We just celebrated the 4th of July and our nation’s independence. Independence can be a great thing, right? We want to be able to function independently as professionals, organizations, and we want our children to grow up to become independent as well.

However, when does independence become a detriment to success? When do we need partners to maintain, grow and innovate our organizations and programs?

  1. We can share staff with one another, especially at co-located sites or multi-use facilities.
  2. We can share expertise with one another through training or materials.
  3. We can leverage in-kind resources with one another, including technology, space, furniture or other equipment.
  4. We can go after funding together through collaborative applications. Funders love to see collaborative proposals as this showcases greater impact!
  5. We can think about our collective impact. Are there issues or challenges we are each trying to solve? How do our services complement each other?

How can you work well with others? It’s not just a rule for children….

There are buzzwords that pop up every few years and that become part of the nonprofit/public sector lexicon. Evaluation. Evidence-based. Scalable model. Innovation. Innovation is an interesting word because it could mean so many different things. What makes a program or organization innovative? There is no common standard and should organizations be scrambling to do something innovative vs. what has been successful in the past? Let’s think about some do’s and don’ts concerning innovation and what should be considered when applying for funding or thinking about marketing your program(s) or organization.

Let’s think about the definition we want to use regarding innovation. How about this one from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Innovation is the introduction of something new or a new idea, method, or device: novelty. The operative word here is “new” so think about that in the context of your own work.

Do:

1) Outline your key differentiators. This exercise is helpful not just for grant writing, but organizational assessments and strategic planning. What makes your organization successful (or not successful)?

2) Determine if there are new approaches to being successful. Innovation does not have to be something trending now in the sector but could be a successful practice to be adopted by your organization.

3) Gather evidence. Have you reviewed the data that you have available to determine if you need to become more innovative? What about lessons learned? Do you need additional resources in order to have more impactful results?

 

Don’t:

1) Change a successful path. If you are a tried and true housing organization and that is what works, stick to that. Don’t change for the sake of changing unless your results do not match your efforts.

2) Move forward without a plan. Think before you start working on a new program – are you using evidence-based practices? Does this align with your mission? If you do pursue a different path, this can take years so map out a strategy and ensure buy-in from leadership and staff.

3) Use buzzwords that have no meaning. A truly innovative program or project may take your organization down a different path. Are you ready to make a change? Are you using the word “innovation” just because it sounds good?

True innovation will lead to longstanding changes in your community. Don’t confuse impact and innovation – these two terms are mutually exclusive (but can overlap).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 2.9 million students will be awarded associate’s and bachelors degree’s during the 2017-2018 school calendar year (more if you include graduate students). This is a time for celebration as these individuals have achieved a significant milestone. However, given the challenges that many people face entering a new workforce, the transition can be challenging (even for those who have significant work experience in unrelated fields). For those interested in public sector work, how can we pay it forward and help them contribute to meaningful work in this field?

Mentoring them. Take time to get to know someone new in your office, a friend’s child/sibling or your own relative. Are you asking them questions and offering advice of how to best position themselves for success? Are you providing them with useful resources where they can gather more information? How about connecting them to someone with potential job leads? This can be the beginning of a longer-term friendship/relationship.

Training them. What may appear to you as easy and rote, might be daunting and scary to someone unfamiliar with how to complete certain tasks. Perhaps using a step-by-step approach and taking time solicit feedback will pay back in spades.

Supporting them. Are you listening to their concerns? Are you trying to gain feedback to help create new efficiencies with your own work? Your support can provide the morale booster needed for them to take chances and make strides with tasks that were previously perceived as difficult.

What are you doing to help the next generation of leaders? Your skills, insights and experiences are invaluable and everyone has something to contribute. Try to extend a hand to someone – it could mean the world to someone where opportunities are less available to them.

McDonald’s was my favorite restaurant as a kid. I loved the French fries, burgers and getting a toy with my meal. I even had my birthday party at one location when I was eight (my friends and I enjoyed the play area). While my tastes have changed as I have gotten older, I always know what to expect at a McDonald’s and the same is probably true for most chain restaurants. What is it about the McDonald’s model that is important for us to consider in our own work?

  1. Quality vs. Quantity – McDonald’s prides itself on reaching a mass audience and producing the same quality of food each time. As you write grants, are you producing high quality grants each time or are you churning out proposals? Is there a way to improve quality while not sacrificing too much quantity (especially if you have growth goals)?
  2. Fast moving deadlines – Grant writing comes in waves and sometimes there are busy periods in your work. Are you able to keep the line of grants moving? Are there tools that you need to make your work more efficient or other resources to help you during busy periods? Perhaps map out your fiscal year and see how you should build in those requests in advance (if prior approval is needed).
  3. Customer service – Are you reaching out to current and prospective funders concerning your work? How are you engaging folks in what you do and making sure that their needs are met? Your board members and front-line staff can offer that much needed buffer in providing service with a smile to help you with your work.
  4. Using the drive thru – Are there ways to bypass certain bureaucracies in order to maintain focus on certain deadlines? Advanced notice always helps, as this can help alleviate burdens when trying to meet a fast-moving deadline.
  5. Will there be repeat customers? Your goal should always be renewal funding each year. Making sure that they are satisfied with how you have used their funds and engaging them throughout the year will help maximize your chances of renewal funding.

Will you be eating at a McDonald’s anytime soon? Save a French fry for me – they are still my favorite item on the menu!

For those who work in deadline driven environments, we are constantly trying to outpace our deadlines. There are so many factors that can impact our ability to complete high quality deliverables on time, within budget and meeting specific standards. Contrary to the Rolling Stones, time is not always on our side. So, what do we do when we don’t have the luxury of time?

 

 

  1. Phone a friend – is there an ally or resource who can support you in completing the work? Also, this person can help with final copy editing and preparation of materials.
  2. Checklist – have you prepared a list of all the items that you need to complete and whether you have access to the materials or need to gather them from other resources?
  3. Reuse and recycle – do you have materials that you can leverage from other documents that have been prepared? There is no need to reinvent the wheel if you have clean content.
  4. Version control – use a document sharing system to ensure you have access to the latest materials so there are no issues when completing the final version.

While this may not help you for this particular effort, make sure you include a reminder when planning for upcoming fiscal year activities. It may save you time in the future. Best of luck in trying to beat the clock!

My daughter loves wearing different costumes (and not just for Halloween). She loves pretending to be a doctor, firefighter, princess, fairy, butterfly and even a mommy. This is why I think adults like Halloween too – you can pretend to be something you’re not (at least for one day) and get away with it! It is fun to step outside of your own skin and live in a fantasy world. However, I think that this becomes problematic when we try to fantasize our professional world. What I mean is that nonprofit organizations can sometimes embellish the truth in order to garner favor (more shares on Twitter), additional funding or supporters of the organization. However, this can sometimes lead an organization down the wrong path. Your organization’s case statement (essentially, your statement of need and projected impact) should be routed in the truth. Why? Let’s outline some reasons.

  1. Needs are articulated. Have you determined why you need to seek funding for your organization/programs? Do you have dollars associated with these needs? Can you also clarify how you will measure the impact of funding against meeting these needs?
  2. Do not overpromise. A strong case statement will speak to your organization’s current capacity and capabilities, as well as providing information about future planning to show you are forward thinking in your strategic planning efforts. If you start to focus on too many high-level initiatives that are contingent on resources, funding, space, etc. these new initiatives may not happen and can fuel confusion about whether people can trust that you can meet expectations.
  3. Careful plan based on thorough assessment. Sometimes an organization’s needs are based on needs that have been articulated since inception. Has an updated needs assessment taken place and a fundraising and/or strategic plan been developed that coincides with this assessment?
  4. Outlines your capacity. There is a difference between your current state and future state. As described in #2, it is important to understand your limitations as an organization. Organizational capacity speaks to your ability to have strong internal controls, understanding your target audience and that you have programs that meet the needs of your constituency.
  5. Integrity matters. Most importantly, being true to your organization’s capacity shows that you are honest and forthright. This way, being boastful about your current strengths is more significant than embellishing the truth.

Have you updated your case statement recently (or at least your boilerplate grants and communications language)? Does this speak to your truth and where you are as an organization currently? Remember that Halloween lasts only one day each year – you have to be honest to yourselves, your constituents and funders all 365 days. Honesty and a firm understanding of your organization’s capacity are important qualities!

 

I don’t like being scared, period. I can’t stand horror movies or thrillers. While I can avoid entertainment, I can’t avoid things that scare me in life. There are many unknowns and while we try to be prepared, we can’t always prepare for every scenario. How do we overcome our fears and become better equipped for success?  

  1. Acknowledge that you have fears. Why hide from the things that scare you? Is it death, sickness, job loss? Become aware that the fear exists and give it a name.
  2. Learn how to calm yourself down. How do you try to relax? Is it yoga, music, playing with your dogs and/or kids? What will help put you in a better headspace?
  3. Don’t think too much. I find that when I obsess about an issue/topic, I actually end up making it worse. Meditation is great to overcoming these obsessive thoughts and there are so many free apps that you can find one to help you meditate for even just five minutes.
  4. Find a coping mechanism. What happens if your fear is realized? Are you ready to face it? It helps to find a healthy way to address this so it doesn’t overtake your personal and/or professional life. What are some healthy habits that you can adopt?
  5. Move on. Hopefully, once you cross that bridge you can keep moving forward and not obsess about the next fear.

What are your greatest fears and how can you try to ensure you are mentally and emotionally strong enough to combat them?

On a regular basis, a grant writer is often asked, “What is your success rate?” I realize that from an outsider’s perspective, the success rate can appear to be a measurement of the grant writer’s aptitude and provide a tool to determine return on investment or job performance.  However, I find this question misleading, and here’s why:

  1. Success rate does not provide any understanding of what the funder was thinking. Why was a decision made? Was it the quality of the proposal or something completely outside of the grantee’s control? Was a grantee already designated even before the proposal was received?
  2. Success rate does not indicate the quality of the work. A well written proposal can stand on its own merit, even if it was not funded.
  3. Success rate does not incorporate the work that went into the proposal. A grant writer can spend 1-3 months on a large proposal, which helps enhance the capacity of the organization. If the organization can recommend the grant writer, even without a win, this is a testament to the success of the grant writer.
  4. Success rate does not factor in cultivation. Did the organization actively cultivate this funder? Could that have made a decision in whether or not this proposal was awarded?

This is why I caution anyone to think about viewing success rate as the be all, end all of a grant writer’s capabilities. Other indicators such as writing samples, recommendations, project plans and other tools are integral components in a grant writer’s portfolio. They have equal (if not more weight) than limiting a grant writer to the success rate alone.

When we’re younger, we look up to our parents, teachers and older siblings as they always appear to be in charge. To us they might even seem unstoppable. As we get older we realize that we are infallible and that as adults we try to make the best decisions with what information we have available. What about those who transcend the average adult and become fearless leaders? We know them and they come from all walks of life – CEOs, elected officials, political activists, religious figures and many other superheroes living in our midst. However, what makes them stand out and what is it that we crave from them to help fulfill our lives and make us want to follow their lead?

  1. Integrity: Good leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. They don’t crack under pressure and there is clarity with the message being conveyed. People follow those who they can trust.
  2. Perspective: People’s views change when they overcome adversity and their existing viewpoints are challenged. These insights build character, sensitivity and understanding, which allows you to feel like your own viewpoints are understood.
  3. Courage: Think about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi. They were incredibly courageous just by staying true to their convictions no matter the outcome (including jail and potential violence). While most good leaders may not face these obstacles, they do need to stay true to their convictions despite competing interests, naysayers and other challenges.
  4. Big Picture: Start with the end goal in mind. Good leaders have vision and can articulate this vision so others see it as well.
  5. Listening: Many people think good leaders are known for being wonderful orators and have great power through their strength and command. However, I think strong leadership requires humility and listening when others do not agree with that point of view. This helps build the following and engaging others whose viewpoints are starkly different from your own.

Who are the leaders in your life and what can you learn from them?

Last month I turned 40 – a milestone birthday by most standards. People’s reactions were generally encouraging and positive, but some thought I may end up having a nervous breakdown or midlife crisis. This made me think more about our society and why we put so much pressure on ourselves to stay young. We have face creams, promote plastic surgery and have fashion options tend to skew towards those 35 and younger. Any recruiter will also tell you that older applicants have a more difficult road to finding a new job. I feel strongly that it is important for us to embrace people of all ages and I caution that diminishing the value of those who are older does not serve us very well. Why does age matter?

Here’s my list of top benefits to growing older:

  1. Your life experiences hone your intuition, perspective and ability to think clearly
  2. You know a lot more people than you did when you were 18, or even 25.
  3. You tend to take things less personally and focus more on your needs.
  4. You have a better sense of who you are and what makes you happy.
  5. You are probably less addicted to technology and able to separate from gadgets.
  6. You probably earn more money than you did when you were younger, and thus might have more ability to do things in your leisure time.
  7. You are aware of what you’re good at and also your weaknesses.
  8. You have wisdom that standardized tests can’t capture.

Think about these things the next time you talk to someone older than you (perhaps a different age demographic). You are probably more similar than you think, and you may actually learn a thing or two.