Tag Archives: Funding

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.

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MAGIC FORMULA FOR GETTING FUNDING AND PARTNERS

If you are struggling to articulate how you fit into a potential funder’s or partner’s continuum of mission or service here is a magic formula – put it in context.

In Context provides clarity, precision, transparency, understanding, proper perspective and ability to demonstrate your place in a continuum.

Out of Context causes ambiguity, uncertainty, vagueness, misunderstanding and inability to illustrate your place in a continuum.

 

Here are the steps to invoking the magic formula:

  1. Understand that the service(s) you provide are not what is important to the funder or partner. What is important to them is the problem, need or difficulty you can address for the population/community they are trying to help.
  2. Acquaint yourself with the mission, programs and past fundings/partnerships of your target.
  3. Be certain that you are asking for funding or a partner for something that actually fits into the mission or program of your target. Do not try to make desperation for operational money appear to be a funding/partnership request for a program that enhances the target’s mission.  Out of Context
  4. Completely develop your program before you seek funding or partners. Include the budget and focus on Outcomes.  The Outcomes should be things that easily flow into the funder’s/partner’s mission and programs.  For instance:  You will provide nutritional meals twice a week to 100 seniors to help your funder/partner improve the health statistics of seniors in ABC community. In Context
  5. Demonstrate how you will use measurements that are in concert with those of the funder/partner. Don’t just say you will – demonstrate how.   In Context

 

If you do not plead your case in context with that of the target’s, you will appear, at best, to be vague, at worst, not worthy of funding or a partnership.  One other benefit of proving you are in context is that you will more fully flesh out your own program or organization, which in turn leads to better results and other funding.

Now, if we could just get the rest of the people in the world to see things in context what a more harmonious world we would have.  There would be less knee jerk reactions on social media.  Elected officials could accomplish much more.  And there would be a lot less selfies.  But that’s just the researcher in me dreaming out loud.

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.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Ignorance Is Dangerous

Ignorance for Non-Profits and Agencies seeking funding and striving to maintain funding is nowhere near bliss.  An Officer will tell you as he gives you a speeding ticket even when you claimed you did not see the speed limit sign, “Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.”  Ignorance is also no excuse for under-performing when seeking funding or reporting to Funders.

Ignorance about Funders and your own Program or Project is dangerous and usually results in cost:

  • Missed funding
  • Lost funding
  • Reduced Funding
  • Wasted Time
  • Extra Cost

 Because lack of information and understanding can be embarrassing and costly, before you even seek funding you need to know:

  • The goals, mission, priorities and funding history of the funder – potential or existing
  • Where your organization/project fits in the funder’s scheme
  • The requirements and expectations of the funder
  • Outcomes – what do they expect you to produce
  • Measurements – what and how
  • Reporting – statistics, form, software, proof
  • Timeframes – reports due, project completion, phase intervals
  • Leniency – do not assume that because the Funder is altruistic they are equally as understanding of missed deadlines and outcome shortfalls
  • What constitutes non-compliance – non-compliance is not just for government grants, promises not kept are actually non-compliance and can result in discontinued funding and/or no future funding

Without all the ingredients a cake will fall flat or lack taste.  You wouldn’t start to bake a cake without all the ingredients, would you?  Everyone has done it and suffered the consequences of an aborted bake, emergency trip to the store or failed attempt to substitute.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  The funds or the program/project? 

An undeveloped or underdeveloped project/program/organization will not get funding – at least not sustained funding.  It is getting harder and harder to get funding, even initial funding, because of the competition and because funders have been burned.  Even if you are seeking funding to develop a program you still have to completely flesh out the “project to develop the program”.  So fully develop the project/program/mission before you seek funding!

Including:

  • Outcomes and measurements – what you will accomplish and how you will know you accomplished it
  • Steps to outcomes
  • Budget – a real one for the life of the project
  • Parts and pieces
  • People
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Partners – with a fully developed role and commitment, not just a “we will participate” letter. Don’t assume you will work out details and roles later.  If not fully developed and committed before starting a program/project the partnership may not materialize at all or not in the necessary form.  It does not enhance your reputation/relationship with a Funder if you have to say that a partnership did not work out.
  • What you bring to the party
  • Experience
  • Research / Data
  • Clients
  • Donors
  • Space
  • Program that can be expanded
  • Measuring and Reporting – how you will gather and present. Don’t forget to calculate the cost of this:
  • Actual costs
  • Software if you have to purchase
  • Additional personnel – maybe specialized
  • Outside evaluator – if required or if you need one to keep you on track.
  • Soft costs
  • Time not spent on other activities
  • Changes to present operation methods – accounting, tracking, use of space, privacy policies
  • Follow Up – typically underestimated, but almost always required to do proper measuring and reporting Funders want outcomes – outcomes require follow up

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.

Before You Ask For The Grant, Be Sure You Can Fulfill The Requirements

Would you leave home naked to go to work, the grocery store or a movie?

Would you set off on a trip to a place you have never been with no GPS, directions  or map?

Would you attempt to eat a whole turkey with all the trimmings by yourself?

Not likely.

But organizations often seek funding before they know if they can fulfill all of the requirements.  They often seek funding for projects they hope they can fit their current programs or services into.  The lure of funding sometimes overrides good sense.

Organization and agency directors are always under pressure to see that they have adequate funding.  Urgency sometimes means they may not have set up the processes necessary to ensure that meet the requirements and expectations of a funder.  They may cause their organization to sacrifice something important by committing to requirements that take them away from their core programs and services.

Often it takes partnerships for organizations to operate or take on big projects.  This might mean a temporary partnership is necessary.   Not working out all the details of that partnership can cause many problems when it’s time for the partnership to operate.

I have worked with many organizations and agencies who were not prepared when they got the grant.   All of them suffered in some way from the lack of preparation.  No matter how big the pot of funding or how tempting it is to apply for it, it must be a fit or it can cause more harm than help.  I have seen evidence that an organization that knows it is prepared does a much better job at convincing someone to fund them.  They are confident in their abilities and that confidence comes across to funders and donors.

Remember that not being prepared leads to failure and failure can ruin your reputation.

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