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Grantwriting: Today’s Funders Consider Themselves Investors

11/10/16 – Michelle (Micki) Siner

Investors don’t want to invest in services. They want to invest in change. They are looking for organizations that have moved from reporting on activities to reporting on outcomes or results.

The measure shifts from what the agency did to what the clients did or what client behavior was changed as a result of working with the agency. And, was the change in client behavior enduring?

For example, instead of simply reporting family caseload numbers, some preventive agencies now focus on results: families where foster care was averted or number of parents who stayed drug free for six months or more. Did a father enrolled in a parenting class maintain a positive relationship with his child’s mother for six months to a year? Did more fathers start paying child support, allowing taxpayers to save on welfare costs?

Organizations with government contracts have been moving toward outcome-based contracting for at least the past decade. Overall, this new emphasis on accountability allows scarce dollars to go to programs that have been proven most effective. This is fair as long as the desired objectives are realistic, given available community resources.

Large foster care agencies, for example, already tend to have state reporting system requirements that track numbers served and quality of care. When they are required to list measured achievements on a grant application, they can often just hit a button.

It is far more difficult, however, for small – sometimes very small – organizations that have tiny staffs and negligible resources to document their accomplishments. It costs money to develop reporting systems and to ensure staff has access to computers, as well as the time and skills to enter data.

A community development agency, for example, may know how many community advocates it trained but be unable to certify the ways in which the advocates improved the circumstances of their neighbors.

The good news, for those with effective and cost-efficient projects, is that even rudimentary tracking systems can improve your standing with funders. In fact, even demonstrating an intention to measure results can be fruitful and perhaps secure a related grant.

You must also describe how your outcome findings will be used to fine-tune your program. You can score a trifecta if you also show that your program can be replicated by other agencies.

Some concrete tips for improving your applications include:

  • Clearly define what results you plan to achieve. What constitutes success? Don’t just talk about activity and process.
  • Decide on appropriate targets. What percentage of those served or treated need to achieve their goals for you to consider the program effective? Targets should be a stretch, but achievable.
  • Set milestones. If your goal is to raise students’ reading levels, you should test their progress halfway through the program.
  • Establish that you will track progress. Indicate that milestone results will be used to determine whether you have sufficient time and money to achieve your goals. Track progress against budget categories, work plans and participants’ progress toward the desired gains.

According to The Rensselaerville Institute, which trains organizations in outcome thinking and management, “The central premise of outcome funding is that the distribution of public and charitable monies needs to be judged not on how hard program staff work, or how much they care. Rather, the tangible human gains achieved for the people these programs are designed to serve – their customers – are the justification of return for money invested.”

Even the smallest programs can set up methods of evaluation that demonstrate their services are valuable and open to further improvement and growth.

For example, an arts program that offers seminars on music appreciation can, without being too invasive, go beyond just tracking numbers served. Its targets can include drawing new participants, increasing repeat attendance, drawing from additional communities and increasing its donor base.

Success can be measured by having all participants register, giving at least their names and addresses and then just signing in on future visits. Periodically, participants can fill out questionnaires indicating seminar strengths, weaknesses and ideas for future programs.