders to help with:
    • Identifying and establishing partnerships
    • Identifying and obtaining resources
    • Finding a way around regulations
    • Removing roadblocks
    • Getting an audience

          Remember Funders have money and connections – people listen and respond              to them

 

A larger and disappointing reality

Sometimes an organization still gets funding because it is known to the Funder, but this can cause its own set of problems:

  • Complicates reporting – how do you report on things that are not definitive?
    • Vaguely
    • No or little proof
    • With anecdotes and testimonials which is not true substantiation
  • Jeopardizes future funding from the funders that know you because reports are lacking in statistics and other data; there is little justification for continued funding
  • Limits you to getting funding only from Funders who know your organization. Limiting the number of Funders results in limited funding.  Regional and national Funders are not likely to consider your requests.  Even new local Funders will be a hard sell since you do not have a foundation of proof to show them.

Funders Want Outcomes Not Output

Funders, foundations, government agencies and even donors, want the organizations they fund to demonstrate outcomes, not report activities and outputs.  They want to fund results oriented programs, not read touching stories.

Funders want to see:

  • Strategy more than tactics – Improve graduation rate through tutoring VS X number of participants in an after school program
  • Big picture versus tallies of activities – Produce X number of people in jobs that pay $15 or more per hour employed for 1 year or more VS Train X number people in manufacturing skills and Assist X number of people in resume preparation
  • Partnering more than referring – Partner with X number of organizations to provide GED qualified participants for a workforce development program VS Refer clients who cannot read to literacy organizations.  Partner implies interaction – Refer implies you are done.
  • Effectiveness instead of blood, sweat and tears –X number of program participants plan to choose a career in healthcare VS Spoke to 25 student groups on healthcare careers and participated in 3 high school career day events
  • Systemic change versus heart rending anecdotes – Facilitated the adoption of new policy by the Sheriff’s Department that directs officers to contact Solicitor’s office before detaining juveniles VS Story about a School Resource Officer that counseled two eleventh graders and kept them from dropping out
  • Evidence of follow up and follow through – Provided resources that enabled X number of program graduates to stay employed in years two through five VS Contacted X number of program graduates to complete survey about employment status
  • Depth, breadth and commitment of relationships with stakeholders – Coalition of a high school, a community center, parents, Boy Scouts and two churches provide tutoring and support for at-risk sixth graders. Detailed MOUs exist between the organizations; parents and student participants sign commitment letters.  Grades and test scores of student participants are monitored.  The outcome goal of the program is that promotion from sixth to seventh grade will improve each year.  VS A community center that offers an after school program for middle schoolers with volunteer tutors and monitors.  There are no MOUs with other organizations or schools.  Participation by students is voluntary; parents are not required to be involved.  Because there is no formal relationship with the school the community center cannot obtain grades or test scores.

 

Obviously it takes time to focus on outcomes and develop program, measurements and relationships that will accomplish those outcomes.    But the time is an investment in a proposal and a program that will get funded.

How Being Nosy Launched My Business

People often ask me “What do you do?” or “How did you learn to do the work you do?”  This version of my bio answers those questions and provides insight into why I built a business around helping people with research and writing.

By the time I was in high school I had outgrown my plans to be a dancer, but I still wanted to be a writer.  After being on the newspaper and literary journal staffs in high school, I decided to pursue a career in journalism or public relations (now more commonly called communications) instead of being a novelist.  As I lived out my plan working in public relations for a technical/community college in South Carolina, I realized I had a knack for research (or as my mother put it, I was naturally nosy).  And I found that I was skilled at communicating the results of my research in reports, articles, grants and other official documents.

For almost 25 years I sold telecommunications.  But during that time I honed my research and writing skills.  Selling complex voice and data communication systems to a business, government agency or organization required understanding the operations and goals of the client.  Being nosy came in handy again.  Also during that time, I worked with many government, education and non-profit organizations to develop grant applications and budget justifications to help them secure the funding they required to pay for the new voice or data system they needed.

The next step for me was a culmination of all the experience and skill development I had acquired.  I opened a consulting firm, Leverage & Development, LLC, and began helping non-profits, government agencies and businesses with the things they did not have the time or staff or skill to do.  The name of the company tells what the company does –  Leverage & Development, LLC helps people leverage the assets they have (in reports, grants and other documents) and develop the ones they need (processes, programs, funding, etc.).   Since 2003 I has been in seventh nosy heaven reading reports, searching out statistics, interviewing people and conducting focus groups.  I have also enjoyed the opportunity to help people with grant writing, evaluations, assessments, report writing, process and program development and many other things that involve research and writing.  Here are a few of the things I have worked on:

  • Healthcare Workforce Needs Assessment for a 3 county area
  • Outside Evaluator for 2 Juvenile Justice Programs
  • Community Health Assessment for 2 counties
  • Outside Evaluator for a federally funded genetic science awareness project
  • Consultant/Counselor for the South Carolina Women’s Business Center
  • Consultant on program development and grant writing for an entrepreneur incubator
  • Evaluator and Researcher for a workforce development collaborative

 

I think one of the best things about owning a consulting firm that offers research and writing services is that I get to help people who are in a bind.  Many of the clients of Leverage & Development, LLC come to me because they have a looming deadline and they don’t have the time to meet it.  Others need information or evaluation and did not realize it until they were in a precarious position – if they don’t get it done, they lose funding or clients or partners.  Sometimes the clients are just overwhelmed with the amount of information they have and how to turn it into the document they need.  Occasionally another business or agency comes to me in search of a partner to round out their services on a specific project or client.  So those years of working on journalistic deadlines, meeting a sales quota and helping people do more with less make me not only skilled at helping other people in their difficult situations, it even makes me comfortable.

There is no deadline I can’t stare down, no mountain of information I am afraid to scale and no blank page that gives me writer’s block.

Is Good Enough Reporting Limiting Your Funding?

When you choose a birthday gift for a family or close friend do you pick something good enough?

Would you return to a restaurant where the wait staff asks “Is your food good enough?”  instead of “Everything taste good?”

Probably not.   So why would you expect your funders, board members and partners to accept reports that are barely good enough.  And why would you accept good enough for your organization when you have an opportunity to be outstanding in the reporting of your accomplishments.

I am often told by funders that they provide funding to local organizations because they know the organization and its purpose.  The funders say they do not rely on reports because they are in regular contact with the organizations they fund by virtue of operating in the same community.  But even though this coziness makes it easy to get some funding, it also creates artificial limitations.  If you structure your reporting to only meet the expectations of the local funders who do not require much detail or measurement, you will minimize the possibility of appealing to regional and national funders and diminish your chances for larger funding opportunities.  Non-local funders do not know your organization and grantors who make large donations have complex expectations for reporting.  Good enough reporting keeps you local, outstanding reporting broadens your funding prospects.

 

Here are some things that will make your reporting outstanding:

  • Include measurements that matter. Say your goal is to increase the number of students that graduate from high school.  The appropriate measurement for your reporting is the number of students that graduated, not the number of ninth graders who got tutoring at your after school center.  Including statistics for activities along the path toward your goal (number of ninth graders tutored, number of parents trained, number of PTA speeches, number of eleventh graders who improved grades, etc.) can be appropriate.  Reporting these things in the proper manner help you demonstrate that your strategy is working and show what it takes to reach the goal.  This will justify the money, support or partnership you are seeking.  But the measurement should be the one that reaches your goal.
  • Treat your reports as marketing collateral. If a report is written properly it can be included in whole or in part with grant applications or partner proposals.  This not only saves you time down the road; it is also a real illustration of your accomplishments.  An actual report is more impressive than a description – it is tangible and more succinct.
  • Match your reporting to the goals of funders and potential partners you want to approach. In anticipation of seeking funding from a foundation or agency make yourself familiar with their goals.  In hope of collaborating with another organization be sure you understand their mission and goals.  Then include statistics and other information in your current reports that address those goals.  This serves several purposes:
    • Makes you look more broadly at the goals and actions of your organization or current project
    • Does future work now – if you have to write a report anyway, prepare it in a way that it can be used in the future thus eliminating duplicate work
    • Enhances the aspirations of your organization or project
  • Illustrate how your strategy and efforts are scalable. Most funders who do not limit their funding to a local community want things they fund to be scalable.  Usually funders require that a grant application and, especially, reports demonstrate scalability.  Thinking about how your program can be scaled – duplicated, expanded, built on – and showing that in reporting eliminates the artificial limitation that you can only get local funding.  Demonstrating scalability will not hurt you with local funders and it will certainly make regional and national funding a stronger possibility.

 

Some of you are probably thinking that reporting already takes up too much time, not to mention that it is annoying.  Just take a deep breath and read the above bullets again.  This time try to think of all the time you have spent writing a grant from scratch (because you could not use reports or anything else already written) and the frustration you felt when you did not get funding (because they didn’t see the value of your proposal, project, organization).

Bottom line – do reporting on a level that matches your aspirations not on a level that is good enough.

3 Most Time Consuming Mistakes In Reporting To Funders

For 20+ years I have been helping Nonprofits and government agencies do reporting to funders (donors, foundations, government grant providers) and partners.  I have seen a lot of processes and lack of processes for doing reporting.  I am usually hired to help with a report because an organization doesn’t have the staff and/or time, is at the end of their frustration rope or realizes report development is not their strong suit.  But even if an organization hires me, they still have to supply information.  Following are the 3 mistakes that, from my experience, cause the most frustration and waste of time.

  1. Not tracking as you go.  Waiting until the last minute to compile numbers puts you at risk for errors and omissions.  Because this usually means you have to recreate and guestimate, it is likely you will over or underestimate your statistics.   Overestimating could cause you to be non-compliant in your grant or to ruin your reputation with a funder – either could cause loss of funds.  Underestimating robs you of an opportunity to show the magnitude of your efforts, which could also negatively impact future funding.  In addition to increasing the likelihood of mistakes, it also takes a chunk of time, when tracking as you go takes small amounts of time along the progress path of your project.
  2. Not understanding what the report recipient wants. Speaking of time . . .  this mistake can take a lot of time.  If you have to redo reports or backtrack and gather information you didn’t know you needed, it will take a lot more time than it would have taken in the beginning to understand what the report recipient wants.  A good way to look at it is, “pay me now, or pay me more later.”  Also, if you don’t do reporting according to specification you risk losing the funding or partner or not getting future funding or necessary partners.  Keep in mind that you are using someone else’s money, so their rules trump everything.  One other important point.  It is actually rude and disrespectful to not attempt to understand the needs of people you report to (Board Members, Funders, Donors, Partners or other departments) and disrespect will not win friends and funders.
  3. Putting it off until the last minute. Reporting usually takes more time than you think it will, no matter when you do it – just the nature of the beast.  So, likely if you put report preparation off until the last minute, you will not allocate enough time.  This will result in one or more of the following:  an incomplete report, a poor quality report, working on the weekend and/or at night, other things suffering (including personal life) and, last but certainly not least, frustration.  Often I am hired by an organization or agency to do or help with a report because someone has put it off.  This works well for me because I make money.  But it’s not the best situation for the organization that hires me.  Sometimes it is best to hire an outside person to develop a report because:  it is outside your ability or time scope, it will help to have an outside view or the funder requires it.  But having to pay someone just because you put it off is not prudent use of funds.

 

During my time of helping organizations with reporting I have learned that the 2 most effective tools for avoiding these report development mistakes are:

  • Include reporting in your plan (strategic, tactical, budget, etc.). Plan the who, what, when, where and how of you will do reporting.  Include the cost in your budget whether it is for an outside source or for the time to be spent by you and/or your staff.
  • Put commitments for the activities related to reporting on the calendar. This should include tracking, collecting, analyzing, writing, etc.  If you put it on the calendar you are giving it the importance of meetings, fund raisers, vacations and other vital things.  And once you put it on the calendar do not take it off; you can move it, but don’t remove it.

A Report Can Be Your Friend (Yes, Really!)

If you are not using reporting as a way to promote your organization and its mission and services, you are missing a remarkable opportunity.  Reports to your board, funders, donors and partners often have to be done, so it makes a lot of sense to make them work to your advantage.  If reports are not required, doing them anyway gives you the same opportunity to promote your work and serves as an anticipatory move that will give you an advantage the next time you make a request for funds or action.

 

Here are some ways that you can use reporting to your benefit:

  • Show, when done to the recipient’s requirements, that you are cooperative and compliant and have respect for their needs and specifications. All things that funders, boards and partners love.
  • Allow you to provide statistics and examples on how well you are delivering on the projected and desired outcomes. If you see this as an opportunity to brag instead of an annoyance, your reports will be less aggravating to do and present a positive impression.
  • Provide information that will be a foundation on which you will build future proposals and requests. You write the reports, so you can decide how they are written and what is included (beyond the required elements).  Use the opportunity to present the message you want them to receive.
  • Supply a document that can be used for other purposes such as a press release, a separate grant, another report, historical reference or the book you plan to write.
  • Offer an assessment of progress and obstacles to help your staff understand the situation and position you to inform board members, partners, stake holders, clients and even funders about things they can do to help or enhance and expand.
  • Provide you and your staff with a sense of accomplishment. Seeing in print (or on a monitor) your progress and successes makes them more real and just plain feels good.

But That’s Not What I Meant

Words can persuade.  Words can hurt.  Words can calm.  Words matter.

Whether it’s convincing, providing services/care, managing a project or anything else in operating an agency or organization – words matter.  Here are 3 ways to use words to your advantage.

Know your client’s/donor’s language

Words do not always mean the same thing to everyone.  Take the word superficial as an example.  To someone in the medical profession a superficial wound means something not very serious, a surface injury.  Outside of the medical community, if we describe a person as superficial we think they are shallow.  If we think a situation is superficial we consider it insignificant.  So to an ER doctor a wound that is superficial is good; to a client whose need is called superficial by your program manager, it is an insult.  If you do not understand the lingo of your clients/donors you run the risk of insulting them or being misunderstood.  It does take research and listening to know the language of others, but the effort can set you apart from funding competitors and help you accomplish your mission.

Use language your partners understand

If you believe the premise in the previous paragraph then you probably think that your partners should make the effort to know your language and you would be right.  However, if they don’t you will suffer.  Here is an illustration:  You are on the road and almost get hit by another car.  You think, if we wreck it will be the other person’s fault.  You may be right, but you will still be in a wreck.  If you are the lead on a project/program and your partners do not understand your need, time-frame or whatever you could suffer if you do not adjust.  A good truth to remember is that just because someone should does not mean they will.

Speak softly and carry a big stick

Or as my Grandmother used to say, sugar catches more flies than vinegar.  If you start out using kind words you are likely to get cooperation.  If you do not get cooperation then you can resort to stiffer language.  If you start out with vinegary words you may get cooperation or at least action.  But if you do not get what you need, you are at a disadvantage.  Do you use tougher language or do you try to drop back and use nice language?  The typical tactic is to get tougher.  Then even if you get what you want, you usually don’t feel like a winner.  And what happens next time, because if you started out with vinegary words there will likely not be a next time.

In closing let me give you an extreme example to help you remember that words matter.  In South Carolina, my home state, and in some other Southern states the word “Shag” is a dance done to beach music.  In England the word “shag” is a slang expression for sex.  I’ll let you think of ways this word could cause embarrassment, confusion, insult or amusement.  But you get the point — if you don’t understand the other person’s language the outcome will not likely be what you want it to be.

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