A Strategic Guide to Grant Writing

Posted on January 28, 2015. Filed under: Assessment, Evaluation, grant writing, grants, strategic planning | Tags: , , , , , |

It’s grant writing season, and with the economy still in recovery, proposal development remains one of the best ways to initiate new programs and to sustain your organization’s activities. But before you plan that brainstorming session where ideas will flow freely, here are a few strategic guidelines that may add some focus to your efforts: A vision, mission, or strategic plan is a good starting point. Identify funding gaps and overlaps in your strategic plan goals and objectives. A more thorough evaluation and re-assessment of where resources are already being applied, and where they are lacking is useful. Questions include:

  • Are there expressed or implied priorities among the goals?
  • Are there goals that are (or can be) adequately addressed through current policies, procedures, initiatives? By way of budgetary changes? By way of other fundraising efforts?
  • Are there goals that can only be met through outside funding?

Research a variety of public and private funding opportunities, especially regional or local foundations. The latter will likely require that monies be spent in close proximity, where the results of your efforts can be witnessed first-hand. For federal funding, is an excellent resource. A simple Google search beginning with “grants for…” is also a good idea. Remember to consider your organization’s history of proposal-writing efforts or prior awards as well as the grantor’s history. An evaluation and re-assessment of what is available is warranted. Questions include:

  • Is this a new or previously existing source of funding?
  • Is there a precedent for granting awards to similar agencies?
  • Has your agency received prior funding? Have you submitted an unfunded proposal, and if so, is a re-submittal warranted?

Gain a thorough understanding of all proposal and award guidelines. Consider not only the amount and length of the award, but other factors as well. Questions include:

  • Are there conditions for receiving funding?
  • Is the grant renewable or continuing?
  • Will funding be available over the duration of the proposed project or is there a “contingent upon” clause?
  • Is any matching required?
  • Is collaboration or partnership encouraged?
  • Is there an expectation for sustainability after the grant period? If so, how will your organization absorb this cost over time?

Lastly, align organizational priorities with the mission and priorities of the funding agency. Ask not what the grantor can do for you, but what you can do for the grantor. It may be a harsh reality, but your great idea is not about you or even your cause – it’s about their purpose. Questions include:

  • Is there a noticeable trend in the types of recent awards granted by the agency or foundation?
  • Does the RFP or solicitation contain clearly-stated priorities? Are there points awarded in scoring for addressing these priorities?
  • Is there a preferred target group or population to be served?

With these tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared to write a successfully funded proposal. Happy hunting and Good Luck!

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Free-agency in the Workplace: Using Employee Data to Assess Flight Risk

Posted on December 8, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, employee retention | Tags: , , |

We all know them – the colleague who’s slowly circling the drain, but won’t budge despite repeated signs that s(he) might need to move on, and the highly-valued top performer who blindsides us with a resignation when “we thought they were happy.” Truth be known, there are many reasons why employees choose to stay, and perhaps even more reasons for switching jobs. With respect to the latter, understanding the cost of free-agency (the impact on an organization of losing an employee) is imperative. While everyone who exits won’t represent a huge loss, the departure of a key “player” should raise some important questions:

  • How much will it cost to replace them?
  • How long will it take to replace them?
  • How much training will be involved in finding a replacement?
  • Will other employees be expected to take on additional responsibilities?
  • Will morale decrease among remaining staff?
  • Will other employees begin to look for work too?

To avoid surprises, a whole science of algorithmic or predictive modeling, complete with software to assess an employee’s flight risk has emerged. Aside from using an array of variables and weights, and some fairly complex computations, there are many readily available sources of data that can help determine if you’ll be receiving more resignation letters.

One of the best ways to find out if employees will leave is to analyze why others have left.  You can begin this process at the end, ironically, with a well-designed exit interview or survey. While employees are sometimes fearful that they can’t speak candidly while still on the job, when they leave a company it presents one of the best opportunities to solicit unfiltered feedback. It’s important to put comments into context, but there is likely to be value in what is disclosed. A simple checklist can point out some major “pain points” such as non-competitive pay, benefits, commute time, or lack of opportunity for advancement and promotion. By developing a short list of the most frequent reasons why employees leave, an organization can then develop a plan of action to address concerns. Digging a little deeper may also disclose some interesting trends and patterns. For example:

  • Are there differences across departments, divisions, etc. in the organization?
  • Are there positions with exceptionally high turnover?
  • Do employees leave at about the same point in their time with the company?

There is also value in analyzing some internal employee demographics. For instance, identifying long-time employees who have consistently received high performance appraisals, but who have not been promoted, received bonuses, or received recognition for their accomplishments should signal a red flag.  If similar employees have cited a failure to acknowledge their contributions on the way out, this may be an opportunity to be more proactive. And, although there may be limited monetary resources, an opportunity to work-from-home on Mondays, for example, could be a tangible and inexpensive reward for work well-done.

A company should also be proactive in its approach with under-achievers. Why not focus on improving the ROI for those who received poor performance appraisals by offering training, placing them with a mentor, or by reassigning workload? In the long-run, savvy use of consistently collected measures can help to quantify issues. This, combined with other employee data, can better ensure talent managers develop their workforce and keep stars out of free-agency.


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The Tale of the Tape: What Gets Measured, Gets Done

Posted on December 1, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, Evaluation, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Imagine for a moment that you set a goal to lose some weight. Assuming that you even needed to shed a few pounds (more on this in a moment), you’d probably weigh yourself to determine a starting point, and choose a weight-loss goal for yourself to reach within a certain period of time. For the sake of example, let’s say that you plan to loose 20 pounds in 12 months. Now suppose that you had no plan in place for achieving your weight-loss target (such as a change in diet or more exercise). Then imagine that after the initial weigh-in, you went the entire year without getting on the scale to gage your progress.  Sounds impractical, right? But that’s exactly what takes place in many organizations from year to year, with no real movement toward achieving goals.

You’ll remember that in our scenario, we set out to loose 20 pounds over the course of a year. At face value, this seems very reasonable. As a personal goal, it may have resulted from a physician’s recommendation, or we may be looking to improve our health, lifestyle, or appearance. It would be very unlikely, however, that our doctor would recommend that every patient lose 20 pounds. And, it would be equally unlikely for every patient to want (or need) to lose that amount. This is true in business as well, where annual goals should emerge from clearly defined directives or organizational-specific needs, rather than from perceived trends or guess-work. Not every workplace will need to set yearly goals for diversity, engagement, or client satisfaction. However, a few key questions prior to goal-setting should include:

  • Is the goal consistent with an organizational vision or mission?
  • Has a Board directive identified the goal as a priority?
  • Is there data to support the scope and nature of the goal?
  • How will success be defined?

Assuming the goal is a step in the right direction, a plan should then include periodic checkpoints to measure progress. This is an opportunity to conduct a formative assessment in order to determine if adjustments to the strategies for achieving a goal need to be made. At this point, it may be time to refine the plan, but not the goal.

At the end of the time allotted to achieve the goal, a summative assessment is conducted. This will measure the extent to which the goal was achieved. Returning to the weight-loss plan, we can claim success if 20 or more pounds were lost, and we can set a new goal to lose more next year, or to maintain last year’s target weight. However, we can still find value in the process if we fell short of the goal. This value exists in knowing where we want to be, how we plan to get there (following some adjustments), and how we’ll eventually know when we’re “done.”

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Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking Skills

Posted on November 15, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Evaluation | Tags: , , |

crit·i·cal think·ing (Oxford Dictionary)


  1. the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

It requires examination of evidence involved in supporting a particular decision or conclusion. Nearly everyone is promoting critical thinking, but there is growing concern that the term is overused, often misunderstood, and in danger of becoming cliché. So what specifically are critical thinking skills? They are the higher-order attributes used in deciphering information, rather than simply absorbing it: analyzing, synthesizing, interpreting, explaining, evaluating, generalizing, abstracting, illustrating, applying, comparing, and recognizing logical fallacies. (Gabennesch, 2006).

As schools focus more on what students can do as opposed to core knowledge, critical thinking is helping to transform higher education. Faculty often find it difficult to nurture and measure critical thinking skills among their students, and feel increasing pressure to monitor learning outcomes that both companies and graduate schools consider essential. As such, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) developed VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education), a series of rubric-based assessments designed to gage authentic work produced across diverse learning pathways and institutions. In addition to standards such as writing, and oral communication, the critical thinking rubric better ensures that undergraduates are prepared for life after college. Since 2010, AAC&U asserts the VALUE rubrics have been viewed at more than fifty-six hundred discrete institutions, including schools, higher education associations, and more than thirty-three hundred colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. Companies place high value in these skills for all employees.

Critical thinking skills have been traditionally sought-after professional characteristics for employees with high-level responsibilities and authority, but organizations now look for them in entry-level hires. It is no secret that organizations that attract, keep and develop critical thinking skills among employees are more innovative and enjoy a competitive advantage. In the workplace, critical thinking:

  • encourages paradigm shifts,
  • promotes new ideas,
  • builds cohesiveness among teams,
  • develops solutions that are translatable; and
  • often results in more than one viable solution to a problem.

For human resources professionals, this means that critical thinking skills play an increasingly more important role in organizations from recruitment and hiring to employee relations, policy and procedure, work processes, performance appraisal, and professional development. Does your organization:

  • Include critical thinking questions or tasks in interviewing candidates?
  • Assess critical thinking skills in current employees?
  • Include desired critical thinking skills in performance evaluations?
  • Offer training that fosters development of critical thinking skills?

Learn more about how HR4non-profits can assist.

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To Thy Own Selfie Be True

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Assessment, Data, Evaluation, SWOT | Tags: , , , |

Among this year’s ABC fall line-up of shows is Selfie. In short, it’s an “opposites attract” romantic comedy about a bullied teenager who revamps herself for adulthood through excessive use of social media. When this affects her career path, she turns to a fellow marketing firm colleague to help repair her workplace image. She’s always inappropriate – from office attire to her pre-occupation with her smart-phone, in full view of the boss during team meetings. But in her defense, she’s done one thing right. OK, two. She has recognized that change needs to occur, and she’s consulted with an objective change agent.

In our lives, we too are inundated with the selfie. In fact, an estimated 350 million images, mostly of us, are uploaded to facebook every day. And that only includes those that survive our personal scrutiny. When we post pics, we wait patiently for friends and family to “like” them too. If they’re unflattering, out of focus, or don’t depict what we intend to show, we simply delete them. But isn’t it often the same in our professional lives? It’s far easier to ignore or downplay a recognized challenge or business concern than it is to confront it directly. We bury the truth in the board report, artfully skirt questions about it, or minimize the importance it. We press our imaginary delete key and hope it will go away. It won’t. And often, it will require some form of outside intervention to promote change. Does your business selfie show:

  • a pattern of revenue loss?
  • a decrease in customer or client base?
  • a low level of employee or customer satisfaction?
  • a loss in productivity?
  • a need for improved effectiveness or efficiency?
  • a need for improved policies or procedures?
  • a need for employee training?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may see in your selfie an opportunity for change rather than an insurmountable threat. You are to be congratulated! We invite you to explore our website to learn how we can assist your organization in taking the next step.

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