Friday, March 30, 2007

Read Any Good Letters Recently?

A letter recently came to me that brought this issue to my attention ….. painfully! This was a draft letter a client was sending to donors to give an update on their funds. We don’t write many letters these days – it’s all email, but for many of our donors a written message is still the best form. So while I can’t share the real letter with you, let me highlight some of the issues.

Too often letters lack a human touch. You don’t talk like what you read in your letters, so why do you write letters like that? Most of our communication is not legal in nature, so think about these tips as you write your letters:

1. Think of your reader first – of yourself last.
2. Relax – write as you would talk face to face.
3. Use as many YOU-words as you can.
4. Get off to a flying start – get to the point and don’t beat around the bush.
5. Make every letter a sales letter.
6. Remember the Golden Rule: Treat the reader as you would like to be treated.
7. Answer your correspondence promptly.
8. Read your letters aloud --- be sure they sound natural, not stuffy and stilted.

As per your request ….enclosed please find …. for your perusal …. according to our records….. we are pleased to inform you ….thank you again for …. inasmuch as … due to the fact that ….. these are all crusty comments of trite terminology that I’ve actually seen in letters recently.

Helen Monroe

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Evaluation of What?

We all seek to evaluate our grants and community work. But frequently there is not a clear understanding of just what we are evaluating, since we often have to make an evaluation long before it is logical to look at results of a grant.

Volumes have been written and experts discuss evaluation techniques and strategies. Here’s a brief list that I have used with grant committees to think about as they consider evaluation strategies. There are four types of evaluations:

* Context evaluation – analyzes the environment or context for programs by defining conditions, unmet needs, alternative opportunities, values, etc.
* Input evaluation – like an action plan, this model examines how to best use resources to meet program objectives, like costs and benefits, comparisons of different designs, etc.
* Process evaluation – this takes place after work has begun and serves as a management control to identify problems and obstacles early enough to do something about them and it creates a record of the program as it occurs.
* Product evaluation – ultimately a decision needs to be made about whether to maintain, modify or terminate a program, so this is based on information on the extent to which objectives have been/are being achieved.

Thoughtful discussion by a grants committee as to what they want from an evaluation is the first step. Then good collaboration with your grantees will enable you to design simple strategies to gather this information. I’ve always felt that evaluation is intended to help the grantee as well as the funder.

Helen Monroe

Friday, March 16, 2007

Is It Important or Urgent?

Recently I heard from one of my clients that there isn’t enough time to get things done. Of course! But the real reason may be the challenge of succumbing to the urgent rather than focusing on the important.

Our business is constantly interrupted with community activities, peoples’ needs, telephones, paper processing and not enough hands to do all the tasks. Life is a huge smorgasbord of choices, and as I discuss this with my client we realized that all too often the urgent gets in the way of the important.

Think about it:

* You want to build assets, but how much time in each day is actually directed toward that goal?
* You want more donors, but what are you doing to increase that number?
* You want more salary, but who have you presented with your plan to warrant that increase?

What you concentrate upon you achieve. Otherwise, the momentary items that feel urgent will be convenient reasons not to do the more challenging things that are important.

A quick measure for you ….. if you want to build assets in your organization, read through the minutes of the board meetings for the last year and see how much mention there is of the board discussing ways to accomplish that. Not reports of a committee meeting, but real discussion about how to achieve that goal, and why. My client was astounded when we did this together …. you may be too.

Helen Monroe

Friday, March 09, 2007

Staff Meetings: Asset or Liability?

What do you talk about at staff meetings? I suspect that most of the time covers the minutia of daily activities. Thinking that this is building good communication among staff members, this practice could be a serious liability instead of an asset. If we must meet to share information of a routine nature, our organization could be in trouble. What happens if something happens to one of the staff? What is the repository of this type of information? How much does everybody need to know about what everybody else is doing?

As the foundation grows from one or two employees the challenges of everybody knowing everything become apparent. But the need for access to information grows with the size of the organization. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get include the following:

* How best do we get program staff to be aware of financial matters?
* Who should be able to talk to our donors?
* Which staff members should be talking directly to our board members?
* How many people should report directly to the foundation ED or CEO?

There are no single right answers, but there should be an intentional system for handling these common issues of foundation growth. Current leadership thinking suggests that a good leader creates an organization that can function effectively without them. And if that’s the case, what is the leader supposed to do? Does that thought bother or excite you?

Helen Monroe

Successful Presentation Stuff

I attended a really good presentation recently and I was thinking about the countless presentations we all make in our business. Whether it’s a formal talk at a service club, a staff meeting topic, or a visit with a prospective donor couple, we are making a presentation. And the stuff that we say will determine the outcome. So here are four things I jotted down about why this was such a good presentation:

1 – Be sure you really know your stuff! The listener can tell after the first three or four minutes whether you know what you are talking about. Do your homework, and know the key points you want the listener to understand and remember. You can’t cover for knowledge and understanding with too much talking.

2 – Be prepared by knowing whom you are stuffing! The service club presentation shouldn’t be the history of the organization unless there’s a reason to tell them about it. The new office technology introduction doesn’t need to include why a particular system or firm was selected.

3 – Know when they are stuffed! Key prospects can be easily overwhelmed with too much information about all the choices available to them. Focus the presentation on their one or two key interests, not the whole menu of opportunities.

4 – Don’t give everybody the same old stuff! Our business is very individualized and success is directly relative to matching the listener to specific capabilities to help. Even the service club speech should be tailored to that particular audience. The Lions aren’t the same as the Rotary or the Soroptimists or the Junior League. Your presentations shouldn’t be the same either.

This presentation was the best, and the presenter did all of the above in a seamless and enjoyable manner.

Helen Monroe