Use these 3 Useful tools to save your Organization Money…..

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The non profit sector is filled with extraordinary people. Most of them caring and mission-driven. One area where the sector needs improvement, is developing a start-up attitude.  This is where non profits can learn from startup-ups. They can learn about doing things efficiently and cost effectively.  Over the years, I have found a few tools that I always recommend to my clients:

 

a. LawDepot

Law Depot is a subscription service that costs a whopping $75 dollars per year or so. It is a “depot” of contracts, agreements and legal resources, that I use over and over again. It gives me a starting point for all legal and business agreements and is super easy to use. I rarely use it without consulting a lawyer, but it does give me a foundation to start from, thereby reducing costs, plus it is super cheap. It is also based on Canadian law, which is a bonus. Check it out at https://www.lawdepot.ca/

b. AppSumo

AppSumo in itself is not a product, but a service. It lists “deals” for entrepreneurs–think Groupon for business. You can get incredible deals there on everything from social media tools to digital images. I have used this site to grab so many deals over the years I have lost count. One service I purchased, was Plannable. I was previously using Hootsuite. I was very happy with Hootsuite, but it was costing me over $20 per month.  Plannable sounded similar and I could get it for $49 forever. That means, I paid $49 once and have this tool as long as I want to use it.  A year later, I am still using it, and Plannable costs over $25 per month now.  See what I mean by costs savings? Definitely, sign up for this site. Get your deals at: https://appsumo.com/

c.Google

Not enough non profits take advantage of these free services. From email to server space, free Adwords and Youtube–I cannot say enough about this. Non profits are literally throwing away money by not utilizing these free services correctly. Did you know that as a non profit you potentially qualify for up to $10,000 in free Adwords? i.e you can advertise your services, events, and more to grow your organization and impact? Too few non-profits utilize this service correctly.Find out more at : https://www.google.com/nonprofits/

What other resources do you use? Drop us a line and let us know other great tools. As always feel free to reach out with questions, comments or inquiries at 519-520-3443 or email Carmen@ReimarGroup.com.

Upcoming Grant Deadlines

Dates to Note

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We are a little short on time this week,  so our post will just be dates to watch for some upcoming grants due in the next few weeks.

Gender based Violence Promising Practices to Support Survivors and Their Families- Due March 1 – http://swc-cfc.gc.ca/fun-fin/cfc-adc/2018-1/pp-en.html

Opportunities Fund-Projects to support Canadians with Disabilities- Due March 6-  https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2018/01/government_of_canadaacceptingprojectproposalstosupportcanadiansw.html

London Community Foundation Vitality Grants– Due March 20 http://www.lcf.on.ca/receive/community-fund-grant-programs/community-vitality-grant

As always we are available to help you develop a strategy for your project, assist with the application or just review it for you. Give us a call at 519-520-3443 or email carmen@reimargroup.com

 

 

 

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When Data Metrics and Non-Profits Meet

When data and Nonprofits meet.

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Over the last few years, many nonprofits have jumped on the data train. Some for the first time, either through their own efforts or through the coercion of funders, have begun to evaluate and track their data. Others, evaluate project to project, with no interconnectedness between evaluation systems. Others still, are fighting a losing battle and standing their ground, refusing to collect any data at all.

Welcome to nonprofits and data. Many of us who have worked in the sector have watched (with glee I might add) as non-profits finally started using data to tell their stories over the last few years. Generally, in the form of impact statements, these numbers talk about the total clients served, the social return on investment, or other comparable metrics.

 

 

Summative Vs Formative Data

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Much of the data organizations are using is summative in nature. It talks about what they have done over a time period. It has a discreet beginning and end, and talks about projects AFTER they are finished. It is like  analyzing a sports game, after the game, play by play. Summative assessments are also like tests teachers give in schools. They summarize what you know, and how you did.

In data driven organizations and in assessment culture, a different type of assessment is often used.  Formative assessment tools, such as those that occur in the middle of something, whether it is a unit of study, staff evaluations, project evaluations are a critical strategy that separate those who lead with data, compared to those who simply follow the pack.  What these data focused organizations have learnt, is that data can be used for learning, not just to assess what you have learnt. Let me rephrase. In the sector, we often use data to tell our story to our teams our funders and stakeholders and demonstrate why we are worthy of the dollars granted. One thing few organizations do well, is to use their data to analyze HOW they are doing in the middle of a project, or better yet, when nothing special is going on.

Why would organizations go through the trouble of collecting even more data, particularly data not required by funders?  Think of formative data, like a feedback tool. It can be used by staff and leadership to assess how each is doing. It is a learning tool, essential particularly to innovative organizations to see what works best, when and how. It can be used by leadership to assess big picture items, and by staff to assess and take control of their own performance.

What about the cost of collecting data?

 

 

This is an argument I get from most of my clients. Here is my canned response if you will.

First and foremost, data collection and analysis need not be expensive. Smart organizations can invest in automated tools that make this easier. Second, what is the cost of the mistakes you may be making? If you never measure, you never know. Third, your costs are only high on the front end. Once you adopt a data centric approach, costs in theory, should go down. Finally, time and time again, in my experience, the organizations who have the best data, get more grants and funding. They can tell their story better, they learn faster from their mistakes and develop overall, better programs and services.

How do I get started using data better?

 

 

If you have internal expertise, use it. Talk to individuals who have experience in program design, data design and collection. Join networking groups and communities of practice centered on this. Finally, hire or talk to an expert, internally or externally. Buy them a coffee. Most practitioners will gladly give you some free time.

Most organizations are still not using data as effectively as they can. Those who want to be leaders have discovered the power of data and use it well. Those who don’t risk being left behind in an ever more innovative nonprofit sector.

 

 

Have a question? Send us an email (carmen@reimargroup.com) or Connect with us on social media:

Facebook @Reimargroup

Twitter: @carmenreis

Linkedin/Carmenreis

Disclaimer: ReimarGroup is a consulting firm focused on organizational sustainability, program design and evaluation. We believe good data makes sense and creates more powerful organizations. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Summer Jobs Extension to Feb 9th, 2019

The Canada Summer Jobs Program Deadline is Tomorrow February 9th!

 

For any small businesses or not for profits looking for some extra help this Summer, The Canada Summer jobs program represents a great way to get funding to cover the expenses associated with hiring Summer students.  With the additional expenses associated with increases to minimum wage, fewer organizations will be hiring for the Summer.

 

How Much Funding Can I Get?

 

Not for profits get all of the wages associated with hiring a student. So up to $14 per hour. You are expected to cover the cost of CPP and EI.

Small Businesses get up to 50% of the cost of Minimum wage covered. While this is not as generous, it also enables you to get projects done that you might not have done otherwise. It sweetens the deal to help give young people work.

 

How Does the Application System Work?

The application system is done on a points basis. Non profits, and businesses with a social purpose will score higher, than those with a pure profit motive. Organizations hiring individuals from visible minorities, low income neighbourhoods, and/or those with barriers, will score higher than those who plan to hire just anyone.

You also get “points” if the position is vital and will help your small business to be more successful, if the student gains valuable work experience related to their degree, and if you offer training and/or mentorship.

Finally, you also get “points” for aligning your positions to the “regional priorities”, that is, in every constituency, there are priorities that politicians want to fund. In some, it is economic development, in others, fostering the arts. The list is unique to each MP’s region.  By connecting your roles to regional priorities, your chances of getting your grants are higher. The higher your “points” the higher your chance of winning.

 

When Do I Find Out?

 

Generally you would hear around mid-April. Remember, you cannot hire the student before that and expect the government to reimburse costs. The reimbursement comes only after you have received notification of the grant’s award.

 

Want help completing your application? Contact our team and we are happy to help you get your application done and submitted on time.  Our fees start at $197, and increase with the number of positions. Email us at Carmen@reimargroup.com, or call 519-520-3443.

Winning an OTF Seed Grant

How do You Win an OTF Seed Application?

Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants are due February 21 and they represent a great opportunity for non profits and charities to pilot new ideas, adopt new programs or develop conceptual models to a new region.  Seed Grants are about experimenting, trying new things and changing existing models to work in a different way.  Many regional organizations have started their programs as an OTF Seed Grant and have gone on, to obtain funding from different funders.

Having won several OTF Seeds in the last few years, looking back, there are a few key ingredients that go into a successful Seed Application.

1. Identifying your Priority Outcome and Metrics

First and foremost, you need to ensure that you select the appropriate priority outcome. This outcome is WHAT your project will accomplish, for WHOM and HOW.  There are metrics that go with each outcome but selecting the right one for your project can be tricky. It often takes lots of discussion, and really focusing in with your team on the metrics you will use and how. The use of 3rd party sounding board is often useful.

2. Summarizing your Impact in 250 words

Seed Grants do not give you a lot of room. You need to ensure that you are succinct, and able to state your problem and solution in very few words. You do not have room to become a Russian novelist. The impact you hope to have, needs to be phrased in a clear confident tone. You need to be able to link your program design to your potential incomes. It needs to be linear and to make sense. You have about 250-500 words in most text boxes; make the most of it.

3. Using Statistics

Knowing how and when to use statistics in your story-telling is very important.  Very often it is that one fact, statistic or number that can swing an application. The trick is not to overuse statistics, but use them for impact and story-telling in the right places in your application.

4. Using the Attachments!!!!

I often find my clients do not know what to do with the attachment sections of the application. If they are there, you need to try to find a use for them. It is not about simply uploading irrelevant content. Attachments need to have meaning for your project. They are needed to help explain the problem you are addressing, demonstrate the solution, or enhance the story. So find a way to incorporate them.

 

5. Demonstrating strong links to Mission and Strategic Plan

It is essential that your projects link back to your Mission and Strategic plan.  Your project needs to demonstrate forethought and links to your organizational goals.  Even if you are writing your Seed project the night before (yes, this happens a lot), with creativity, you can still link the project to the Mission and strategic actions of your organization.

 

If you incorporate these points, your chances of being successful are a lot higher. At least, you will be on track to develop a strong project outline and be able to communicate it well in your application.

 

If you would like a second set of eyes on your application, or would like assistance in preparing it, don’t hesitate to reach out 519-520-3443 or drop a line to carmen@reimargroup.com.

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(The opinions expressed herein are in no way connected to OTF, nor by following the opinions expressed are you guaranteed to be successful).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Your Mission Stinks….

When Your Mission Stinks….

Having worked in consulting to both for profit and non-profit organizations over the last decade, one of the time honoured truths that I often see, is that very often, mission statements stink. While this may seem like a harsh statement, consider the weight and importance we place on mission. Your mission, is the driving force behind all you do. It is how you deliver your product or service and particularly, in the non-profit world, it represents your organizational goals, and your purpose of existence.

 

For young organizations, that are figuring out their way, the mission can and should be flexible. Let’s ponder that for a moment. It is OK if your mission changes?  We are told that Missions must drive organizations. The mission must be the focal point that guides you through. Simultaneously, we are told, fail early, fail forward and fail often.  At a glance, these statements are in opposition to each other.  How, can you have a guiding statement and yet be failing? The easy conclusion to draw, is that after each failure the mission has to be changed. Here’s why.

 

What a Mission is Supposed to Be….

A mission statement, its very definition, is a statement that communicates, what you do, for whom and how you do it. Sometimes, we add where for clarification.  It is from the mission, that we draw HOW we do things, what will make us competitive and our key success factors.  Failure, often arises because there is misalignment or misunderstood assumptions between how the different components need to work together.

 

A simple example is a product that was intended for one purpose, but ended up having another. There are several famous examples. Bubblewrap was intended to be textured wallpaper. Rogaine, the hair replacement solution, originally was designed as a blood pressure medication. In these cases, the need to change the mission is easy to see.

 

The need to change a mission is harder when you are providing services and/or delivering programs.  One example I have seen involved the failure of an organization, originally intended to deliver entrepreneurial services to a very narrow segment of the population.  In this case, there simply weren’t enough people to justify a market, and the mission had to be changed to be more inclusive.

 

Another more common example, are organizations that drift from their mission, as they pursue projects, grants, and other funding.  We often talk about mission drift as a way to refocus the organization, but rarely do we discuss the need that if the organization has drifted so much from its core, is there a need to rewrite the mission to focus on the core activities of the organization?

Bottom-Up Mission

Missions, are most powerful when they are created from the bottom-up. However, this is rarely the case. Missions, tend to be created by Boards of Directors, Executives and Consultants. They are crafted for how they sound, market and branding appeal, and less by direct front-line staff, or program development staff who in reality, know far more about the challenges of delivering services and building programs than executives and boards. If they are not included in the Mission development process, then failure and drift are likely to result.  Consultant’s don’t generally like bottom-up missions as they represent more work to develop. However, better tools such as 360 degree feedback,  stakeholder analysis and customer surveying do change the discourse, but not nearly enough.

Understanding Mission Drift

When mission drift is occurring, we need to question why.  Is it to obtain funding for sustainability, or is it because the program has a genuine need that must be filled. In other words, are you writing the grant because your organization needs money, or are you really trying to solve a problem you see in your everyday work.  If your answer is the latter, and your front-line people consistently are building services and designing programs that stray from your mission, then my advice is that it may be time for a new mission; one that better reflects the real market need of the individuals you serve. And, the bad news? Your mission may stink. If, that’s the case, change it. Change it fast and change it often, until you can figure out what you should be doing and how.  While there are expenses to changing the mission, it can be far more expensive if your mission is just wrong.

 

 

How has your mission been used in your organization? Do you find it effective? Drop us a line carmen@reimargroup.com.

 

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OTF Seed Grant Registration Deadline -Jan 31

Your OTF Registration

 

The Ontario Trillium Foundation-OTF- Seed Grant Registration deadline is coming up on January 31st. What this means is that if you and/or your organization is interested in applying for a seed grant, you need to have your organization registered by the end of January.

 

Registration, involves getting together some vital organizational info, that will provide a window into both the health and finances of your organization. Completing this registration involves filling in an organizational profile. The profile captures information such as your current Board of Directors, your contact address, who the designated signing officers are, and whom OTF should correspond with.

 

You also have to fill in more logistical information such as your banking, charitable/non-profit business numbers, website and whom your executive are.

Financial Statements

Next, you have to provide an overview of the programs you run, your mission, your community impact,  and your total staff and volunteer contributions.  Finally, for organizations that are under $50,000 in annual revenue, financial statements for the last year are required. For those over $50,000, financial statements prepared by an OUTSIDE accountant are required.  This means you must have someone with a CPA designation complete a review of your organizational books.

 

This last component, is the one that I have found most of my small/start-up non profits have difficulty with.  Small organizations do not often have the funds to pay an accountant, yet without the financial statements, they do not qualify for most types of provincial funding.  This conundrum, is one, that with some creativity, can be navigated. You might approach a CPA, about offering you a non-profit discount. You could also, seek out a retired CPA, that retains their designation, that might be willing to do it for free. Most organizations, through their board, or other networks, have a CPA in their Rolodex that are able to offer this type of service.

 

It is highly recommended that you refer to OTF’s registration requirements checklist page (https://otf.ca/sites/default/files/org_reg_checklist.pdf) and ensure that you email them with any questions.

Next week, we will look at how to successfully answer a seed grant application.

 

Do I need a feasibility study?

A feasibility study or a feasibility plan, is an assessment into the viability of an idea. In business, we use feasibility studies to decide whether to proceed with a proposed venture. They are used by all types of businesses.

Feasibility plans get used as a way to account for and mitigate some of the risks associated with starting a new business or project. The larger and more expensive the proposed business investment, the more a business owner will want to assess as many facets of the market as possible to decrease their risk before they start.

Feasibility plans can be expensive. The more complicated a project, the more expensive a feasibility plan is. A feasibility plan will not just assess the market potential for a product, but will also assess things like location, the capacity of your team, and skills needed to enter into a business.

Feasibility Plans are traditionally divided into five sections each of which assess the capacity of a particular project:

Technical feasibility: technological capacity both of existing technology and of the organization
Legal/Regulatory feasibility: the legal or regulatory frameworks which surround a particular issue and which may affect the ability of a company to enter a market or deliver a service
Market Feasibility: Is there a market for the product? What is the estimated market size and profile of the consumer
Operational/Schedule feasibility: what operational requirements are there? Is the schedule feasible? Will your team be able to complete it given the requirements, what additional resources are required?
Financial feasibility: given the market size, technical and operational requirements does the project make monetary sense?
By answering these questions in an indepth analysis you can begin to develop a response to the question, is this a feasible business idea?

So who buys feasibility studies? Anyone from large real estate developers, to product developers, to mom and pop shops, who need to assess, if there is market for their product or service.

How much should a feasibility study cost? The question depends upon the value of the business idea. The larger the business, the more likelihood that something can go wrong, and the bigger the risks, thus the more likely you will want to do a feasibility or even pre-feasibility study. What it comes down to is the bigger the project, the bigger the feasibility study. A factory will require far more details than a new piece of software. Generally, expect to pay upwards of $5,000 per study, with the average being somewhere in the $7,500-$10,000 range for most small products and services. Larger real estate developments and resource based projects, require environmentals and testing, and can easily fetch over $100,000.

If you think this is expensive, the question becomes, what does it cost to make a bad or uninformed business decision? This is the reason feasibility studies and plans still play a very important role in business decision making, and why your lender or investor may want one.

Is the Business Plan Dead? Not necessarily….

Is the Business Plan Dead? Think again.

Business Plan on Blackboard
Business Plan on Blackboard


We keep hearing that the the business plan is dead. We have moved to business model canvasses, pitch deck and other tools.  Try telling this to a banker! For the majority of businesses who are looking for financing, a business plan is still a relevant document. Even if you are doing a pitchdeck, business model canvas or other tools of the trade, the act of planning is crucial to the success of the business. For any business you must know your market, you must know your costs, and operational details. Without these, your business has almost zero chance of survival.  We also have to remember that many of these other business tools are crafted for industries where the industry and technology change daily. This really is not the case for 80%+ of businesses out there.

The reality of our situation is that if you are running a restaurant, salon or are a solopreneur, your business will NOT change that much day to day. You are still in the industry of serving people. Customers have to come first.  The technology you use can change, but it is not the service you are delivering.  This is why banks, and many financiers still want a business plan. They want you to go though the actions of planning out your business, think of the different situations you will encounter, and how you as an owner will deal with the events. In essence, you are asking them for their money, so how will you guarantee that you are keeping it safe. How will you plan to pay it back and how will you ensure the long-term survival of your venture?

Nobody, even most advisors, really like business planning. What we like is people. We want to see those who we work with succeed. It makes us feel good inside. We see the added value of our work and line of service. It gives us credibility and helps to grow our client base.

So is a business plan something you do only once to get your funding? For some entrepreneurs, yes. They do their plan, get their money and run their mom and pop operation.  Increasingly however, in today’s fast changing business environment, many people find it helpful to do a plan review once a year to help keep them on track.

Why Employ a Consultant? Isn’t it cheaper to do it myself?

The answer is yes, but a consultant can be objective. We also work across a lot of different industries, and can offer insight that we see across multiple sectors. I cannot tell you the multitude of times that I was able to offer clients insight based on a technology, tool or other trend I saw from my experience in working across multiple industries.  The truth is, when you plan businesses for a living, you learn a lot about many different industries. You’d be surprised the value a good consultant can bring.

 

Do I Need a Business Plan? The answer may surprise you…

do I need a business plan?

Do I need a business plan? I cannot tell you how often I get this question. Early in my career, I was an avid supporter of Business Plans. Not the business plan itself per se, but the planning process. Planning in itself is crucial to the success of a business-or so I thought. However, over the years I have become more of a cynic.

I have seen many well-planned businesses fail. These were businesses where the entrepreneurs wrote business plans, strategic plans, revised, reviewed and planned their hearts out. Some entrepreneurs plan for years before launching, but even the best laid out plan, can fail– and believe me, they do. I have also seen many ideas, developed after intense all-nighters, go on to flourish and sell for seven figures within two years without ever having a single page of a planning document.

What is the difference? Why is it that some can survive without a business plan and others seem to live and breathe by their plans?

To fully understand this this, we need to take a step back and ask, what has led to this business planning phenomenon? The answer can be found, both in our business culture and our communities. There are parts of the world, where business plans do not exist. Yet in North America, the Business Plan is seen as a crucial component of the business process–and the torment of Entrepreneurs and their Financiers.

Years ago, when we wanted to borrow money for a new business, we went to our local bank-the one we had dealt with for years. The bank or lending manager knew you by name. He knew where you lived, your family, your Church and your habits. Further, many people had higher levels of personal savings. These were tapped and used at key moments such as this.

One might run a family farm, a general store or small restaurant, but imagine the lack of bureaucratic red tape of the Wild West compared to setting up a business in a large urban city today – from non-existent to a nightmare. As our communities grew, as newcomers entered, as borrowing markets expanded, knowing everyone that we dealt with was harder. What was needed was a rigorous process that would standardize the way we evaluated people and introduce some scientific validity to what had previously been a very personal decision.

Enter the business plan, the savior of the Financier and the Entrepreneur. Over the years, particularly since the 1980s, the use of the term business plan has skyrocketed.

But who actually needs a business plan? These days, if you are seeking financing of any form, you require one.
Do you need a business plan to ensure the success of your business? I would say “No”. I would say for some personality types, a business plan is a requirement to ensure that they have thought through their business idea. I would suggest that those entrepreneurs who are rash, those who have entered into risky arrangements in the past and those who are investing personal funds into industries which have high capital costs, would do well to stop and prepare a business planning document.

For others, I would say that a business plan is no more than a checklist item to get you investing. This is not to say that all business planning is bad. Rather, like reading literary classics in school, this is a checklist item that you need to get through the system. Some will take pleasure in preparing these, for others the term “business plan” evokes visions of weeks (or months) of pain.

There are scores of business planning solutions on the market. Business Plan Pro by Palo Alto software is one of the greatest pieces of entrepreneurship software ever to come out. For those who do not remember or recall life before this program, it really did revolutionize business planning. Tim Berry is a guru in the industry and paying homage to him is an honor. By the same token, Microsoft and Palo Alto also have subscription services that are great for those who suit that personality. Enloop, a recent entry into the market, is also very clear and easy to use.  For organizations serving entrepreneurs, we developed SME Gurus – a complete entrepreneurship platform that builds on the business plan by adding goal tracking and accountability.

 

However, the majority of these pieces of software are still difficult—even for me as an accountant and consultant. I enjoyed learning about industries, putting together financials and forecasts, solidifying a marketing plan and watching entrepreneurs’ dreams take flight–but writing the business plan was painful process. I stand back and think how difficult a process it must be for others. I have run across immigrants with great work ethic and a great business idea, but who get stalled in their access to capital because of poor language skills. I have come across others who have trouble with numbers, or others who have such passion and vision in their business idea, that I would say a business plan for them is nothing more than an obstacle. Some things you have to feel, and just know they are going to work. Others, no matter how much you plan—they will never take off.

So what is the happy medium?  My recommendation is know yourself. Ensure you know your customer. The best way to know them is to ask. Think about the business you want to build and ask yourself, what the crucial steps to getting it done are. If a business plan is part of that for you than do so. If you need financing, you will need a business plan. If you are applying to incubators, you will need a business plan and more.

So what planning must be done? The only planning that is crucial to a new company is knowing your market and cash flow planning. Understanding who you are selling to and why, and knowing how much cash you have, when payments happen, and how you are going to support yourself and your business is the key to the success of your business. This is because without a steady flow of income you will not survive long enough to figure out your business model. Start with these two key factors, and plan additionally as needed. Remember, until you need to go for that first loan, don’t stress over your business plan.