Tell Me How It Ends Before It Begins
If you’re like me, you may love a good set of data, but sometimes it’s nice to curl up with a good novel instead. We live in a nation of storytellers – and like it or not, sometimes the data isn’t going to make the headlines.
What does this have to do with grants? Quite a bit when it comes to performance measurement. A former colleague once captured it with this question: What would the leader of your organization say during a speech on what this grant accomplished?
Not only is it a great question, it’s also noteworthy for when she asked: during the preaward stage of a grant program. So let’s break it down on how to apply it at the program and project levels.
Agency officials should answer this question before setting fingers to keyboard to write the Notice of Financial Opportunity (NOFO) – or updating it for a subsequent year. Consider this part of the conversation you should be having on performance measurement. While these can be tedious discussions, you could insert a bit of levity by working through a Mad Lib exercise.
When Congress appropriated funds [X] years ago, our team at [Agency] developed this grant program as part of our efforts to implement [policy objective(s)] as part of our [Mission]. Since making the first award in [Month, Year], we’ve funded [Y items] that are now in place in our communities. As a result, we are now better [adjective related to a capability] to do [Z].
While this example might not work exactly for your program, you can see how this “speech” includes quite a few of the details that program officials need to cite and determine during NOFO design, including:
- Statutory, policy, and mission alignment
- Anticipated maximum period of performance
- Target award date
- Allowable costs
- Desired outcomes
With a couple more examples of expenditures-building capabilities, you have a decent sketch of a speech to a stakeholder group, introduction to Congressional testimony, or final grant program report executive summary. More importantly, you can use this exercise to make sure that you keep the scope of the program’s desired outcomes to what you can manage. You need to make sure that your agency has the capability to capture the underlying performance data to support these outcomes.
Let’s move onto the project view. Potential recipients should read the NOFO, or other materials made available by a Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity, well before the application deadline. Your Mad Lib session will likely take place as part of a proposal planning meeting. In addition to discussing how and who will build the budget, you might walk through something like this:
When we submitted our proposal for [Project Name], we were at [Describe Baseline]. The [Grant Program Name] allowed us the opportunity to improve our ability to [Activity]. Now we are able to [Describe Target Capability/Outcome(s)]. With this grant, we funded [A items], which supported our project’s goal to do [B activity]. We also funded [C] to [D].
We are proud that our organization was part of the national effort to [cite program goal(s) from NOFO]. More importantly, this project supported our core mission to [describe mission]. Now that the grant is complete, we have identified [Funding Source] to carry out the next phase of the project.
In this example, you as the applicant have identified:
- Performance baseline
- Target outcomes
- Planned expenditures and outputs
- Sustainment funding source
- How the project supports the awarding agency’s goals and your mission
The last point is important to address before submitting the application. There could be situations when you may not wish to accept funds from a grantor, be it a government agency or private foundation, if the goals and missions are at odds. That’s a question for you and your colleagues to decide.
Keep in mind that in both cases, these Mad Lib exercises might require a few iterations to gain consensus. This is to be expected. But it’s much better to agree on what the end will be when writing a story as group.