Having enough money to operate is a good thing! Obtaining steady funding is a continual challenge for most smaller, organizations and non-profits. Typically, these organizations have a small staff and limited funding. They have an Executive Director, maybe a couple of staff members, a receptionist, and a bunch of volunteers. Some organizations are even smaller.
When an organization relies on grant funding and philanthropy to survive, what happens if their Executive Director is not very good at grant writing or fund raising? What happens if he/she is too busy to write grants? What happens if the organization does not have a talented grant writer on staff or does not have enough money to hire a talented grant writer? As you surmised, their funding is likely to shrink.
When funding shrinks, the results are never pleasant. To decrease costs, staff members and services are cut. As a result, the presence of the organization shrinks in the community. Their voice gets softer and softer until it is no longer heard among the clamor of voices trying to get our attention. Eventually, the organization becomes irrelevant.
Identification and Allocation of Resources for Your Program
For any program to be implemented and evaluated, the program must be supported with appropriate resources.
By “resources,” I am talking about more than just money. Resources also include things such as leadership, staff members, knowledge, talent, expertise, money, technical abilities and assets, equipment, computers, and space.
The resources needed to do things “right,” depend on the scope and nature of the program.
The larger the scope and sequence of a program, the greater the number of program participants (i.e., reach) and program sites, the greater the multiplicity and dose, the greater the rigor of the program evaluation, the more resources you are going to need.
You Get What You Pay For
My deceased father (Clyde R. Jordan) was always fond of saying, you get what you pay for. That old axiom is correct more times than not. For example, using a matched control group is one of the best ways to conclude with confidence that your program was actually responsible for results detected. Without a control group, you cannot say much of anything about your program! Using a matched control group is the only way to rule out other plausible and alternative explanations for results.
However, using a control group in the evaluation design means that your evaluator has double the work and double the time investment. For example, he/she must collect and analyze data from both groups; interpret results from both group; write a report that incorporates both groups.
Another example – using a prospective, repeated measures type of evaluation design requires that the evaluators keep track of program participants AFTER they leave the program and then follows them into the future, tracks them down, and collects from them multiple times. Such a design is the best way to answer whether a program was effective in the long term. However, it is much more costly than a simple cross-sectional design.
Remember, you get what you pay for. Investing too little resources in a program or its evaluation will lead to weak results. You need an appropriate level of resources and good program evaluation to do it “right.”
Common Resources Needed
What kinds of resources will you need for your program? The box below from the textbook written by my undergraduate advisor (Dr. Jim McKenzie) lists the major categories of resources and the accompanying questions that need to be answered to determine if you have the necessary resources to plan, implement, oversee, and evaluate a program. This table is excellent! (McKenzie et al., 2017)
Financial resources are one category of “resources” that fund a variety of things: program planning, staff, implementation, oversight, management, evaluation, monetary incentives to entice enrollment and completion of the program, for participants to do data collection – usually at least twice. Furthermore, financial resources are often needed for printing, postage, food, and advertising. Becoming very good at obtaining money to pay for these things often means becoming very good at grant writing.
Because program planners and administrators typically do not have the time to what is needed, they often hire individuals to fulfill those roles. Let’s take a closer look at using internal versus external personnel.
Internal versus External Personnel
When assessing the talent needed to plan, implement, administrate, and evaluate a program, program planners have three basic options:
- Internal Personnel: Use people that already within yourorganization or people from within the priority population (e.g., volunteers). These individuals may be existing employees who are trained to handle specific tasks or they may be volunteers hired specifically to serve as program personnel. There are two problems with relying totally on internal personnel.
First, existing staff members are often very busy and are already working at maximum capacity. Asking an internal staff member to take on even more responsibilities is good way to lose him or her. Second, internal staff members often do not have the advanced education and training needed for the task, especially in areas such as strategic planning, program design, grant writing, and program evaluation.
- Internal Peer Educators: Another internal resource may be peer educators, especially if you work in educational settings or with youth. Individuals who have specific knowledge, skills, or understanding of a concept can help to educate their peers. For example, college students may work with other college students and educate them about various health topics. The major advantages of peer educators are that they are low cost and have high credibility. Peers, especially kids, are greatly influenced by slightly older peers.
- External Personnel: Individuals outside the planning organization or priority population, who do not conduct any of the program are considered external personnel. Typically, these individuals are hired when there is a gap between what can be provided internally and what is needed.
A common example is hiring a 3rd party consultant, such as a grant writer or program evaluator. Although external consultants may have knowledge and skills that internal personnel do not, external professionals usually cost more.
However, the results are usually much better.
Program planners must be careful when choosing external consultants. We at the 1795 Group recommend that you thoroughly interview each consulting group. Please be aware that the education, training, expertise, and track records of external consultants vary greatly. Since 1996, I have discovered that few are very good. Most are not. Always choose someone who is formally educated and trained in the skills that you need, has experience in doing what needs to be done, and has an excellent track record and references in those areas.
You are the potential customer. It is your money that will be paying the external consultants. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you ask these questions during the interview:
- How will you ensure that your data collection tools are reliable and valid? Explain how you would do that for us.
- How will you use a mixed-method approach to triangulate our data?
- What statistical tests will you use to analyze our results?
- How many peer-reviewed presentations and publications do you have based on client’s results?
- How many, what type, and what monetary size of grants have you have written for clients? What type and size of grants have you managed?
Ways of Funding Programs
Programs can be financed in several different ways. Below are several established ways of financing programs: (McKenzie et al., 2017).
- Participant Fee: This method of financing a program requires the participants to pay for the partial or entire cost of the program. Depending on whether the program is offered on a profit-making basis, this fee may be equal to expenses or may include a profit margin. Participant fees not only are a means by which programs can be financed but they also help motivate participants to stay involved in a program. If people pay to participate in a program, then they may be more likely to continue to participate because they have made an investment—a commitment. I like to say that they have some “skin in the game.” This concept has also been referred to as ownership.
- Third-Party Support: This means that someone other than program participants (the first party) or planners (the second party) pay for the program. This may be an employer that pays the cost of a program for their employees; an agency or group that sponsors the program; or a professional association or union that financially supports the program.
- Cost Sharing: This involves a combination of participant fee and third-party support.
It is not unusual to have an employer pay 50% to 80% of a program’s costs and have employees pay the remaining 50% to 20%. Or an employer may offer a discount or a reimbursement to employees if they participate in the program (e.g., an employee wellness program).
- Cooperative Agreements: There are times when two parties (e.g., groups, organizations, individuals, agencies) establish agreements that offer mutual benefits to both parties when they share resources and work together to offer a program or service. Often these agreements do not involve the transfer of money from one party to the other (though they may), but rather access to and sharing of resources. Sometimes agencies may trade one thing for another (e.g., printing for space).
- Organization/Agency Sponsorship: Many times, the sponsoring organization bears the cost of the program as a part of its programming or operating budget. In such cases, the source of the money to fund a program would depend on how the agency is funded. For example, many health promotion programs are sponsored by governmental (i.e., public) health agencies. The primary source of funding of governmental health agencies is tax payer dollars.
For voluntary health agencies that are not funded by tax-payer dollars, the sponsoring organization/agency would be the source of the funding. The funding would come primarily from donations that have been made to the agency. For example, the American Cancer Society offers a free program called Reach to Recovery® to help breast cancer survivors. Program materials are provided free and an American Cancer Society volunteer conducts the program. The program is paid for with the society’s community service funds.
- Grants and Gifts: Another means of financing health programs is grants and gifts from agencies, foundations, organizations, government, and individuals. A grant is an award of money from the grantor (i.e., the funder) to the grantee (i.e., the recipient). In return, the grantor expects the grantee to carry out a specific work. Always remember that the grantee (the recipient) is doing the work that the grantor wants them to do. In contrast, a gift (or contributions) can be a sum of money or non-monetary items that are given voluntarily without compensation in return. Non-monetary gifts are known as in-kind contributions and include such things as materials, equipment, supplies, training, donated space, or other services that are used to operate programs. In-kind contributions can even be the time of a professional that he/she donates to the cause. I personally believe that every applicant for a grant should clearly demonstrate that they have “skin in the game” by showing significant in-kind contributions.
Both grants and gifts are often referred to as soft money. This means that they are usually given for a specific period of time, then the money goes away.
The money is “soft.” It comes and goes. Contrast that with hard money – an ongoing source of funds that is part of the operating budget of an organization from year to year.
Whether the grant award be from government or private foundation, this type of funding has become very important, especially for those working in voluntary or governmental health agencies.
Before searching for and writing a grant, we recommend program administrators explore the answers to these questions:
- Have you done a needs assessment to determine the gaps and needs that must be filled and met?
- Have you involved the community in prioritizing those gaps and needs?
- Have you done market research and talked to people in the community, consulted local statistics, past reports, and the published research literature to see what has been done with your priority population in the past in this topical area? Who was involved? Did it work? Why? Why not?
- As you searched the published research literature, what theory/model did previous researchers and evaluators use as the framework for their program? Did it work? Why/why not?
- Have you identified and invited other stakeholders that serve the same priority population with a similar service or program to collaborate?
- Is this the right time for your agency/organization to write a grant? Do have the necessary track record? Needed talent? Do you have the “horses to pull the wagon?”
- Is the thing for which you are seeking funding, based on best practices and evidence from the published research literature?
- Have community leaders, stakeholders, and members of the priority population expressed strong political and social will for your proposed program?
The talented team of the 1795 Group has now written more than $9.2 million in grant awards. We have specialists who find grants, vet grants, and write grants.
We have other specialists who oversee grants and ensure that the grantee is following required governmental procedures and policies. We have other specialists who evaluate the impact of those things for which you received grant funding.
Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about grant writing or if you want to brainstorm how we can partner with one another.