Measuring Success: What Kind Of Yardstick Do You Use?

 


shelves3

 

lovely photo from diane

 

post by Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

 

 

 

Are all of the front desk assistants of the National Endowment for the Arts pregnant?

Some things you simply cannot avoid wondering about if you happen to be outnumbered by young women, hands cradling their swollen bellies, waddling around the hallowed halls of the NEA.  “It is a very busy time.  Everyone is going from one meeting to another,” murmured Vanessa, a slender woman – not pregnant – who greeted us at the offices for local arts agencies where we  were scheduled for a meeting.

This is our yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, a time for me to personally touch base with the folks who shepherd our grant requests through the labrynth of their panel process and with whom I have become good friends with over the years.  I like the train ride down to DC, wandering wide eyed through Union Station and stopping to say a quick hello to everyone before they duck into yet another meeting.

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the lovely ladies working for local arts agencies

“We love when people come to see us, especially now that our travel budgets have been cut.  I wish more people did,” said one director to me who I caught grabbing a quick lunch at the Indian take out place.  I have to admit I don’t understand why more nonprofits don’t make it a priority to visit funders.  Every time I sit down with the directors, it is a chance for me to let them know what we are doing, what we intend to apply for and very often I will gain a valuable insight or piece of advice that will make our proposal rock.  If you want to be a successful grantwriter, consider this:  there is an art to writing for money.

This time, the big thing is innovation and transformation.  They want something that presents new learning or insights.  Something replicable and measurable.

“What does that look like to you? ”  I asked.  “Can you give me an example?”

Answer the Question, Goddamnit!

The director smiled.  “We talk about that a lot  The answer to your question is that we will know it when we see it.”

This is an answer?

They don’t know what a successful innovative and transformative project is.  And if they don’t know that, they cannot describe it.  Or measure it.

LIke many other funding opportunities out there, the NEA wants to see their dollar make an important impact.  Something that changes and transforms lives.  A model that can be replicated in other places.  And it falls to the artists and creative thinkers to visualize a project that can do all that and, most of all, deliver such an experience that allows the vision of the funders to bundle up the act and set up shop in another place.

It is a competitive category.  We need to leave no doubt among the grant panelists that yes, we are worthy of funding.  Why?  Because we transform lives.

How do we do this?

By creating a picture of the success we intend to create and a space for a funder to feel part of something that is moving towards real and tangible goals with benchmarks that can feed back into the process.

 

Do They Know?

Anyone who tells you “they will know it when they see it” has no idea what “it” is, which actually is a very good thing.  It is an admission of not knowing what they want to achieve, only knowing why.  This is a very good thing.  It tells me funders are willing to be outcomes focused and open to anything  as long as it is new in philosophy and that it changes something. To make art make a difference.

 

 

What You Should Know

For us, transformation has to be demonstrated by what an artist does with the skills, learnings and confidence gained by being part of what Queens Council on the Arts provides.  It is no longer and, in my book, never was enough to describe success as well attended events or satisfied customers.  How do I know this and why do I believe so strongly in this comes from simply watching the body language, especially the eyes, of the directors.  Their eyes did not light up when we talked about how happy the artists were to be part of the workshops, and to learn new skills.  We will have to create a vivid image of success that we will set as our goal which will be the artist as a confident, engaged, creative professional whose art can change the world.  Our yardstick will be the gradual changes their art and their actions cause in the world.

Here’s an excerpt from Marion Conway’s summary of the 2013 Annual Letter by Bill Gates:

In the last year Beth Kanter has been talking about the importance of measurement to the networked nonprofit.  Now Bill Gates opens his 2013 Annual letter talking about it with a quote from William Rosen’s  “The Most Powerful Idea in the World.”  Bill writes: “Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.” With it, invention becomes “commonplace.”……..But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop similar to the one Rosen describes. This may seem pretty basic, but it is amazing to me how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.

 

There, I said it.  And I believe it.

What does success look like, move like, sound like for what you do?

This way of thinking could be catching.  Unlike pregnancy, thank God.

 

 

 

 

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Why I Question People Who Give Me Money

"Twist and Shout"

photo by rennan

I suppose the first thing most of us do when receiving checks in the mail for unimaginable amounts of money is to shriek and start to twist and shout uncontrollably.  At least, that is what I do.

It seems almost counterintuitive to do anything else but there is something that I do that does seem strange.

I take a deep breath, shake myself out of my celebrating frenzy and I pick up the phone to ask the person why they are giving me money.

That’s right.  I question their judgment.  Politely, of course, but determined to understand why.

I want to know what was it about my letter, my application, my anything that impressed them.  I want to know how well my request reflects their needs.  I want to know what was weak.  I want to know if they are excited about my project and why.

Most of the time, people will be very nice about sharing this information with you.  A lot of them are surprised that I am asking,  “Usually it is the person that did not get money that calls asking why, not the person who did get money.”

Let me share a little secret with you

I am a funder too.  Every year I read a stack of applications and actively participate in animated conversations over who deserves funding and how much.I would love to talk to an applicant and encourage them to tweak something in their narrative or rethink their workplan.  To share some insight that could transform their application into a success one.

I am in the business of funding creative people.  I want to help people become better at pitching their story and writing successful grants, especially the ones who call  for panel comments when they are not given funding.   It will demonstrates to me that you are passionate about what you do and you care about what people think of your work.  Do this whenever you get money too.  This is not done often enough and it should be the one of the first things you do.

I also send out letters of inquiry, grant applications and requests for funding to support the work I do.  I win some and I lose some.  But regardless of the outcome, I always call.   I can’t think of a better place to really start building a strong relationship with a person than in this very situation.  Your dream, their money.  Face it, it’s like being married.

Here’s what I include in every conversation with someone who gives me money and who doesn’t give me money:

Start every conversation with a thank you

Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge.  Let people know how much you appreciate their support.

Ask for panel comments

By understanding how people judge merit is often an eye opening experience.  It can help you be more competitive if you know what criteria are more important to them than others.  You can also get a sense of the pool of applicants and the kinds of projects you are up against.

Listen and take really good notes

You are not going to remember anything if you don’t write it down. Repeat an answer for clarity if you need to.  Make sure you keep a record of your notes so that you can refer to them quickly the next time your speak to them.

Thank them for their time

Be grateful for their help.  Always begin and end with acknowledging a person by thanking them.  Be sure they are left with a good impression of you as a conscientious and gracious person.

Someone it would be a pleasure to continue giving money to.

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Hoong Yee

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Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

Worker Bee Alert: The Five Warning Signs Your Inner Buzz Is Dying

Fw: IMG00054-20110511-1758.jpg

I am standing with Chase, the beekeeper, and Jeff, the building owner

the rooftop farm of the Acumen building in Long Island City

 

“Me, I’m more of a big time enthusiast, ”  said Chase.  He spoke reverently of the serious bee people who drive around the country doing bee related activities.  His involvement with this sweet little industry was a few hives at most.  “I’ve seen honey go for $15 a pound.  And all this, ”  he waved towards the beehives at the far end of the roof.  “will yield a good couple thousand dollars.”

You have to love people who love what they do.  Especially bee keepers.

What about you?

Now I have been a worker bee in many former lives so I am very familiar with those unmistakeable signals from your inner soul that tell you that it is time to make a change.  If you are not eager to start everyday doing something you love, you may notice the following about yourself:

1 You hate Sundays

That stomach ache that announces Monday.  Your shoulders slumping as you think about the week gaping before you like a black hole.

2 You hate the rest of the week

Rinse and repeat.

3 Caffeine doesn’t work

No amount of Joe gets you going.  You are dragging your heels, physically and spiritually.

4 You are not curious about anything

There is nothing that seizes your imagination and allows your mind to visualize solutions or scenarios.  This is very bad because eventually you become satisfied with accomplishing less.

5 Graduate schools look appealing

What does grab your attention is the opportunity to learn something new to enable you to do something else.  You are already out the door and searching for the next thing.

I have spent a lot of time working with people in the arts who have all kinds of challenges making a life of making art.  But one thing they supremely and confidently revolve around is their inner buzz.  Their passion for what they do.  Their life is their art.  Their work is what they do to support their art.

Life is too short to be unhappily employed.  I say do what brings you the most happiness.

Penelope Trunk has a twist on common career advice.   Here’s her advice: Do not what you love; do what you are.

The weekend thread on Corporette offers some tips on changing jobs.

And if any of you are intrigued by the thought of working in a library, Josh Hanagarne can tell you all about his career as a librarian and what he loves about it.

Think about it carefully:  doing what you love and doing what makes you happy are not always the same thing.

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Hoong Yee

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— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested

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Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

Daniel Boulud’s Secret Recipe For Success

Me, daniel, mik IMG00058-20110514-2106.jpg

On the first Saturday night at Boulud Sud, we descended with an unexpected crowd of eight.

Mais sans doute, it was a typically magnifique!  Here we are, moi, Daniel and Mikki.

It is tres difficile for me to imagine the life of a successful restauranter as he continues to build his empire without wondering what the secret sauce is.

What is it about Daniel Boulud that brings him success, the three star Michelin rating, his restaurant’s ranking among the best in the world?

The vodka gimlet elegantly served in a slender carafe?

The Lamb Cleopatra that was simply delicious?  The accompanying roasted beets in pistachio yogurt?

How about that Turkish pudding surrounded by some kind of rhubarb swirl?

The edgy grapefruit sorbet?  The mint chocolate pave with pine nuts, jasmine flower and chocolate sorbet?  Yum!

The smartly attentive staff?

All that, and Daniel himself, working the room and making all of us feel extremely especiale and enchantee. Of course, the food and the service are exemplary.  The ambience is chic and inviting.  But I think that intuitive ability to connect with with his guests is the cherry on the cake.  It is what makes an evening out with friends memorable and it is what makes us his best word of mouth warriors.

Boulud Sud.  The new star in the empire.  Ask for Michael, the guy with the cool tie and glasses.  He will make sure your evening is heavenly.

Bon appetit.

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If you want style notes and more for people who change the world, please check out:

Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

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Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

— Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested

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Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

The Zen Of Listening: How To Hear The Sound Of Money

Coins-Keh (HBW)

photo by mang M

Before someone opens their wallet, you need to open your ears.

Getting someone to buy in to what you do, or to buy your product sounds like many different things.  If you listen well, you will be able to recognize the conversation that brings the cash.

What do I mean by that?

 

Have the conversation and listen

The best grants I have ever received are the ones that I got before I wrote the grant application.  The most consistent donations I have ever received were given before I asked.   In this type of relationship, pitching and closing the deal happens way before the check.  And it all begins with listening.

Penelope Trunk wrote a post about how to sell anything to anyone.  She recommends asking a good question and solving a problem to engage someone’s interest in you.  Open ended questions do this, yes/no questions do not.  You learn more about the person and what they need, what they want.  She says:

“People will buy stuff from you because you are solving a problem or capitalizing on an opportunity. In other words, people only buy stuff if it helps them make money or save money.

If you cannot trace your solution to either making money or saving money, then you have a problem.

A lot of people say that this rule does not apply to their job. But they are wrong. If you look up their chain of command, someone—somewhere—is evaluating them by whether they make money or save money, and they ignore this at their peril.

Pick three questions you want to feel comfortable asking—questions that are open ended and encourage people to talk about the problem area where you have solutions. The more you practice these questions, the more you own them.”

Peter Deitz has a post called “How Will Your Nonprofit Raise Money in 2012?  He acknowledges the bad economy and it’s impact on fundraising, but makes the following point about the shift in donor expectations:

In 2012, individuals will come to your organization with the expectation of being full partners in your work, not just dollar wells to be tapped when cash is needed. Donations will be a consequence of meaningful engagement, not a measurement of it.

Some things to listen for:

Dreams

I met with a boxful of budget weary city council members and their chiefs of staff this week seeking their support for my requests.  This is the time of year when they railroad meetings with people clutching expense and capital request forms in their hands.  I like to keep my pitch short and compelling, under five minutes and for the balance of the twenty minute meeting, I ask, “So, are you an artist?”

This is where I start making notes that this person likes attending classical symphony concerts, the community liaison person is crocheting a very brightly colored purse with no straps.  Here’s a picture:

Kat IMG00308-20110503-1344.jpg

Kat Thompson, from NYC Councilman Leroy Comrie’s team

 

A light in the eye

She absolutely lit up and breathlessly told me about the design of the bag, where she got her yarn and how she got the pattern for her next project – a monokini.  I am not sure what that is but I was told that they are selling in chic stores for a lot of money.  I promised to send her the link for Ravelry, a community of knitters and crocheters I belong to.

Laughter

Don’t you like being with people who are fun, who can make you laugh, who smile and remember your name?  It doesn’t require a steel trap memory to do this, just a gentle reminder to jot down a note or two on the back of their business card.  The returns on this are tremendous.  And if you do a lot of meetings, this will make your follow up calls more personal and powerful.

A place to begin

Opportunity often pokes its head through a conversation as a question.  “Do you know someone who can run a workshop for me?”  “How is your board?”  Exchange questions that reveal how you can be helpful.  Find that place to start a relationship that they want to be in.  I have a few fun arts events coming up and I extend a personal invitation to every elected official in Queens to attend and whenever possible, to make welcoming remarks in front of the audience.  Sharing the spotlight is a great way to spark a relationship.



Get more Wow!

If you want style notes and more for people who change the world, please check out:

Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

Nonprofit Knitwear for all things knit and nonprofit

Style Notes from me, your artspy

Hoong Yee

— Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested

— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @hylkrakauer)

— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update

Thanks so much! I really appreciate your help.

Word of mouth is the best way to share, don’t you agree?

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