Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Managing Expectations Begins with Your Members and Clients

From Guest Blogger: William Biggs. William is Communications Officer for Safe Haven, Inc., in Thomasville, Georgia, a free-lance communications and strategy consultant, and in his spare time, a part-time graduate student. View William's LinkedIn profile, or email him at william AT safehaveninc DOT org.

The first opportunity to perform a task does not always succeed. When it does, the next opportunity should become easier and hopefully more successful. Funding requests work the same way. This opportunity arrived at my request with deadline approaching. I have always enjoyed writing and most of my prior writing was for either personal relationships or financial analysis.

In this case, the task required a major re-write to provide the HIV humanitarian organization the best chance to receive crucial yearlong funding. Delivering food and humanitarian care for people affected by HIV and AIDS in South Georgia is important. It is clear this population needs quality, nutritious food and the donor was willing to provide it - for the right project.

The non-profit's executive director was certain the project needed $27,000 and was reluctant to push for more. The project's purpose, scope and numbers show much more is needed - $77,000 to be exact. The shocked director asked how she would justify such a request.

Seventy-seven thousand dollars ensures the project's success but chance of funding decreases as amounts increase. A lesser amount would probably receive funding but unless the amount is sufficient, the project has a 100% chance of falling short. We decided the donor may not provide the requested amount but we went with it because it was the smallest amount that could succeed.

Our write-up considered all the parties: the donor, the target population and us. Your organization is probably very similar. Both of us want the job and must balance, and manage capacities and capabilities - on paper and when the project is won.

Celebrate when the check arrives because the work begins when you deposit the check. In this case, the check did arrive - at 100% of request.

Your organization has the money, the staff and a plan. What could go wrong?

The funding win places you as an incumbent and incumbents usually win. The donor has not called, written nor even hinted of any concern so there cannot be much need for concern, right?

Our organization learned the hard way after we won a $100,000 grant the next year for a new project from the same donor. We followed the agreement exactly as the donor required, tracked successes and challenges and reported to the donor. One success should lead to another and we applied to repeat the successful program.

Here is a recap of my conversation with the director:

"What do you mean we were denied?"

"We were denied."

"Wow. That hurts."

"We provided everything the donor required. What do we do?"

It turns out it is what we did not do. We did not anticipate and we did not exceed.

We made the mistake but prevented its transition into failure. New procedures communicate meaningful and tangible expectations and results to donors and members. This is work but it is worthwhile.

How we turned lessons learned into results:
  • Each member relationship starts with a two-party agreement
  • We value member input and seek their input twice monthly
  • Simple and thorough documentation validates mutual needs and successes
  • Revised the information cycle to begin and end with our members
Every relationship is a cycle and each stakeholder needs at least one more stakeholder to survive and succeed. Our members are our end-users just as your members are your end-users. Without their input, a great project may receive funding one year but maybe not the following year. Ask your members how they define success before you begin your next project.

Copyright 2010 William Biggs

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