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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.

Evaluators Can Be Tools and Weapons

Evaluators are not usually the favorite person of the staffs of organizations – non-profits, government agencies and grant recipients.  They usually have some automatic negatives:  they are often required by funders, they are judgmental by job description, they are nosey and intrusive, and, worst of all, they give you a grade.

But Evaluators are not all bad.  They can actually be very helpful tools and weapons.  Their efforts and reports can be used to your advantage.  Here are a few possibilities:

  • Severance  –  If there is a partnership that is not working, but dissolving it would be a public relations fiasco, an Evaluator can help you.  They can:
  1. Assess the problems
  2. Determine if the relationship is salvageable, if so suggest modifications to improve it
  3. Justify dissolving the partnership if that is the best path (be the bad guy)
  4. Validate enforcement of the agreement and responsibilities
  • Avoidance of mistakes  –  By assessing potential partners and their programs an Evaluator can help you choose the right partners.  An Evaluator can ask the nosey, intrusive questions because that’s what they do.  Understanding the potential and challenges of a partnership is critical to the success of a “marriage”.
  • Be your champion  –  When you need to convince a person or group (board, funder, etc.) to allow you to do something (add or alter a program, change a policy or procedure, or adopt a new strategy) an Evaluator can gather the data and input.  They can help you build the case.
  •  Find the good  –  One of the best but most unused things an Evaluator can do is help you identify assets and clarify messages.  This help can provide just the information you need to increase the effectiveness of you publicity.  An Evaluator provides an outside view.  They also specialize in collecting and analyzing information.  Combined these two things can take your publicity and branding to a whole new level.  Talk about reputation enhancement!
  • Keep your funding  –  Often funders, especially the federal government, require that any program or organization they fund must have an outside evaluation.  So, in that case an Evaluator is necessary to get and keep your funding.  But even if an evaluation is not required, it can still help you keep your funding.  An Evaluator can do the research and analysis that you and your staff may not have the time or expertise to do.  That research and analysis will provide much of the data you need to do the required reporting to funders, boards and donors.  The Evaluator can even do the report for you.  Because you have and Evaluator involved the report has an extra stamp of credibility, which never hurts when it comes to funding.
  • Save you money  –  Yes hiring an Evaluator costs money, but they can also save you money by:
  1. Getting or retaining funding
  2. Giving you back the time you would spend to do research, analysis and report preparation
  3. Helping you avoid the cost and wasted time of bad partnerships
  4. Showing you where changes in policy or procedure could reduce costs

 

So, the next time you don’t think you want or need an Evaluator, think again.  They might just be one of your best investments.

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.
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