By Katie McLain, McLain Consulting
Building proposals for funding takes a lot of work, coordination, and time. By creating the right building blocks for your program, you can save yourself a lot of work down the road and set yourself up for easier overall grant management and potential future funding!
LOGIC MODELS: THE FOUNDATION
As you begin to put together your project idea, start with a logic model. The foundation of a logic model is its theory of change — the chain of reasoning that explains why you believe your project will make a difference in the problem you want to impact. A theory of change draws on research and knowledge of best practices for your activities within your project and the final outcomes of your work. A logic model is a visual representation of your theory of change. It provides a picture of your overall program, what you aim to achieve, how you will get to your goal, and what resources you will use. (*It is important to note that a logic model is not a work plan.)
Components of a logic model include inputs, activities, outputs, and outcomes: Inputs are your resources that you have and need in order to carry out your activities. They can be things like funding, people, buildings, and equipment. Activities are what you do in order to deliver the service or good. Outputs are what is delivered as a result of the activity. Outcomes are the changes you expect to arise as a result of the activities you have done
The following is an example of a logic model for a prison management training program:
Take your logic model and build your monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan. As a planning document, an M&E plan forces an implementer to think systematically through each of the program components. During program execution, a well-designed plan helps the implementer to keep track of the program progress and make adjustments if necessary. It is also a valuable tool for demonstrating the effectiveness and impact of a program, generating credible and useful information for both the implementer and donor that contributes to learning, improved performance, and accountability.
LOGIC MODEL NEXT STEPS
For the donor, if a program has proven results, the M&E plan is a useful method for showcasing the program’s success and documenting the implementer’s track record. If the program is less than successful, the M&E plan can help to identify specific weaknesses. In either case, the M&E plan is useful for informing the donor’s decisions about future budget allocations and programming.
A “SMART” LOGIC MODEL
As you consider the metrics in your logic model, be sure to spend time coming up with realistic, effective, and strong performance measures. Follow the acronym SMART:
While this may seem obvious, many organizations fail to take the time to create SMART performance measures. This can hurt down the road when a project is in full swing. Take the time from the very beginning to ensure that your performance measures are SMART so that you can show future funders the impact you can make.
As you work with staff, partners, and evaluators to design the project, use the process of clarifying the theory of change and developing a logic model to:
- Define the problem that your organization will focus on and the impact you want to have.
- Identify the range of activities you could use for your project.
- Develop a plan for how these activities could have an impact over a specific time period.
- Determine performance indicators and outcome measures so that you know the project has achieved its goals.
Because the logic model is a visual, public tool, everyone involved in developing the project can view it at the same time. The process of working with groups of people to build the model will surface conflicting assumptions and allow you to clarify misunderstandings. In this way, the logic model supports collaboration and partnerships.
THE LOGIC MODEL AND BUDGETING
Use the logic model to help develop your budget and plan funding for the lifetime of the initiative. Start by designating three phases:
- The transition to sustainability
Estimate the levels of funding required to support the activities in each phase by using the logic model to match activities to phases.
EVALUATING WITH YOUR LOGIC MODEL
Use the logic model to plan your evaluation. The logic model represents a pathway that connects inputs to outcomes and impacts. As you plan the evaluation, your logic model will help you pinpoint specific connections you might want to examine. In this way, you and your evaluator can shape the evaluation to focus on the most important questions, and use resources efficiently.
Refer back to the logic model throughout the lifetime of your project. Since a logic model gives the big picture of the project, it is helpful from the very early stages of thinking all the way through the final evaluation. At any point you can refer to your logic model to remember what you expected would happen as a result. You can track where you are in the process, where you might have gone astray, and what adjustments might be needed to get where you want to go.
BUILDING ON YOUR FOUNDATION: GRANT MANAGEMENT
Once you have spent all this time on your project development, you may very well get funded! You then enter the post-award phase where you need to hone in on effective grant management, starting first and foremost with communication.
Ensuring effective communication with your funder will benefit your organization from pre-award and on into post-award administration. From the very start, it is imperative that you build a strong relationship with the funding agency contacts. There are typically introductory meetings or phone calls between the funder and grantee and these are your chances to get to know the grants officers, program staff, and leadership.
After the kick-off, be so bold as to request monthly calls or in person meetings if possible. If your funder feels connected to your organization they will be quicker to offer technical assistance and keep you in mind for future funding opportunities. Document the communication you have with your funder so that your team can follow this progress. If there is any handover of the portfolio it is essential that the newly assigned staff can review the communication (phone calls, in-person meetings, travel) that was carried out prior to their covering the grant.
Beyond effective communication with the funder, it is also important to ensure effective internal communication and workload discussions within your organization. As you built out your project idea and the funder approved final activities it is likely that responsibilities shifted from what your staff discussed in the original plan. Ensure that your staff is on board with the final funded project and their role in it. Sit down with your staff and go through responsibilities and timelines as a team to clarify any changes. You want to ensure that the funder has one main point of contact with the organization for all business associated with the grant award.
THE FINAL TOUCH: REPORTING
One final bit of advice on effective grant management is with reporting. Detailed and timely reporting of financial and program performance is a key element of managing your award and may be your primary communication with the funder throughout the life of your project.
Beyond what is required from the funder, it might be helpful to do your own internal annual grant review. These reviews can help an organization track and document the progress of programs from different funders. The review should pull from required progress reports that go to the funder, your meetings, staff travel reports, and any other information that is available at the time of the review. The reviewer will be reporting on the progress of the program for that year with the intention of showing how the program is tracking over time against the program objectives, outcomes, outputs, and the timeline detailed in the funding agreement. This review also helps compile and systematically track information for funders, success stories/publication, and for auditing purposes.
Remember to start with intentional planning through logic models, to continue to use them throughout your grant, and to maintain continuous communication to get you to effective programming and easy grant management.
Katie has over 12 years of experience in grant management and monitoring and evaluation of federally funded programs. She loves tackling grant applications, researching crime prevention efforts, and bringing teams together for program development.