October, 2014

My Love Note to Funders about Outcomes


Dear funders,

This is so hard to tell you but sometimes you just expect too much.

On the one hand, you want us to serve those who most need help. You tell us that the hardest to serve should be our target group. No creaming allowed. If we’re really good at what we do, we won’t be afraid to take the toughest clients:

– the chronically homeless with untreated mental illness;

– the long-term unemployed with no high school diploma or marketable skills; and

– the heroin-addicted mother whose children are living in foster care.

And so, because we know that these are the people who truly need our help and because we want to make our funders happy, we reach out to the people with the most serious problems. That’s when we remember: that’s why they’re called ‘hardest to serve.’

We just want to remind you, beloved funders, that ‘hardest to serve’ often translate into zeroes in the outcome column. People with complex, long-standing problems don’t seem to succeed on the ambitious timelines we set out for them in our grant proposals and program designs.

So what does this mean? It might mean that if we meet half our outcome goal, we are showing 100% more success for people than they would have had without us. It might mean that our results don’t tell the whole story about small increments of success in a person trying to find his or her way to a safe, productive life. It might mean that positive change is not a straight line, it zig-zags and sometimes stops altogether for long periods.

We know that funding is all about outcomes and that’s a good thing.  Expecting measurable results makes for better programs and greater accountability.

Just try to match your expectations about results to your desire to put your resources where they will do the most good.


Your funded agency



Get to the Point FAST!

Jan 2013 Portrait BW

How much is too much?

This morning I was asked to talk to a governing board about scores on a federal funding application. I’d prepared a briefing memo because I NEVER speak to a group without paper. I was also ready to speak at much greater length and provide more detail than what I’d included in the memo. I really know the topic so I was, as per usual, ready to rock.

The chairperson of the group started off the day’s agenda with this caution: “When people have reports or presentations to make, let’s keep those brief, just the major points. Especially when we have a written document,” he said, looking over at me. “We can all read.”

He repeated this a couple of times and it occurred to me that the caution might have been the direct result of my presentation at last month’s meeting of the same governing board. I’d presented the results of a program evaluation. Members seemed very attentive and interested and that was all the encouragement I needed to delve into the topic chapter and verse. I thought they had appreciated the level of detail and the discussion but maybe it had been too much.

I pride myself on being able to speak without constantly referring to notes and to highlight the things that need special attention rather than hiding those things in a long list. But I have to say the chairperson’s caution to me this morning hit home.

What are three most important things this group needs to know, I asked myself. Just talk about those. And do it clearly and forcefully. It will keep the time short and convey a needed sense of urgency.

This was a good reminder for me. Decide what’s really important and zero in on that.

Even if you are in love with the topic and know a huge amount about it, prioritize.  More can always be added later when people have had a chance to see what’s most important.

It occurred to me this morning that people aren’t paying me as a consultant to walk them through a long report like they were first-graders. They wanted me to tell them where to focus their resources and energy, recognizing that both are in limited supply.

Are you a practitioner of the detailed report? Maybe it’s time to rethink your approach.