Friday, January 11, 2013

3 Tips for Shrinking Expectations Canyon


Expectations Canyon is that place between a grant writer's expectations for how a project should progress and a client's idea of how a project should progress. Sometimes is as big as the Grand Canyon and other times it's as small as the little holding pond across town from my house, but it's always there. The smaller that gap is, the easier the project will go.

Organizations that hire a grant writer usually have the mistaken belief that they have hired someone to do it all so they don't have to do any more work, which is not the case at all. Grant writers often hold the mistaken belief that every client will assume responsibility for the project and stay involved, providing all the information and support necessary. Can you see the canyon now?

Here are some tips for minimizing the gap:

 Make sure that all roles and responsibilities are in writing.  Don't assume that just because you talked about something that anyone will remember it, especially if it gives them a task.

 Include a timeline in your responsibilities document.  Some tasks can't be completed until other have been completed first. You'll save a lot of time if these are identified right away.

Communicate often.  Even if everything is going well, make sure you touch base frequently to review exactly where you both are on the responsibility list.

If you follow these simple tips, Expectations Canyon will shrink to a manageable size and you'll be walking together toward success.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fighting to Avoid Change

I had an evaluation contract recently to evaluate an organization's safe schools programs. My job was to evaluate the degree to which they were achieving their identified objectives and implementing their program as designed.

The bottom line is that they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing their program as designed. Every time the project director tried to do something she was supposed to do, she was foiled by upper administration. They said they wanted change, but they did everything in their power to stop change. So, the project director stayed busy doing other things - good things - while staying away from any controversy that might affect her job.

Halfway through their 4-year grant period, they were subject to a federal monitoring visit because of a clash between the grant's lead partners and the dysfunctional administration of the grantee (my client). I was asked to share results.  I did. I said they were neither achieving objectives nor implementing the program as designed.

Until that moment, I had no idea how far people would go to cover their tracks and avoid change. The administration rose up and started pointing at all the wonderful things they were doing. I made that the point that those activities were, indeed, wonderful, but they would not do a thing to get them closer to achieving their objectives. I also reminded them that they selected the activities that they put in their grant because they were evidence-based practices that would likely lead to positive changes in the areas targeted by their objectives.

Things got ugly. Soon, fingers started pointing at the evaluation as the culprit.  That perplexed me because the evaluation had no role in implementation at all.  How could it possibly be our fault that they were not doing what they had agreed to do?

But they were persistent and brutal.

They asked for (and were granted) permission to change some of their objectives to say simply that they were successful at doing what they were doing.

Six months later, when it came time to contract for another year, I declined and walked away. Clearly, the administration was more interested in avoiding change than making their schools any safer. I know that sounds harsh, and I know that those administrators would never, ever admit to such a thing.  Maybe they don't even realize what they are doing, but avoiding accountability is avoiding change and fighting to keep the status quo. I couldn't be part of that anymore.

The result?

They hired another evaluator, presumably one who they hope will tell them what they want to hear.

And now, at the end of the grant period, the schools are no safer than they were before the grant was written, nothing has really changed in the infrastructure of the organization that can reasonably be expected to make their schools safer, and there is even more gang activity (and it's more violent) in the community than there was before.

Millions of federal dollars were spent and nothing significant has changed.

Why?

Because it's human nature for people to avoid change and, if their jobs may be affected in any way, they will fight to avoid it. The status quo, the "way things have always been done," is a very powerful force. Clearly, throwing money at it is not the key to change. Don't get me wrong. Financial resources may be necessary for change, but they are not the most important part.

The most important part is buy-in, and not just the buy-in of your collaborative partners, although that is very important.  Often, the buy-in you need most to make anything real happen is on the part of people you didn't even think to bring to the table.

So, as you are thinking about applying for a collaborative grant, ask yourself, "If we get this grant, who could really sabotage our efforts and cause us to fail?" That is who also needs to be at the table from the beginning.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Communication Matters

We're installing some new phone lines at the office.  Actually, we're switching out a bunch of expensive ones for some less expensive analog lines.  Yes, some people are really going back to analog.

Anyway, I started the process last April., and here we are today - 8 months later - with a technician here hooking things up. Hopefully, everything will work properly. Normally, I would assume hat it would, but not this time.  Why?  Because communication has been so bad.

The different technicians only know about their piece of the project and they come from different companies.  The only person who apparently is supposed to know the whole project is a project coordinator who is conveniently unreachable today, the day when everything was supposed to be coming together.

Each technician asks me questions and I have no answers.  Has XYZ happened yet? I don't know. Who's bringing and installing the modem?  I have no clue.

I'm frustrated. Very frustrated.

It hit me a moment ago, though, that I have experienced this exact same feeling before. I have something to accomplish.  It's my responsibility. No one is going to do it for me. But I don't have all the information I need to make it happen.

This is exactly the same frustration I feel in my grant writing world when a client hasn't given me the information I need to complete their proposal. I want to do my job.  I really want to complete my task so I can move on to other things, but I'm stuck. I'm stuck waiting for someone else to do their job. They may not think it's that important, but it's important to me.  It's the one thing standing between me and success.

The lesson from this for me is that communication really does matter. When someone else needs information from me, I need to be mindful of that and respond accordingly.

We're all connected in many ways. Information flows between and among us and when it's flowing, things are good.  When it stops flowing, someone can't do their job and it's frustrating.

Let's all do our part to keep it flowing.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Resources for Safe Schools

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Connecticut, I thought it would be a good idea to share some safe school resources.  There are many out there. This is just a sampling.

The National Alliance for Safe Schools is a non-profit corporation founded in 1977 to provide resources, training, and expert advice on school safety.

California Department of Education Safe Schools Resources - This is the landing page for resources highlighted by the California Department of Education for Crisis Preparedness, Violence Prevention, and Safe School Environment.

Safe Schools/Healthy Students - This site is not only for SSS/HS grantees. It's a wonderful collection of resources for promoting a safe school environment. In response to the Newtown tragedy, a large collection of resources for helping children deal with tragedy have been posted on the home page.  Click on the "Resources" tab for resources targeted toward violence prevention and developing a safe school environment.

The National School Safety Center was founded by Presidential Mandate by Ronald Reagan in 1984 but it functions now as a non-profit organization devoted to the prevention of school crime and violence.

School Safety Partners has been supporting schools in developing community partnerships to prevent and respond to school violence since 2008.  Make sure your speakers are off or tuned down when you go to this site unless you want to hear the annoying little video that autoplays whenever the page is loaded.  It's not that there's anything wrong with the video, just that you may not everyone around you to hear it.

This should get you started.  I'll post more resources in the coming days.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

What Can You Say?

Our thoughts and prayers are with the town of Newtown as they continue to walk through the difficult days ahead. There really aren't words to express our sorrow for what they are all going through, and there is certainly no way to appropriately link the tragedy to a grant-related topic at this time. That will come later. For now, we'll mourn with them and look toward the furture.

About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.