If you follow the Fundraising HayDay podcast and our social media accounts, you know that I am obsessed with the story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Mostly, I’m floored by the number of people who didn’t bother to ask more questions, dig deeper, and demand to see some proof. From an impressive Board of Directors to an incredible lineup of donors, Elizabeth did not lack the resources needed to become one of the youngest female startup billionaires. But while her vision was a lofty one (and arguably well-intentioned), ask any grant professional about the ethics surrounding her goals and objectives, and they’ll tell you the warning signs of calamity were all there.
(Note: If you have no idea what I am talking about, you can learn more by watching the documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, reading the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, listening to the podcast The Dropout, or checking out the Fundraising HayDay episode A Lesson for Nonprofits: The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. The streaming service Hulu also has a docu-drama series, starring Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes, which debuted this month and which I’m currently binging. Told you I was obsessed.)
As grant professionals, we work with our program directors and other staff to develop accurate goals and objectives for our grant proposals. Generally, goals are the overarching purpose behind your work, while objectives are the precise details surrounding the change you hope to see from your program.
Goals are often things like educating children (for K-12 schools), providing a safe community (for cities and counties), feeding the hungry (for foodbanks), saving the whales (an environmental group), or providing compassionate care (for hospitals). They are lofty ambitions – the thing(s) we hope to attain. It’s okay for our goals to be far-reaching, long-term, and even impossible to achieve in our lifetime. In the case of Elizabeth Holmes, her goal was to revolutionize the healthcare industry. So far, so good.
Objectives are when we get to the nitty-gritty. Funders (and in the case of Theranos, investors) expect to see the fruits of our labor. What specific changes will we see due to the project or program we are implementing. Just like a good journalist will tell you to answer the questions “who, what, when, where, why, and how” to write a compelling article, every objective should answer those five questions to show how your program will affect change:
- Who benefits from the program? Be specific. Share how many people and describe them.
- What change are you measuring? Remember to focus on the conditions described in the problem statement and report the planned change in knowledge, attitude, actions, behaviors, or systems.
- When will the change occur? Funders want you to report the change, so make sure the time frame is within the grant period.
- How much change? Yes, math is involved here. Typically, you’re talking about the percentage of people served who show a change due to the program.
- How will you measure the change? What tools will you use? Think surveys, pre and post-tests, data collection, and the like.
So, let’s give a quick example of an objective that answers all five questions. Of the 100 3rd grade students at Grant Elementary School (the who), 80% of the students (how much change) will read at 3rd-grade levels or above (the change) by May of 2022 (the when). This will be measured by end-of-year testing conducted by the five third grade teachers at Grant Elementary School (how it’s measured).
But it’s not enough to write measurable objectives in our grant proposals. Funders expect us to do the work and report back accurately. In the case of the objective example above, that means the organization must conduct their program (as detailed in the grant application), being sure to serve 100 3rd grade students, assessing them at the end of the school year, and reporting back the accurate numbers. Sometimes we exceed expectations, sometimes we hit them on the nose, and other times we fail. But HONESTY is what funders expect. Let’s say our objective was for the 2020-2021 school year, right when the COVID-19 pandemic caused school closures across the land. It’s entirely possible a disruption like that made it impossible even to conduct testing or led to less than stellar reading results. The truth is what it is, and we report it to our funders. And, of course, we explain the extenuating circumstances that led to the inability to meet our original objectives. You can learn more about writing quality goals and objectives in the latest Fundraising HayDay podcast episode here: How To: Goals and Objectives (podbean.com)
If instead of being honest with your coworkers, board, and funders about your program’s inability to meet objectives, you might find yourself either figuratively or literally on trial – with penalties ranging from having to return payment for a grant, being banned from applying for future funding, or spending time in jail. If you are following Elizabeth’s trial, you know prosecutors accused her of telling half-truths, making inaccurate statements, and outright lying about the Theranos technology. A jury found her guilty, and she’s currently awaiting sentencing. So, learn from Elizabeth because no amount of (grant) money is worth that outcome.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 5 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 4 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.