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2021 Top 7 Resolutions for Researching, Reporting and Evaluating

After doing 35 Assessments, 18 Evaluations, 47 Organization/Operation Development Projects and authoring 2 books, I have learned a few things about doing research and analysis and preparing reports/documentation. I share some of those lesson in the 2021 edition of my Top 7 Resolutions for Researching, Reporting and Evaluating

  1. Use strong language.  Carried over from 2020 When you write a report or a grant application don’t be afraid to use strong and powerful words.   Strong words convey confidence, ability and the promise of meaningful outcomes.  The tendency of most people writing reports and grant applications is to use eloquence instead of directness.  But in this situation eloquence is not as convincing.  Here are some examples of strong words: provide, demonstrate, increase, and eliminate.  And those words are stronger if you do not temper them with words that increase their eloquence, but do not add to the impact, for instance:  Instead of will attempt to, just use will, instead of plan to collect, say will collectUsing strong direct wording will reduce the number of words, which leads us to Resolution #2.
  • Don’t be too wordy.  Carried over from 2020 Too many words can be perceived as propping up a lame idea or program; that is provided your audience actually spends the time reading all of your words.  Normally a grant application, a report, or a person’s willingness to read limits the number of words you can use.  Funders and readers want the writer to be succinct.  Weak wording results in excess words.  Using too many words in a grant application make you seem hesitant or unsure of the effort/organization for which you seek funding.  Wordiness in a report will cause it to not be read.  People are used to immediacy, so they want to get the picture you are presenting in a small amount of words and time.  If you use strong words (see Resolution #1) you are much less likely be too wordy.
  • Don’t make your staff or consultant beg.  If you have tasked someone (staff or consultant) with preparing a grant application, funding request or report, don’t make them beg or nag you to do your part.  Your part may be small (i.e. send an email encouraging survey participation or provide some data) and it may not be high on your To Do List (your real job takes precedent).  However, if you do not do your assignments you jeopardize the project.  You also frustrate your staff/consultant and frustrated people do not do their best work.    
  • Pay attention to your audience/recipient.   I do not like sweet iced tea (even though I am Southern born and bred).  I used to love Dr. Pepper (aging esophagus made me give up carbonated drinks).  I still vividly remember ordering a Dr. Pepper at a sub shop and getting a sweet iced tea instead.  As I walked out the door of the sub shop, I took a big swig of my drink and promptly spit it out on the ground.  When you are expecting one taste and you get a different taste it confuses your brain.  And when it is something you do not like, it is even worse.  To get what I wanted, and importantly what I asked for, I had to go back into the shop, stand in line and get my originally requested drink.  The experience figuratively and literally left a bad taste in my mouth.  This is a lesson in how the audience/recipient feels about you when you do not give them what they want and what they probably spelled out in the guidelines or instructions.
  • Put everything in writing.  Circumstances change, people leave and priorities shift.  Your goal or requirement, though, must still be met.  In order to allow for changes and still accomplish your objective, put all agreements in writing and be specific.  With partners, spell out what you will do and what they will do in an agreement and put dates/timelines in; be sure it is signed by someone who has the authority to commit.  With staff provide documented expectations.  If you hire a consultant use a contract that stipulates responsibility and provides protection for proprietary information.  Don’t be afraid to ask funders to put things in writing and be specific; sometimes the excitement of getting funding overrides good sense and details do not get ironed out and documented.  Putting things in writing applies to everyone – long-term partners, community leaders, friends and even family.
  • Don’t bite off something that will choke you.  Carried over from 2020  Be careful that you don’t chase money (grant, sale, project) that has requirements attached to it that will take you away from your goals or primary purpose.  Avoid funding/projects that force you to do things that will cost you more time and/or money than it’s worth.  Do not try to make your round peg fit into the funder’s or client’s square hole.  This is even more important now because the landscape for non-profits and small businesses has changed drastically during the 2020 pandemic.  You will be more tempted to go against your own good sense. Don’t!  Try to keep this past year and its challenges in perspective and not focus on the sprint, but on the whole marathon.
  • Concentrate on the quality not the effort.   When you compliment or thank your staff/consultant on the work they are doing or have done, concentrate on the quality of their work, not on how hard they worked.  There are two reasons for this.  If you focus on how hard they worked you may be signifying that you value effort over outcome.  That is a dangerous philosophy.  It could indicate that you are not distinguishing between activities and outcomes.  In order to succeed and sustain, you must be able to identify outcomes and measure progress toward them.  Secondly, if a consultant or staff member is good at what they do, they will appreciate you recognizing the quality of their work.  If they want you to notice how hard they work, chances are they are concentrating on the wrong things and they are costing you money.

Funders Want Outcome Focused Programs

Nonprofits take notice — Times they are a changing.  This article about the recent press conference by Mick Mulvaney about realignments to the Federal budget under the new administration illustrates the new day for funding.  The comments and the philosophy behind them are more focused on outcomes and measurements than has ever been the case.  Whether you like what is happening or not; whether you think the new requirements on measurements are just or not — this is a new time.  If you wrap yourself in a blanket of righteous indignation and try to ignore the new way, you stand a real good chance of having your funding reduced.  Government is not the only funder looking for measurable outcomes and results.  Corporate funders are doing the same.  You have probably already acknowledged that competition for funding is stiff.  So, if you are going to compete effectively, you will need to become even more astute at utilizing measurable outcomes and deliverables in your programs and projects.

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/mick-mulvaney-donald-trump-budget-meals-on-wheels-236144

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