Tag Archives: Planning

When A Fulfilled Wish Becomes A Nightmare

Did you hear the story about the family who won a luxury RV?  Well, it is not exactly a happily ever after tale, but it certainly has some teachable moments.

The family of four liked to take trips together and had a long list of places they wanted to see.  However, their budget just did not include very much funds for travel.  So, when the mom saw a contest to win a luxury RV she thought, “That would be perfect for us!  If we didn’t have to pay for a hotel we would have more money for the other parts of traveling.”  So, she entered the contest.  Six weeks later, she received notice that she had won the luxury RV.  When she shared the news with the rest of the family they were ecstatic.  And then reality reared its ugly head.

When she contacted the contest company they told her someone would have to pick up the RV in a city about 500 miles away within 5 days.  Also, because the luxury RV was so large, it could only be driven by a person with the proper license.   Neither mom nor dad had the proper license so they mounted a frantic search for someone to go with them and drive the RV to their home, because 5 days was not enough time for one of them to get the proper license.  Finally they found someone.  But one of them would have to take off work to take the driver to the pickup site and they would have to pay the driver.  And one or both of them would still need to get the proper driving license, since they could not take someone with them on every trip just to drive the RV.  When mom talked to the contest company again to let them know what day they would pick up the RV, she was informed that the family would also have to purchase insurance for the vehicle before it could be driven.  Another frantic effort ensued while they added a luxury RV to their auto insurance policy.  Dad almost choked on his dinner when mom told him the cost.

Finally they got the RV home and parked it in their driveway.  The next day they received a call from their home owners association that a vehicle of that size could not be parked in their driveway or yard.  They were told they had 2 days to move it or be fined.  One more frantic search produced a place where the RV could be housed, but the cost was not cheap because the RV was bigger than the vehicle storage slots at the lot so they had to rent two slots.  Three weeks later after much studying and multiple tries on the test, both mom and dad received the proper license to drive the RV.

As the family began planning the first trip in their new luxury RV they ran into a few other unexpected hurdles.  First, not all campgrounds had sites big enough to accommodate their RV, so they were limited in where they could go. This condition ruled out the three most desired places on their list of places to visit.  Second, they realized that once they parked their giant portable hotel room, they were going to need another vehicle to facilitate sightseeing.  There was more research and debating about whether to rent a small car that they could tow behind the RV or drive both the RV and one of their own cars to the campground.  First option would result in the cost of the rental vehicle, purchase or rental of a towing trailer, installation of a hitch on their RV and the stress of towing a trailer behind a vehicle that was just under the need for a “wide load” sign.  Sub option 1 was to travel to the campground, get a taxi ride to a car rental place and rent a small vehicle for sightseeing in the area.  The second option of driving the RV and one of their cars to the campground would mean twice the amount of gas and traveling separately.  Either option would result in a lot of money spent on gas because the RV used about twice as much gas per mile as their cars.

When they finally had all the details worked out for their first trip (to a place that was about 10th on their desired trip list), the family looked at the money left in their vacation fund and had a huge shock.  Because of all the additional costs associated with using the new luxury RV they had enough money to either eat or pay the cost of visiting sites.  Mom said they could just eat all their meals in the RV.  After some thought they realized that was not realistic because most days they would be too far from the campground to go back for lunch.  So, they compromised some more.  They reduced the number of sites they would see and they decided to pack all their meals instead of eating at the restaurants they had chosen.

So, two months later the family went on the first trip in the luxury RV.  When they returned home, they posted a “for sale” ad on Craig’s List and several other websites.  They decided that the amount of money, compromise, disappointment and stress was just not worth owning a luxury vacation vehicle.  They decided they would rather wait and save so they could maximize their vacation dollars and experiences.

This story is a strong parallel to the situation I have seen many people put their organizations in when they seek funding that is not a good fit for their missions and programs.  It is very sad to see an organization compromise their mission, adversely modify their programs and increase costs that cause them to abandon efforts.  A little wisdom and a lot of reality before seeking or accepting funding could have kept the mission and programs intact.  Makes you start to believe that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

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.

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

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.

Diet for Your Promotion and Publicity Plan

Before Atkins & South Beach diets and before The Biggest Loser, diets were not weight loss tools.  A person’s diet was the foods he/she ate.  The healthier the diet, the healthier the person.  And a healthy person could accomplish more, enjoy things more and have a better life.

Today we think of a diet as a tool to help us lose weight.  But most of us realize that if the diet is solely to lose weight, the weight probably will come back once we are off the diet.  But if the diet helps you become healthier then the weight comes off, stays off and life gets better.

So if your Promotion & Publicity plans and efforts are not moving you forward at the proper pace or at all, you need a healthier diet for them.

Here are questions you can ask to determine if your Promotion & Publicity plans are healthy:

  • Can I measure the results of time, efforts and dollars spent (or do I even know what the results are)?
  • Do my staff, partners, funders, etc. know what results we need from Promotion & Publicity?
  • When I make a change (i.e. new logo) or add something (i.e. mail-out) do I have a specific result in mind (i.e. new clients in a program) or am I changing because it seemed to be time.
  • Have I been able to realize new clients of funding increases as a result of the time I spend on in-person and social networking.  Or to put it another way, are the people who “like” my organization benefiting us.
  • Do I have an idea of the ROI (Return on Investment) for the Promotion & Publicity dollars I spend? Could your time and/or money be better spent on something else?
  • Are your Marketing & Sales activities driven by someone else – competitors, trend setters, etc.? If they are, do those people know your business and do they have your interest at heart?

If you are not pleased by your answers to these questions, it may be time to put your Promotion & Publicity plans on a diet.  Yes, it may be time to do some of the following:

  • Reduce fat – if I am paying someone else to do my promotion, publicity, social media, etc. could we do it internally as well or better and save money?  Are there efforts or advertising I could spend less time and money on and not hurt my results?
  • Increase fiber – Am I networking directly with potential clients, partners, and funders?
  • Increase fruits and vegetables – Am I properly serving my current clients, partners and donors in ways that will increase their loyalty and participation?
  • Get appropriate protein – Am I concentrating my Promotion & Publicity efforts on the clients that are the core of our mission?
  • Limit desserts – Am I appropriately mixing the fun stuff with the have to do stuff so that my work life is balanced but profitable?

Most any organization can benefit from increasing revenue without inappropriately increasing cost because that expands your ability to provide programs and services.  A healthy Publicity & Promotion plan is a major component of a healthy and fit ROI.

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