Tag Archives: research

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.

Tracking Made Easier (or at least less frustrating)

Very often when it is time for me to do an evaluation or assessment of an organization, department or program the proper data is not available.  It is not that it has been lost or that it is confidential.  Nope, it is that it has not been tracked.

Granted tracking is tedious and it does not contribute to the delivery of services.  However, it does help determine success and it definitely affects funding.

Not tracking results in cost — more paid to a consultant, time lost trying to gather at the last minute, frustration and, the worst, lost funding.

Following are some tips that will help you make tracking less tedious, time consuming and frustrating.  These tips will also help you track in a manner that facilitates turning activities into outcomes in your reports.

First of all you must keep your promises.  You must track what you said you would.  You should always strive to meet the expectations of your Funders, Manager, Board or Partners.

You should track as you go.  Recording data regularly means doing it in the manner that will enable you to know at any point that you are on the right track and meet any reporting commitments.  Regularly could be daily, weekly, after each event/session or whatever “as you go” works best for your organization.

Never use the “catch up” method.  Translation: recreating at the end of the month or when the report is written.  This causes all kinds of problems.

  • Inaccurate Reporting – accuracy is assumed by Funders and Managers.  It is your responsibility to be accurate.
  • Cheat your organization or department by not providing all of your accomplishments and not presenting it in the best light
  • Takes more time than recording as you go.
  • Means something else suffers while you dedicate someone’s time to preparing a report that would have virtually written itself if tracking had been done along the way.

Do not rely on an unorganized method such as sticky notes or notations on your calendar.

Honor the specifications of the person or entity that will receive the report (Funder, Manager, Board, Partner, etc.)

  • If they require a specific database — use it, and don’t whine.
  • Meet the recipient’s timelines – don’t ask for leeway or make excuses.
  • Realize that you not meeting specifications may cause your Funder or Department to lose their funding, community support, management favor, or something else vital to survival — don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • If your Funder or Manager does not have specifications for reporting, get approval for the method you want to use.  Not knowing the desired form and contents does not excuse you for not providing what they want.  Remember that ignorance is not an excuse. Do you get a ticket for running a stop sign even if you say you didn’t see the stop sign?

If you do not feel comfortable or confident about tracking, get help in developing a process and timelines.  Help can come from a consultant/evaluator, other organizations/departments, higher education and even the report recipient.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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