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This is the third in our series of posts about evaluation and how you are can be evaluating your success to increase your grant seeking success and reporting on your grant-funded work. If you missed the first posts, don’t miss reading What’s In Your Evaluation Toolbox and Gathering Evaluation Data.

 

One of the great joys of doing evaluation work with nonprofits is having an opportunity to let staff, volunteers, and board members know what people of think of them. It’s often a wonderful time to let people who are very humble, who do amazing work with little positive feedback know the impact they are having on their clients and their community. Here are four different ways to help tell your organization’s story through evaluation data.

4 Questions to Help Determine What Makes Your Organization Special

 

1. What are your demographics and how does your organization stand out? I find Data USA (datausa.io) to be a great tool when developing a needs statement or a narrative about the community that an organization serves. Data USA uses census data to create a city/county/state profiles. There is also a comparison option so that you can do a compare and contrast search to see how you fare in relation to your neighboring county/state demographic/national demographic data. The infographics make the site user-friendly and the data is clear, concise and can be readily used for grants and other reports.

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09 Feb 2018

Gathering Evaluation Data

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In case you missed the first post in our month of evaluation focused blog posts, you can catch up on What’s in your Evaluation Toolbox.

 

When done well, evaluation data tells the story of your organization. It informs clients and other key stakeholders of your accomplishment, your goals and how you are making meaningful change with your work. I hear a lot of non-profit practitioners say “how can you measure social change” or “our work can’t be summarized by an outcome model” and while it’s true that it can be challenging to put metrics on difficult social issues such as prevention services and long-term care, it can and should be done. If you have the appropriate tools in place you can take many of the anecdotal stories of change that you hear in your lobby, a board meeting, or after an effective program you’ve run and use this information for evaluation activities.

You’ll first want to figure out how to frame your evaluation instruments and I suggest using the following questions to begin generating the evaluation tools to collect your data:

  • What do we want to learn from our evaluation work?
  • How can this inform our decision-making process?
  • What do we want to learn from key stakeholders (clients, alumni, funders, collaborators)? What questions do we want to pose to them?
  • Do any of our current, or potential, funders have evaluation requirements that we need to consider as we develop an evaluation plan?

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03 Feb 2018

What’s in Your Evaluation Toolbox?

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*Note from Diane: When I am presenting webinars or in-person workshops, the resounding answer to the question I always ask “What is the part of the application you are most stressed about or you think could be improved the most?” is always EVALUATION! So in response to that overwhelming response, we are doing a full month of evaluation focused blog posts from colleague Amy Bonn. 

 

I live in an area where winter weather can be fickle and you can be stranded without power so it’s best to be prepared with a box of emergency supplies. Our box contains emergency essentials like bottled water, batteries and candles but it also has things that are important to our family: a pack of Uno cards, hot chocolate and a bottle of Dinosaur Barbecue’s Wango Tango Sauce (when the power goes off our neighborhood turns the barbecues on and we have some epic meals). If an evaluator was called in to assess the entirety of our box, they’d probably get a good sense as to who our family was and how we interacted with each other. I think they’d say something like “This family unit of four is prepared to take care of themselves and their array of animals for at least three days. From the contents of the box, it appears they are engaged in communal meals that while not nutritionally balanced, will suffice. The addition of games and other distractions indicate an ability to survive a stressful time.”

Setting up an evaluation plan (evaluation toolbox) for your organization is very similar to determining what goes into your emergency box. What is essential to your organization, what makes you special and what information/technical assistance do you need to complete your box. Before you fill up your evaluation toolbox, there are three questions you and your staff will want to consider.

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The first grant proposal that I ever wrote was a request for a few thousand dollars to fund the creation of a public mural on the side of a building. Without any work experience in grant writing and eager to write something long and interesting, I filled several pages with a flowing narrative about the importance of public art, complete with big words and citations. Needless to say, that was not the draft that got submitted. (Thankfully, the revised version was funded.)

In college, I was praised for being a good writer, and nothing made me happier than lengthy writing assignments. A ten-page term paper that must reach the bottom of the last page? Can’t wait to start! Bring on the flowing narrative, big words, and citations. Like surely many others in the grant development field, landing a job as a grant writer initially felt like an opportunity to revisit the good old days of writing long papers in which demonstration of academic writing skills was as important as demonstration of subject matter knowledge and that you could find information in places other than Wikipedia. After all, that is what “good writers” do.

Wrong.

A good writer knows their audience and the purpose of their piece. The purpose of a grant proposal is to request money to do something. While a grant reviewer for an agency that funds art projects still needs to be convinced that you have subject matter knowledge (among other things), they already know the value of public art, and with a stack of proposals to read and their coffee half gone, they’re probably not interested in reading your beautiful flowing narrative with big words and citations demonstrating what a good writer you are.

Sorry.

The reviewer is interested in evaluating your project and your organization against the funder’s criteria for grantmaking, which are provided in the RFP in the form of questions to answer or points to address in your narrative. Bonus points if you can find criteria or trends beyond what is given in the RFP. The reviewer doesn’t want a Pulitzer Prize worthy work of nonfiction about your community. They may not even read it word for word. The reviewer wants you to answer the funder’s questions. They want to be able to easily understand who you are and what you are proposing to do, and be excited about giving you the money to do it. The reviewer wants to finish evaluating your proposal before their coffee gets cold, and helping the reviewer have a better morning is never a bad thing.

So how is this done?

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Indeed, we are doing things a bit backward here – it is OUR anniversary, but YOU the grant writer/grant professional that we are honored to call colleagues are going to get the gifts!

But first I paused to ask myself, “Where has the time gone?” 12 years ago, I started a business with the idea that my background as a Program Officer and then my experience as a staff grant writer for a large organization would be a great combination to help build grant seeking in nonprofits.

Now, 12 years later, looking back on what has changed in our field, is the answer “A LOT!” fair?

Top 5 Things That I LOVE About What Has Changed in Our Grant Seeking World

  1. Online applications. Roll our eyes as we may at the character and word counts that are sometimes too small for our liking, online applications (especially, our team favorite, Foundant!) have made our field more efficient for everyone – the writers, the grantmaking staff, and the reviewing volunteers and board members. Yes, FedEx and UPS lost some overnight shipping business, but the stress level of hundreds of grant professionals is better as a result of this advancement.
  2. Google DriveWe no longer have to send narratives back and forth as attachments in email, worrying about who has the most recent draft and trying to merge tracked changes from multiple colleagues into one document. It is live. All. The. Time. All grant team members can always see the latest version and weigh in with a suggested edit or comment. Life changing!
  3. CanvaWhat did we do to create so many awesome images for grant applications and grant reports before Canva? No clue. I’m not graphically creative (just ask my team!), and no, we aren’t affiliates for Canva, but having this tool available for free to nonprofits is fabulous.
  4. GrammarlyGrant professionals are fast typers. We have to be. And sometimes our fast fingers make a mistake, and it isn’t until we click submit or send that we realize that there was a typo in the online form or body of the email. Grammary (again, not an affiliate, just a huge fan!) took this worry away, even with “just” the free version. Now the visual cue in the online forms/email just as we are used to in the Word documents and Outlook email systems helps us pause to ensure that we are sending the funder says that “we are appreciative and not that “we are appreciate”. True story. (And for the record, that last phrase is in red as I type this blog post as Grammarly is desperately trying to tell me I made a mistake.)
  5. But the big one? Grant Professionals. That is right, not grant writers, rather grant professionals. Whether a Grant Professional Certified or not, grant professionals are advancing our field by leaps and bounds each year. Holding each other accountable to our ethical standards through the Grant Professionals Association. Working with grantmaker’s for stronger transparency. Working with nonprofit organizations to strive for strong outcomes and to share those results with all of their stakeholders.

Now on to the gifts!

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