My “light” evening reading is a hint.
My “light” evening reading is a hint.
Think strategic plans have to be complicated, time-intensive, and formal documents worthy of a Pulitzer?
Who has time for that?
Come learn how to put together a “good enough” strategic plan that you could even get done while preparing that grant application due next month! See you Thursday afternoon at #gpaconf19 for a double session – come ready to work!
#grantwriting #grant #strategicplan #goodenough #keepitsimple
Crisp air, changing leaves, colorful trees, sweatshirts, and football. And my birthday (and my husband’s and my son’s)!! All reasons to celebrate my favorite season. (No, I didn’t mention the “flavor” – not a fan, call me crazy!)
It’s also the time of year that I start to look at my plan for next year. December is just so full, fitting in a strategic plan review just doesn’t happen. And January – well – that’s for resolution failure, not a good time to try to plan while you are starving, you just don’t make good decisions when you are hangry! Plus, fall is it’s the start of my personal new year, so it’s fitting.
It’s often said those that “do” don’t take the time to “do” it for themselves – and that is so true! So I’m going to post my progress in updating my plans and give you a glimpse into my process. My wish is that other independent consultants can benefit from my work.
I can organize and streamline just about anything business related – except for my office space! That’s where I called in Laura from Victoria’s Organizers to help me sort through the layers of clutter and create a space that works for my work.
Four full contractor trash bags, 2 tubs and a box to my lovely assistant to scan, and 2 trips to Goodwill later…I have a space that is functional for me even if not textbook organized (and I can see the floor!).
I highly recommend calling in a pro to help, even if you think you’re pretty good (as in all other things – the pro is a pro for a reason). She was able to work within my style and needs (i.e. organized chaos). I still have some homework to get done before our next session, but I’m already working in a much more functional layout.
You may not need to rearrange furniture each year, but the declutter and toss clears the path for new work and thinking. Give it a try!
With functional space to work in, now it’s time to look ahead. The nice thing about being an independent consultant is that I get to determine (to some extent) what I work on and how I spend my time.
What is it I want to do?
What do I really enjoy working on that I’m also really good at?
(Change the “I” to we for your department/organization and this will work for any setting)
With dry-erase marker in hand, I’ve outlined a list of the kinds of tasks and projects I enjoy and have the skillset to complete. I’ve also identified a couple of opportunities to get some additional training so I can do some things even better. I’ll be looking for an Excel “beyond-expert” class if anyone knows of any!
Looking for commonalities I found a few themes in what I like doing: “growth, decisions, concept, and manage.” Building to growth and bringing concepts to clarity are part of helping a organization evolve while decision making and managing are crucial to sustaining an organization.
Whiteboard filled, I’ve taken a step back and narrowed it down to a pretty simple concept:
I thrive when I’m helping solve problems to evolve or sustain organizations.
A little rewriting and (a lot of) wordsmithing and I’ll have a mission statement!
Next, I’m going to work on identifying strategies to bring in not only new clients (which, of course, is important), but also new challenges and problems that need solved. Stay tuned for the steps I’m taking to create these strategies and results of this work and what I’ll be up to next week.
It’s that time of year again…holidays, snow, school breaks and of course, the highly anticipated 2019 release of the competitive grant and state program calendar for the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA). Let’s get funding!
Quick Impact Placebased Grant (QuIP)
Reuse Re-imagine Revision Re-engage
QuIP is grant designed to enhance communal space to spark creativity and community wide conversation and engagement. OCRA’s strongest applicants will have significant involvement and partnerships within the community. They encourage grants projects that will be unique and inspiring on the local level. Eligible applicants include community group or organizations, local government units and schools (elementary through high school, college, university, trade and vocational)
Stellar Communities Program Grant
The Steller Communities Program is an economic development program designed to help those community projects that address health and wellness issues. New this year, the program has evolved to regional partnership initiative. A minimum of two or more programs are encourage to partner together.
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)
The CDBG is a federally funded program that helps communities with a variety of projects including community centers, health and safety programs, sewer and water systems and many others. This funding helps communities improve their quality of life and ensures the safety and health of their citizens.
These applications can be overwhelming at times. If you need a hand – be sure to reach out. We look forward to working with you!
The SNF Writing Solutions team
As I finish another grant review panel (this one Federal), I found that I had to check my “crankiness” meter – where I was on the scale when I reviewed the app – during our discussion in the team-consensus calls. Upon reflection, I decided that the applicants would do certain things that immediately changed my perception of the rest of the application. While I could temper this, somewhat, in the consensus scoring – there were many things that irritated me so much that I couldn’t (wouldn’t) let it go. And others on my review panel had their irritants too!
So, without further ado – if you really want to irritate your reviewer and have them view your application with the most critical of eye…make sure your…
In your budget, make sure that your summary table doesn’t add up – both for the request and any match requirement. If you want to outdo yourself in this area, your subtotals in the various sections should not match your summary. For added bonus frustration, leave out key pieces of information, such as base salary, so that the reviewer has absolutely no way of determining if your budget is accurate or reasonable.
For our objectives, make sure that your baseline and projected measures for your indicators is confusing – using percentages of percentages without mentioning what your denominator is. Reviewers will never be math or evaluation people that can figure it out; so you’ll be ok giving fluffernutter for objective measures.
For even more excitement, have numbers in various sections referred to in other sections with different values in each section – it will keep your reviewers on their toes.
When providing a partner list and qualifications, your Letters of Commitment that you attach should be from completely different entities – that way your reviewer has to figure out how it all fits together. Even better, have different partners in the qualifications list, letters, and budget. Reviewers all love an intricate puzzle to put together at the end of a long day! For bonus points, say that one of the partners is critical for implementation, but don’t include a letter from that partner – just your word that your most critical partner is on board is good enough.
Ditto the above for project staff. Be sure to include a random CV/Biosketch in the attachments too – reviewers love to be tested to see if they are paying attention!
When documenting your match, have a different amount in your budget than what is committed in your letters. Reviewers don’t even look at that or try to figure it out. Make sure to include various match amounts from organizations that aren’t in your budget or that you haven’t mentioned anywhere in your proposal, for good measure. Even better, just put in a dollar amount and don’t demonstrate how that number was obtained.
There’s nothing quite like reading a proposal that says that it is “unique” and “innovative” and – even better – “revolutionary to the industry” – when you’ve read the same project concept three other ways and those other proposals cited the research and project models that they are building their project from. Just put your “original” ideas out there – no need to do any best practice research during the project development phase.
If there are instructions or templates for the proposal or letters, no need to pay attention to those pesky details – reviewers aren’t going to look at the NOFO to know what was required – and there’s no way you would get a past recipient and someone who has written and managed similar applications/awards for several years on the same review panel – right?
When there’s a template, you would never want the reviewer to have an easy time finding information, so switching up the headings (or taking them out altogether), removing borders from tables (making it really hard to read), and abandoning the provided formatting for checkboxes and forms is highly encouraged.
Every activity is always going to continue throughout the project, from beginning to end, so by all means, just give your timeline as “ongoing” for every activity.
Timelines are just wishful thinking anyway, so no need to put any thought into the exercise. Reviewers don’t need to know what’s slated for the first year versus the third year, or even the fifth year; they are just being nosey. As for milestones, we will just know that we are making progress – we don’t need to think about them or when we might achieve anything that matters in our project. We aren’t going to meet the timeline we proposed anyway – we are waaaay to ambitious in what we proposed and definitely don’t have the staff FTE count to support the work (but, shhhhhh the reviewers will never figure that out!).
I review budgets and work plans first (this is after the kids are in bed). When your math doesn’t add up – I’m jaded for the rest of your proposal – if they can’t do the math in their budget, can they manage this project? If your work plan isn’t supported by the budget, I really question if your project is achievable. I’ve worked enough projects to know what it takes and the FTE support needed to execute a project; I’m all for lean teams – but there’s a difference between operating a skeleton team and not having enough time/bodies to achieve what you set out to do in a project. In your evaluation, give your benchmarks and indicators careful thought. You will have people that have implemented projects like yours on the review panel and they have a pretty good idea what is feasible and what is inflated. Finally, take the extra time before you submit to make sure that your supporting documentation (attachments) match what is in your proposal – the reviewers really do look that them.
Here’s to (not) irritating your reviewer!
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC
New software programs and apps can make life wonderful for organizations. In addition to just rolling out the new system with the software company, there are other items to keep in mind.
Even with the greatest software, the human element still exists. Users and Admins alike will experience tremendous change through the new system! System champions must be ready with FAQs, training, and detailed documentation on how to perform job-specific tasks within the new system. Expect some fear, resistance, and slower reception from staff.
Software systems are wonderful tools for automation and efficiency. Nay times the new system will eliminate tasks done manually. There are also times a new system will modify or add new outside-the-system tasks. To ease the transition, prepare to discuss and document the modifications to manual tasks. This can be achieved through a FAQ or in documentation manual side notes.
Related to outside-the-system tasks, the overall business processes will be modified with the implementation of the new system. It’s okay and to be expected that the new system disrupts the status quo. Manage the chaos and ease all affected staff with good current state (pre) and new state (post) workflows and stepwise manuals. For tasks that are overly simple or only come up every once in a while, use a one to two-page Quick Reference Guide (QRG) to document the task. Create this documentation while you have access to the developer or a software representative that can provide demonstrations and answer questions.
When you started your software finding mission, or when you began the implementation with the software company, you most likely created a list of business requirements. Be sure to review this list of requirements periodically as the implementation rolls out. “But we know the requirements; why do we have to review them?” For several reasons, foremost are:
Whether provided by software company, internal resources, or a third party, training on the new system is critical. New, shiny software will be absolutely useless without a trained staff to implement the new system. The training dshould include a walk-through of the basic system navigation, and then a series of sessions on how to complete job-specific tasks. Each session should reference documentation tools available to the staff as they work post-rollout.
The training and documentation should be captured and stored in a way that can be used in the future for onboarding new staff and as a reference for staff needing a refresher or transitioning to a new job function.
In the excitement of implementing a new software, the change-management elements can often be forgotten. Include these elements in the planning stage and work on them throughout the implementation.
I wish you well on your software implementation. Should you have questions or need more information or help on any of these topics, leave a comment below, or you can email or call me.
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC
Update: DLT is released! Due July 17th.
For those that survived the USDA RUS Distance Learning and Telemedicine 2016 grant application season, congratulations!
As we are gearing up for another round this Spring, I reflect on the process with several lessons learned.
Gone are the days where the binders are the required submission method. As of last season, Grants.gov became a submission option. I submitted by both methods in 2016 – binders and Grants.gov – both methods were successful and awarded. As Grants.gov doesn’t require the interaction of humans (i.e. FedEx or UPS), my suggestion is to go with Grants.gov this year (of course, I’m a proponent of Grants.gov anyway – I know, I’m weird!).
Some decisions can be made in a 5-point margin. Do everything you can to capture every point. Find a Native American tribe that can use some equipment and build it into your project. They get the equipment they need and you get the points for having the involvement.
Not scoring high in rurality for a telehealth project? Add some single point locations such as FQHC clinics and CMHCs. They often need resources they don’t have ready-access to receive. A telemedicine option can work great. If the clinic route doesn’t work – look to adding school nurse offices where there is a healthcare shortage.
The match requirement can be daunting. Keep track of it as you have the commitment and when you have it in writing. Vendors can’t provide match anymore – so you will have to find funding on your own. This change came down for 2016 and you better believe it will be there again. We are on our own to find the matching funds. In-kind isn’t always looked upon favorably either – so cash is king!
Updates may happen between the time you start the project and the time you submit. Since the NSLP and census data is easily verifiable, be sure that you check just before submission as to the most current data available and cite your source with a date retrieved. That way if they change again – and I’m sure they will – you have it documented as to when the numbers were pulled and there isn’t an air of mystery and suspicion about the stats if there is a substantial change.
If you request a lot of laptops or desktop units, don’t expect that the actual computer and its peripherals will be an allowable expense. While we all know you can’t have the DL or the T without computers, most were stricken from budgets last year as an unallowable expense – even after appeal! Have a plan B (or D, or M, or X) as to how you will be able to cover the expense for the computers.
I’m looking forward to a great 2017 DLT season this year! Can’t wait to see what changes this year (and administration) brings! Wishing you great success in your DLT adventures.
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC
Corporate relations is an essential part of any development office and typically falls into two categories: corporate grants, and sponsorship gifts. Depending on the company you’re working with, one gift could be coming from multiple budgets within the organization. Below are a couple of helpful tips to keep in mind when preparing that next corporate sponsorship visit.
1. Do you know what you’re selling?
Having a comprehensive catalog of available options not only helps your potential donor visualize the many options available, but it also helps keep your office in order. If you are new to the team, or bringing a new member on, having an established catalog will be an invaluable tool for their training. This doesn’t have to be a flashy piece, but you should have some list of the available options ranging from special events, workshops, spaces, programs, etc. If you’ve not gone through this process before, you might surprise yourself with just how many opportunities are available, or conversely, what you’re missing to round out your sponsorship portfolio.
Don’t have a catalog? Here are a few tips to get you started: what it is (the event or thing), price range, date(s) of the program/event if applicable, recognition offered, and sponsor benefits and the fair market value (or non-deductible) portion of the gift if applicable.
2. Do your research
I know I am most likely preaching to the choir on this one, but even if you’re asking a long-time sponsor for a meeting, do a quick check of their website. What are the supporting right now? Have they changed focus? Let’s face it, the reason we’re always on the lookout for new sponsors (in addition to raising additional funds for our organizations) is because corporations change focus, board members change, and inevitably budgets change. It is better to go into a meeting knowing a sponsor may have to trim their support this year and have some fantastic options to choose from, then to learn about it during a meeting and not have back up options prepared.
3. Corporations are people too
In other words, while there are differences in how you approach and steward individual vs. corporate donors, remember – they are still donors. How you steward your corporate donors, barring corporate changes in focus, will ultimately determine how involved they will be with your non-profit. Corporations can be great partners for bringing in more than just dollars, they are a perfect place to recruit volunteers and committee members.
4. Be mindful of increased prices
I worked with a group once who thought they should automatically ask for a 3% increase in sponsorship every year from their corporate donors. Personally, I think that is one of the quickest ways to ruin a great relationship with a corporate partner. Be sure to ask for increases when they are warranted, but keep in mind that organizational budgets change and if you’re always asking for more, it will give the impression to your donor that you’re in a one-sided relationship.
Thinking back to #2 on our list, if you come prepared knowing that increasing a sponsorship isn’t likely with a sponsor, but bring options that can still fit (most) of their needs, this will let them know you’re in this relationship for the long-term. It’s also good stewardship.
5. How flexible are you?
Flexibility can mean many things, and here I am specifically referring to your catalog of options and the go/no-go areas for your organization. If a sponsor wanted to increase their gift, but wanted to have a sign at your front entrance showcasing them as a sponsor, would you do it? If someone wanted to increase their gift, but needs an extra table to your sold out gala, do you give it? You’ll never have all the answers up front, but when it comes to spaces or programs, know where and when you’re comfortable putting names or logos (and know which one you prefer). This might be a good conversation to have with your CEO to get their thoughts about logo/name placement at your site if this isn’t a conversation you’ve had before.
6. Say thank you & follow-up
I am sure this goes without saying, but remember to THANK YOUR DONORS! In addition to their initial thank you letter, I often prepare a year-end thank you letter for my corporate donors to highlight all the ways they’ve helped my organization this past year, with pictures and quotes whenever possible. It reminds them about all the benefits they’ve received, the impact their funding created, and provides a great chance to set up a meeting for the new year. Also, as you set up tours and lunches with your individual donors, be sure to include your corporate decision makers (and their families if appropriate) into this schedule – it could pay off!
Best of Luck,
Amy Lazoff is an Associate with SNF Writing Solutions, LLC
Most of the time, grants are performance-based financial vehicles. You have to do something in order to get paid. In growing numbers, funders are also looking to how well you do that something. So why are organizations still viewing grant management as a finance function?
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a financial aspect to grants management. Someone, hopefully with expertise in accounting, must manage the coffers. There are many regulations and nuances to managing the dollars and cents of a grant award that cannot be ignored.
That said, there is more to grant management than just the money. Just ask any grant program manager how much time is spent on managing the budget versus everything else that has to be accomplished.
Think of your program accountant. What do they do? How do they interact with others? Would you have them be the face of your organization? Would you rely on them to deliver an eloquent message as to the status of a not-performing-as-you-expected program?
If you answered yes, I want the name of your accountant!
No offense meant to any accountant. The reason there are stereotypes is largely because there’s some truth to the description.
The biggest responsibility in grant management is establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with your funder. They not only hold the checkbook, but they are also an investor in your program/organization. They buy-in to your success. You have to demonstrate that you are competent to deliver as well as committed to the mission. This takes a good communicator with impeccable interpersonal skills and a high degree of savvy in message delivery. Yes, schmoozing!
In general, schmoozing is not in the finance department repertoire.
So yes, you have to show how you spent the money. But, is that what funders are really looking for? Not in my experience.
Funders are looking for outcomes that are mission focused and relevant to the advancement of a program and an organization as a whole. Measures in new learning, a shift in attitude or perception, skill advancement are sought. These metrics are evaluated based on data captured in the implementation of the program, not in the ledger of debits and credits.
Let a group of toddlers out into the backyard and tell them they have promise they will only take 10 minutes to play and they must come back in to tell you what they did. How many toddlers will come back in 10 minutes? How many will you have to round up, capture, entice, bribe, chase, hogtie to come back in? How many will be able to say what they did?
Yep! the life of a grant manager when it comes to workplan and timeline management and reporting.
The finance department is probably used to this phenomenon when tracking down invoices or getting approvals. Are they equipped to do this for all of the grant deliverables?
Not usually. There are multiple milestones, reports, and metrics to track and analyze. Any deviation from what was committed to in the proposal requires advance permission from the funder (see #1 above!). This takes a true project management mindset with the budget only being one element of the commitment that needs to be kept.
From the initial search to identify a potential funder through close-out of the grant, the entire grant cycle is about meeting the funder’s mission with a project or program that is furthering the organizational mission. This mission-centric cycle can only be achieved through strategic alignment and intentional delivery. While financial considerations are a part of this pursuit, they are just that – a part – of a bigger whole. Financal considerations alone cannot deliver on mission-focused activities.
Make a list of all of the components of your grant-funded program. All of the pieces.
In my experience, you will see that a grant program has at minimum:
Looking at that list, you can extrapolate that each element could be construed as the responsibility of a different organizational department:
Each element is critical to the success of the grant-funded program. Successful grant management requires one point of contact to orchestrate all of these elements. That’s not the role of an accountant!
Where the grant operation should live is a debatable subject. Some say there shouldn’t be centralized grant operations, that individual departments can handle it all. Others (my camp) say that grant operations need a central hub. Any one of the organizational departments would work. Some entities have grants sections in finance, some in legal, some in marketing, some in the President’s suite, others in a special projects office. The grant office needs be placed where it can thrive to meet the multi-faceted demands of grant management.
My opinion: It is easier to coordinate (wrangle? herd?) equals than superiors. Reporting directly to the highest leadership position will poise the grant function to serve the organization in strategically sourcing funds and managing all aspects required of grant management. This would then require the grant office leader to be an equivalent to the finance department leader, not subservient to the finance leader. With access and equal communication to the department heads, the grant office leadership is empowered to deliver the best service to the organization and funders.
That’s what we all want, right? The best outcomes for the organization and the funder!
Stacy Fitzsimmons is the Founder and CEO of SNF Writing Solutions, LLC
If you are a seasoned development professional a lot of what you’ll do this year is natural to you, you do it every year, you know what goals you need to hit. Even if you are a 1-person development office and your boss and board are exactly the same as last year, there is still merit in putting your plan on paper. It doesn’t have to have an accompanying narrative, it can look similar to a GANTT chart, showcasing the major tasks, when they happen and your goals. Even a document as simple as this would be extremely beneficial to your boss or board should you unexpectedly have to take leave, or get hit by the proverbial bus.
Think of it like an evaluation plan. While you may have just rolled your eyes after reading those words, your development plan, at its core, is a type of evaluation plan. It lays out your tasks, your outputs, outcomes, and goals. If you are in a situation where you feel like your board doesn’t quite get what you spend your time doing, or you are gearing up to ask for an additional staff member for your department, your development plan could be your key to showing what you’re currently spending your time on, and the results you’re experiencing. This is part of your case statement for going after additional resources if you can show an increased ROI with some additional investment. Bonus: when you get that new staff member, your plan will serve as a great on-boarding tool!
This will dictate much of how you structure your plan and how detailed it will be. Is this plan just for your team? If so, are they new to the field, or seasoned professionals? Is this plan for your leader or board? If so, how much do they know (or want to know) about the pieces and parts of what you do throughout the year?
So, thinking about your answers from questions #1 and #2, let’s think about the major pieces that should be in your plan…
Personally, I have two major buckets I build my plan toward – my unrestricted dollar (greatest need) goal and then my goal/projection for funds raised toward my current capital campaign.
Even if your major ask phase of your capital campaign is over and you are primarily concerned with making sure pledge payments are coming in, there is still work there on sending reminders and stewarding those donors so they continue to pay their pledges – don’t let folks forget that!
Now, highlight the major factors of what you’ll do to hit those budget goals. Make your high-level to-do list for the budget period.
Consider using lead measures and lag measures.
If you have a new team, or really want to let your board have a deep dive into what you do, detail the lead measures (the calls, the lunches, the number of proposals you want to write, etc.) that will lead to the lag measures – the dollars that show up. We know these things don’t magically happen, so talk about it.
Lead measures can also include mini-goals within your plan, such as securing 6 new corporate sponsors, 2 new foundation funders, or having X% of donors increase their giving over last year. If you put it out there, you have something to measure against. This also shows that you’re thinking of way and have small goals for increasing your donor base.
I’ve had some interesting chats with colleagues about where and how to put donor stewardship activities into development plans. If you’re lucky enough to have a staff member dedicated to stewardship, they are most likely stewarding donors based on the buckets you outlined above. So, if possible, divide up those pieces and talk about them within those buckets – what did you do with your direct mail folks, or event attendees, foundation funders, or capital campaign donors? If this is difficult, the beauty of there being no one single development plan template means you can talk about these activities as a whole, and how they should influence the various goals.
Look at your progress toward your goals. Depending on your revenue mix, you will most likely have months with high dollar goals and some with lower goals based on when you’d expect grants to come in, or when special events are held, or direct mail is sent. But looking at your progress quarterly will allow you to make course corrections if needed, or to content with the fact that everything is on track.
Create your year-end wrap up. If you’ve been monitoring your progress toward goals throughout the year, most of your work is done. But a Year-End Wrap-up is a great piece to show your leader or board, you can explain any deviations and what you tried to do to fix them (if things were below goal) as well as what made the last year so successful (if you were above goal). It certainly looks better to your board or leader if you can explain it, than to be surprised at the end of the year and say, “I don’t know why….” Even if there is no smoking gun, you have a hunch, don’t you? Sure you do!
Our field and what we know about grants and donor behavior is always changing and you’ll want your plan to keep up with the times. However, try to make sure you’re looking at year-over-year progress toward goals, don’t just throw the old measures out. If you need to tweak them or calculate them differently, do so, but denote this in your plan. This will help keep your team on the same page about “how” you are measuring things, and will reassure your leader or board that you’re keeping an eagle eye on trends over time, even if the “how” it is being measured changes. An * and an explanation will usually do the trick!