Ten Steps to the Perfect Funding Bid: step 5 (b)

A Little More about Outcomes:

In response to a couple of requests, and because I think this is one of the main obstacles to a great funding bid, I’m going to expand a little on the vexed question of outcomes.

When I wrote about this earlier this year, I said that if you found the outcomes question EASY to answer, you probably hadn’t done it right.  I stick by that.   It is always going to be a difficult balancing act, to strike the correct line between wanting to OVER-state your outcomes (because you want to show how brilliant your project will be), and UNDER-stating your outcomes (because you want to make sure you can deliver them and demonstrate you have delivered them).   

A couple of weeks ago during my training course “Ten Steps to the Perfect Funding Bid” we used a training day as an example of how to differentiate between inputs, outputs and outcomes.  So the input is the trainer (plus the venue and the handouts), and the output is the completion of the training day.  As you can see, inputs and outputs are easily measurable, easily monitored, and easily reported on, because they are all absolutes.  The training day happened, and 16 people attended.  This says nothing about the quality of the trainer, nothing about the value of the participants’ experience, and nothing about what might happen as a result of the course. 

The outputs can be described in many ways.  And the trigger questions to ensure you are genuinely describing outcomes are “What has changed?” and “In what ways is the world now a better place?”

What has changed as a result of the training course on February 23rd is that 16 people working in the voluntary sector in Dorset and the surrounding areas have increased confidence in writing fundraising bids (evidenced from their comments on the evaluation forms).  A reasonable extrapolation from that is a further outcome that they will write more, better, and more appropriately-targetted funding bids, which hopefully would lead to more funds coming in to those organisations.  However it would be dangerous to promise “Increased success rates in grant applications” as an outcome as the current funding environment is probably the toughest we’ve ever known – hence it is safer to phrase this as a hoped-for outcome (ie “Hopefully leading to increased funding”). 

Increased confidence – whether it is for bid-writing or for isolated people gaining the confidence to leave their homes and join in a weekly coffee morning in the adjacent block of flats – is a really useful outcome for many projects.  And it can be benchmarked at the start of the project and at the end, and therefore an increase in people’s perception of their confidence can be captured.  For the one-day training course I did not formally benchmark the participants’ confidence at the start, but did take notes during people’s introductions on why they were attending.   So lines such as “I wanted to feel more confident in bid-writing” and “I wanted to find out how I could tighten up my bid-writing” could then be contrasted with the same people’s end-of-course evaluations:  “I feel more confident …..” and “I’ve discovered the places where I could strengthen my bids”.   Proper benchmarking is useful if a project is going to last for 10 weeks, or through the summer holidays, or for a year, in which case confidence levels (or perception of confidence) can be captured at the start and finish.

Then at the end, you should have some hard data about numbers, crime reports, distances walked etc, plus some soft data about confidence going out, perception of crime, confidence in the home etc.

As a final example I’m going to write about my mother.  Her arthritis makes lifting her arm even to shoulder level very painful.  And although I’ve suggested storing her teapot on a lower shelf she is resisting this and I can imagine all sorts of reasons why she would resist (moving it would be “giving in” and would be assuming she won’t regain the movement).  So if there was a gentle movement class, whether it be bongo drums, handbells, or simply chair-based yoga, it would be possible for her actual range of movement to be measured, and if she had a little more flexibility at the end of the project, this could be captured and reported on.  But how much MORE valuable to illuminate the statistic with a short pen-portrait about my mother and how at the end of the project she was able to get the teapot down off its usual shelf without dropping and breaking the lid, and without me making unhelpful suggestions about reorganising her kitchen “to take account of her disability” and without her having to face up to the physical limitations that she may have to face up to one day – but not for a little while longer.   Now THAT’s an outcome any project could be proud of.

©  Tamara Essex 2010

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