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  • 07/15/2023 12:56 PM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    promo image with blog title and headshot

    Visitors to your website want answers, fast, so your website has to hook visitors from the very first interaction. Here are some tips to make a favorable impression right away

    As soon as a new visitor - or even someone who’s coming back for a return visit – arrives on the site, their mind is swimming with questions.

    Questions like:

    • What's your mission?
    • Why does it matter?
    • How does it fit into my life?
    • Why should I believe you?
    • How can I get involved?

    Everyone's busy and ready to move on to the next task. So your website has to hook visitors from the very first interaction.

    So how can you create a website that leaves a favorable impression?

    By following a few core principles, you can create an experience that invites visitors to dive deeper into your work.

    1. Orient your visitors

    image of girl and toddler with watermelon and explanatory text from Nourish CA website

    The moment they land on your site, visitors should be able to understand your nonprofit's big idea. You can do that by describing your nonprofit's work in 15 words or less in the first headline that appears on your Home page. Think of it like your organization's elevator pitch to somebody new.

    This text should describe some version of the who, what, why, or where (or all of the above!) about your mission. This helps visitors know what kind of website they're about to read so they understand the context for everything that follows.

    2. Make it scannable

    The truth is that nobody reads websites front to back — they scan them first and only stop when something catches their attention. If you don't have a scannable website, visitors won't have the entry points needed to explore the rest of your work.

    You can increase scannability by breaking your content into sections that each have a specific purpose. Make liberal use of headings, lists, short paragraphs, images, and icons to direct your reader's eye. Anything that breaks up the flow of content will make it easier for readers to skim and hop around.

    3. Use ample spacing

    Giving your content enough spacing goes a long way toward encouraging people to read it. That means giving your content room to breathe — leaving space around text and images so things feel open and uncluttered.

    Effective use of spacing provides structure to your content. It introduces an easy-to-understand visual hierarchy that moves people down the page in an intuitive manner. It also helps draw the eye toward the major actions you'd like visitors to take as they navigate your site. 

    As a bonus, strong spacing also makes the design feel more considered and professional, enhancing your org's reliability and trustworthiness.

    4. Keep your content readable

    This is the number one mistake nonprofits make with their messaging: writing their website like it's a grant application! 

    Using an overly academic tone introduces distance between you and your community. Even if your audience consists of highly educated people, they likely don't enjoy interacting with websites that read like a scientific paper. When in doubt, try to write at an accessible 9th-grade level. (You can use the Hemingway Editor to check your content's complexity level.) Use the sort of language you would use when talking to a friend at a coffee shop when they ask, "So what do you do?"

    Beyond the language itself, ensure your site uses a font size that's easy for visitors to read without requiring magnification. Small text is difficult for anyone to read. When in doubt, keep your regular body text at a size of 18px or more.

    5. Use “you-focused” language

    Here's a simple test: press Ctrl+F on your website's Home page and count how many ”you’s” and “your’s” appear on the page. Then compare that number with how many "we"s and "us"es appear on the page. Which number is higher?

    Website testing consistently shows that content containing more "you" makes people want to keep reading. It invites your reader along for the ride by framing things from their perspective. 

    If you find your website content relies more heavily on “we” and “us” -focused language, try rephrasing some of your sentences to more actively include the reader.

    Pulling it all together

    Here's the reality: confusing websites get ignored, while helpful websites get used.

    With the above improvements in place, you'll nail the first impression of your nonprofit website.

    And as people spend more time on your website, they'll read your stories, discover your resources, and explore the ways they can get involved with your org.

    Creating an effective nonprofit website can be an ongoing challenge.

    But when the pieces fit together well, you start your visitors off on the right foot along the larger journey into your mission.

    Austin Hattox is the founder of Pixel Lighthouse 

  • 06/24/2023 11:23 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud can be a game-changing Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) platform to help nonprofit organizations serve their mission. Nonprofits qualify for 10 free licenses through the Power of Us Program.

    However, securing the licenses is just the beginning.

    As a Salesforce Consulting Partner, Ascend NPO has learned that the real value of the tool is in how we customize it to solve specific problems unique to each nonprofit.

    This can cost less and move faster than many nonprofit leaders may think. Here’s a case study featuring a recent client who leveraged a customized version of Salesforce to transform their program delivery. The project cost less than $10,000 and took about 8 weeks from kickoff to handoff.

    Case Study – Dads Move

    Meet Dads Move, a growing nonprofit based in Washington state. Their mission is to strengthen the role of parents, especially dads, in raising children with behavioral health needs.

    As Dads Move has grown, they encountered significant challenges in delivering their programs efficiently due to outdated systems. To overcome these hurdles, they partnered with Ascend NPO. Let's explore how the implementation of Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud transformed their program management and delivery.

    Assessment and Diagnosis

    Dads Move relied on manual processes, paper documents, and scattered data in spreadsheets, impeding their growth. Then, they secured several high-value grants. The funders wanted them to scale up, but required the group to meet performance and reporting standards.

    The group needed Salesforce to create more standardized systems and automate parts of the intake process that staff previously did manually. Plus, as Dads Move grew, leaders wanted a better handle on their programs and results to make more data-driven decisions.

    Planning and Implementation

    Dads Move engaged Ascend NPO for Salesforce consulting and implementation services. Ascend NPO conducted in-depth sessions with the Executive Director, Program Manager, and other staff to understand their program management. This resulted in a detailed process map that identified:

    • Required data points
    • Staff handoff areas
    • Automation opportunities
    • Necessary documentation

    Using the process map as a guide, Ascend NPO designed and implemented a custom solution within Salesforce.

    This tailored solution empowered Dads Move to automate and track applications, care plans, and support services. They could now accept applications online, move applications and care plans through a structured process, and document support services they provided to clients.

    salesforce forms customized for Dads Move on blue background

    Results and Impact

    Implementing Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud had a significant impact on the nonprofit's operations. Some of the key outcomes included:

    1. Streamlined Program Delivery and Reporting: Program delivery and demographic data became readily available, which made reporting for new and existing grant requirements much easier. This helped the nonprofit ensure that they were meeting grant requirements and could quickly report on their program impact to funders.
    2. Increased Efficiency: Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud streamlined the intake and referral process, resulting in an increase in the number of families served per staff member. By reducing time spent on administrative tasks, staff members could focus more on their mission, leading to heightened staff satisfaction.
    3. Improved Program Participant Satisfaction: The improved case management capabilities enabled Dads Move to connect families with support services more efficiently. As a result, client satisfaction levels increased, and more families received the vital assistance they needed.

    Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud empowered Dads Move to amplify their impact and deliver better outcomes for the families they served. By harnessing the platform's capabilities, they streamlined their operations, alleviated administrative burdens, and refocused their efforts on providing critical support services to those in need.


    The success story of Dads Move illustrates the power of Salesforce Nonprofit Cloud to transform a nonprofit’s operations.

    Matt Souza 

    Meet Matt, an experienced nonprofit consultant and Salesforce professional with nearly a decade of expertise, founded Ascend IPO in 2020. Learn more about his firm and Salesforce customization Ascend NPO here.

    Members can add comments to this post

  • 03/14/2023 8:04 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    UPDATE!  (June 11)

    • Thank you to the groups from across the U.S. who applied! 
    • The Association received submissions from across the country from innovative LGBTQ+ organizations. After narrowing down a highly competitive field of applicants from across the country, four finalists were invited to a virtual business pitch session to present their projects to a panel of consultants who work with nonprofit organizations. 
    • After a careful selection, the judges selected the Supply Hive as the finalist who would be receiving the financial award and six pro bono consulting sessions. The other finalists, the National Queer Theater, Equality Chamber, and Affinity Community Services, will each receive consulting support from ACN volunteers.


    When the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits created its mutual-support EMPOWER groups in 2022, providing support so members could help each other was one of the main goals. Now members of the LGBTQ+ Empower Group have added helping others to their goal.

    “The LGBTQ+ EMPOWER Group was formed to raise the visibility and profile of members within the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits who work to support LGBTQ issues and beyond,” says David Dow, a. member of the LGBTQ+ Empower Group that created the grant.

    “As a group we decided to create and collaborate on this award to recognize the important work of nonprofits serving our communities at such a critical and contentious time and to provide needed exposure, funds, and mentoring from ACN member consultants,” Dow adds. 

    The grant initiative the group created marks the first time ACN has provided a grant of cash and technical assistance to another organization in this way.

    One organization will receive a financial award of at least $1,500 as well as six months of support from ACN-member consultants whose collective expertise covers every aspect of working in the nonprofit and social impact sector and who will be available for an established meeting schedule.

    David Dow said that the LGBTQ+ Empower Group, which is leading the consulting initiative, looks forward to helping. Some examples of how they envision the work going forward might include:

    • Developing a new service area or program that brings direct benefits to LGBTQ+ populations
    • Incorporating LGBTQ+ concerns into existing DEI efforts
    • Launching a new outreach campaign to expand service to LGBTQ+ individuals
    • Revising existing documents to incorporate more inclusive language.

    These are just examples; group members say they are open to whatever needs candidates for the grant put forward.

    Pro bono consulting for finalists

    All finalists will receive one pro bono consulting session with a volunteer consultant.

    More than 150 consultants from across the U.S. and Canada make up the ACN, which was started more than 30 years ago in Chicago. Members work with local and national organizations in areas from Association Management to DEI and from Social Media to Strategic Planning.

    More details on our website here. 

    Questions? Email acn.Igbtq@gmail.com

    Members can add comments to this post

  • 02/27/2023 9:51 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    Crystal Whiteaker promo image

    “Inclusion in branding and business is a hot topic right now.”

    I’ve lost count of the number of times a variation of this statement has been said in my presence.

    If you’re white, cis-gendered, neurotypical, non-disabled and/or a heterosexual leader in any community—whether you have a platform with a small following, or you lead a large group with hundreds of creatives—this is for you.

    While you’re trying to incorporate diversity through messaging and visuals, you could be doing more harm than good.

    Genuine inclusion isn’t something that you buy in a package with a checklist, or employ with a gallery of stock photos showing people from diverse backgrounds. Change isn’t made simply through posting graphics with trendy colors.

    Genuine inclusion takes work—deep, uncomfortable, disruptive, work—and here’s the truth: A lot of people in positions of privilege aren’t ready to let go of their comfort to do the real work that’s required of them, in order to examine their participation in the oppressive, capitalist, white supremacist system that still rules every aspect of our lives—yes, even our creative businesses. This is a system that many of our fellow creatives and business owners have learned how to operate in just to live.

    Lasting Change Starts with Disruption

    As an inclusive branding and leadership development consultant, I spend a lot of time guiding people through the challenging process of identifying and disrupting their own bias, before they can even create and share content that’s welcoming and inclusive. We work to disrupt everything that feels familiar and comfortable to identify that bias on a personal, professional, and community level. This process starts with an examination of their own behaviors and beliefs, as well as those of the people and environments they’re connected to.

    First, we clarify the importance of inclusion, as well as examples of key terms and behaviors, before getting to the roots of their existing brand, where we re-visit and re-define core values, beliefs, and commitments.After we go through the process of doing this deep, often uncomfortable work, then—and only then—can we get into creating content that speaks to inclusion in a way that’s rooted in core values.

    It’s vital to first do the deep, inner work that brings awareness to the ways we all participate in systems that create harm within marginalized communities.

    Examples of harm include not speaking up when you see harm being done; excluding people because they’re “different” in some way; spiritual, emotional, or experiential bypassing; using or excusing racial slurs, sexist or homophobic language; talking negatively about someone else's weight, appearance, or disability; or using and excusing microaggressions. Even in the form of a “joke,” these things can all cause harm, whether someone points it out or not. (And often out of fear of retribution, they won’t.)

    It’s tempting to jump right into using inclusive messaging and visuals, yes. But, if you avoid addressing and engaging in the inner work first, without holding yourself and your community accountable, then you run the risk of causing even more harm. That harm takes the shape of:

    1. Action Bias: The need to develop and act on solutions just to feel good about “taking action” before a problem is even defined or understood,—especially when it doesn’t actually solve the problem.
    2. Performative Allyship: Outwardly showing support for a community or group without doing any real work behind the scenes to understand the challenges or needs of the communities you’re attempting to connect with.

    Creating Truly Inclusive Content

    When you do the deep inner work and you’re ready to create inclusive content, then it’s time to consider your message and who you’re inviting into your brand and community. You have to create from a place of understanding and consider that everyone has their own unique lived experiences in addition to their personal identities, which influences the way they connect with brands and the content that gets shared. Something important to understand is that diversity brings people in, representation gives them a voice, and inclusion makes them feel welcome, heard, and understood.

    When you're incorporating genuine inclusion into your life and business, your goal should be to provide people with a sense of belonging. With that in mind, here are a few questions for you to consider:

    1. What is your motivation for bringing inclusion into your brand and community?
    2. How is inclusion connected to your core values?
    3. How do you account for unique/individual lived experiences?

    If you want all people to feel welcome, you'll need to make sure they can find themselves represented in the content you share, in a non-tokenizing way. It’s also important to be consistent. For example, you can't only share images or messaging in support of the Black community during Black History Month, and you can't only show support of the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month.

    In addition, your brand should include ethical representation of the people you're inviting in. Avoid stereotyping, engaging in cultural appropriation, and using people in brand photos who do not actually identify with the audience(s) you are looking to connect to. (For example: do not use models who aren't part of the LGBTQ+ community to represent the LGBTQ+ community.) It’s important to be consistently inclusive in practice while being mindful of the language and imagery you share in public and in private. This also includes the relationships you keep and the organizations you support.

    The truth about creating inclusive content for your brand is that every action you take toward building a genuinely welcoming community requires awareness that can only be achieved through identifying and disrupting bias. It requires continuous work, recognition, and mindfulness that people need to be able to see practiced throughout your brand.

    Crystal Whiteaker (pronouns: she/her), is the author of the new book Brave Leadership is a Choice: An Inclusive Guide to Creating Belonging, and an Inclusive Branding and Leadership Development and Consultant specializing in coaching and consulting for brands and leaders that care deeply about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. More at her website, Crystal Lily Creative.

    Don't forget that members can add comments or questions to this post!

  • 01/20/2023 9:04 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    Well, Fellow ACN members—we find ourselves at the start of another year, wondering how the last one slipped by so quickly. 2022 was a busy year for ACN! Some of our accomplishments include:

    1. Two established EMPOWER groups: LBGTQA+ and New Consultants
    2. Holding an in-person celebration with Dr. Judith Wright as the keynote speaker
    3. Addressing long-standing governance issues that introduce unnecessary bureaucracy and slow down ACN’s work

    Our membership has also continued to grow in size and scope. At the end of 2022, ACN had 150 members in 24 states and 1 Canadian province, and we continue to attract members from all over the US.

    On average, our members have more than 20 years of experience and serve 8 clients a year. ACN members also represent the full range of consulting experience-- from “just started” to an established organization with $50 million in revenue. I’m thrilled to see just how much of a “big tent” ACN is—welcoming both members who are starting out and experienced and established consultants.

    ACN also welcomed 5 new board members in July 2023:

    • William Moore, The Strategy Group (KS)
    • DeRhondal Bevly, RubyRose Strategies (IL)
    • Allecia Harley, Prevention Advisory Group (IL)
    • Dennis Johnson, Sort Sol Group (IL)
    • Arthur Padilla, StratG Works (WA)

    The current board is a step in the right direction as the Board seeks to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The board now has directors in 5 states, representing solo entrepreneurs, small consulting firms, and large international organizations and represents members from the LQBTQA+ community and several racial and ethnic groups.

    So what’s on deck for 2023?

    • Planning and development of CAN DO IT!
      Under the leadership of Allecia Harley, this January ACN developed and launched the CAN DO IT! Program for new consultants. The sessions cover a range of topics critical for new and just starting consultants such as legal structure, financial management, and marketing. This year’s program will start next week with 15 registrants -- registration is closed but we plan to host this series again based on interest. 

    • Expanding the scope and reach of EMPOWER groups
      ACN’s EMPOWER groups are one of our most vibrant programs; both the LGBTQA+ and New Consultants groups have grown since they started about a year ago.

      The New Consultants groups has more than 30 people and is still growing! And the LGTQA+ group has developed and is launching a mini-grant program for nonprofits working on LGBTQA+ issues. This grant also comes with ACN consultant support. Both groups are great examples of what happens when smart and savvy ACN members come together.

      ACN plans to expand our EMPOWER group offerings to address the interests of other sub-communities within the larger membership, such as Consultants of Color and Large Organization members. We welcome ideas for other EMPOWER groups, too!
    • Focus on identifying and amplifying the programs and activities that ACN members find valuable
      A key strategic focus that ACN’s Board of Directors started in 2022 is more clearly defining the value that consultants get from their ACN membership. This includes analyzing the interests and needs of established consultants and expanding our program offerings to ensure that members outside of the Chicago area are able to participate in as many programs as possible.

      It’s important that we do this right and make sure members get what they need from ACN—whether in Chicago or out of state, new to consulting or an established firm of 20+ years, solo practitioners or part of multi-state firms.

    Finally, as I write this, the Board of Director’s governance committee is starting the process of building a slate of candidates for the FY2023-2024 fiscal year. I wholeheartedly encourage you (yes, you!) to consider applying for the Board--or if you're reading this and not yet a member, join us!

    Thank you all for your partnership.

    Shailushi Ritchie, ACN Board President

  • 12/18/2022 11:17 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    Blue box with blog post title and smiling Will Yang headshot

    The outlook for fundraising has changed a lot over the past few years, particularly due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic on philanthropy.

    Not all of the changes that resulted from the pandemic are bad. Since 2020, donors have remained committed to philanthropy, with many even increasing their giving during the pandemic.  

    This is good news for grant writers and nonprofit fundraising consultants alike. It means more opportunities for winning more grants and raising more money for your clients. 

    Don’t forget, though, that the grant writing landscape is constantly in flux. Along with increases in giving, there are also many more nonprofits and consultants asking for money, meaning the landscape is becoming more competitive. 

    If you are a grant writer, it’s critically important that you keep up with—and stay ahead of—trends in grant writing. My platform, Instrumentl is one tool you can use for that purpose.  Here’s a list of grant writing podcasts that provide timely ideas and interviews with well known experts. 

    Now, on to a list of ways that grantwriters can gain more clients in 2023. 

    4 Ways Grant Writers Can Gain More Clients in 2023

    1. Market Yourself

      Marketing yourself is key to reaching more clients and landing more grant writing gigs. 

      If you build a website, make sure it is effective—tell people who you are and what you can offer them. Consider testimonials from current or former clients who are happy with your work. You can even create an online “portfolio” with samples of your work that potential clients can review. 

      Keep it simple: a clean, streamlined layout, bold colors, and concise language will go a long way in helping you sell yourself to potential clients. 

      Most importantly, include a way that clients can contact you. 

    2. Create a Digital Presence on social media

      You can put your portfolio on Linked In or other social platforms, too.  LinkedIn can be an effective way to establish your brand, get the word out about your services, and build your network. 

      Facebook and Twitter (still!) are also platforms you can use to reach more potential clients.  As you build your digital presence, be sure to connect with fellow grant writers and consultants. They’re often a great resource and a potential connection point for new clients. ACN has a members only LinkedIn group where you can share what you have to offer/what you’re looking for and meet peers to compare notes. 

    3. Consider a Cold Pitch

      Find some organizations that interest you and reach out! Maybe you connect to their mission, or you feel passionate about the impact they have had on your community. This may work best with small, local nonprofits that could really benefit from your expertise. 

      When you make a cold pitch, be sure to include the following:

      - A brief, yet professional, introduction
      - A summary of the services you offer
      - Why you are the best (share your success rate!)
      - How hiring you will benefit their organization
      - Some grants that they might be eligible for

      That last item will take some leg work on your part, but it will pay off. This is a great way to show potential clients that you are knowledgeable about grant writing and that you already have a short list of potential grants that you could win for them. The return on the investment of your time can be high.

    4. Get Out From Behind Your Desk

      Building your network using digital platforms is great. But there is sometimes no substitute for old-fashioned networking. It’s important to see and be seen.

      In addition to ACN (of course!), consider joining networks like the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Grant Professionals Association, or another group relevant to your work. These organizations have local chapters that often host in-person and online meetings, networking events, and training sessions. 

    Wrapping Up: 4 Ways Grant Writers Can Gain More Clients in 2023

    The grant writing landscape is changing—and getting more competitive. As a grant writing consultant, you must be flexible and adaptable to stay ahead of the game. 

    Take a grant writing course (from us or others) to keep your skills sharp, work on building your network and your brand so you can reach more potential clients, and consider using the Instrumentl platform to streamline your efforts and help you win more grants. 

    If you follow this advice, you’ll be sure to have an amazing 2023!

    Will Yang leads growth at Instrumentl, a marketing partner of ACN that provides nonprofits with grant prospecting, tracking, and management. (It’s available at discounted rates to ACN members).

    Remember, ACN members can add comments or questions on each blog post. 

  • 10/30/2022 10:08 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    michele walls

    When I began consulting last year, I had no idea where it would lead or if I would make it on my own. Spoiler alert: it has been a tremendous year! ACN’s EMPOWER Early Stage Consultants Group has played a significant role in that.

    After I organized MW Strategies LLC and began my journey as a fundraising and management consultant to nonprofit organizations, I quickly realized there was more to being a solopreneur than the pros/cons list I threw together last summer. So, I started to seek out resources that would expand my knowledge about the business of nonprofit consulting.

    Through ACN and the Early Stage Consulting Group, I have learned that nonprofit consultants might be the experts in helping our clients, but we need our own network and support group in order to be most effective.

    What’s an EMPOWER Group?

    In spring 2022, ACN started their EMPOWER Groups that bring together consultants for conversations around common interests and topics. I have found camaraderie with newbies like myself in ACN’s EMPOWER Early Stage Consultants Group.

    We hail from all over the United States, Canada, and sometimes even further away. We specialize in IT, website design, fundraising, grant writing, strategic listening, organizational management, and more and are serving a vast assortment of missions.

    We meet monthly and intrepid ACN Executive Director Tricia Fusilero and Susan Kahan of Sapphire Fundraising Specialists keep us organized, learning, and sharing with one another in a safe and mutually supportive environment. We have gratefully welcomed more seasoned ACN professionals, including Janet Cobb and Amy Cook, who have generously shared their wisdom and experiences with us and inspired us to explore new ways of working.

    Topics we have covered include:

    • how to gain visibility through speaking engagements,
    • ins and outs of RFPs and contracts,
    • finding work/life harmony,
    • structuring our time and boundaries effectively,
    • consulting versus coaching, and
    • how to partner with other consultants.

    We discuss trends and personal successes and challenges that provide support in the often lonely world of sole proprietorships and encourage each other to expand our horizons. We make referrals and share ideas.

    For example, when someone in the group was concerned about not having launched their website yet, several of us reassured them by noting we didn't launch websites until a few months of business operations--and also that you don't have to launch everything all at once or keep everything the same forever.

    We formed our own LinkedIn group to keep in touch between meetings and boost each others’ posts. Every meeting, we come away with actionable information and helpful resources.

    As a result, I look forward to more effectively supporting my clients and their constituents with this knowledge gained while also keeping a balance with the other parts of my life. Whether you have been in nonprofit consulting forever or are just starting out, ACN and its EMPOWER groups are a great way to build your practice.

    Would I still be a consultant one year in, even if I never found ACN and its EMPOWER Groups? Probably - but having a supportive network and benefiting from the experience of others who’ve been where I am has made a huge difference. The power of a network makes all the difference--and ACN is a great network.

    Remember, ACN members can add comments or questions on each blog post. 

  • 09/04/2022 7:21 AM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    promo block with headshot and post title

    Traditional evaluation approaches prioritized funders’ needs rather than focusing on the needs of the communities where nonprofits’ were working.   Bias was often built into these evaluations.

    There is a new movement to change that: Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation, CREE.

    I am conducting a half day workshop titled, ‘Actionable tools to De-bias your evaluation practice’ at the 2022 American Evaluation Association conference this fall. As I plan my session, I thought it would be helpful to share some tools to de-bias evaluations using the CREE approach and the “why” behind the workshop with the ACN community so that every nonprofit and evaluator can reconsider how we measure success.  

    Past approaches to evaluation often perpetuated the existing historic injustice in the U.S. and other places. These evaluation models have disproportionately impacted certain populations or communities, continued disparities and sustained imbalances in power.

    In response to that problem, a few evaluators created the Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation (CREE) approach. 

    Culturally Responsive and Equitable Evaluation addresses the dynamics and practices that have historically undervalued the voices, knowledge, expertise, capacity and experience of all evaluation participants and stakeholders, particularly people of color and other marginalized peoples.

    This CREE model and de-biasing your evaluation requires that evaluators to engage in a process of ongoing self-reflection and adjustment, including a willingness to question and adapt traditional evaluation methods in response to stakeholder input. In 2018, the American Evaluation Association updated their evaluation guiding principles,  drawing on concepts of cultural competence and equity in evaluation.

    How it works

    As an evaluator, I look for ways to tell the story of a community. I strive to partner with community residents to give voice to successes and challenges through data and evidence. The CREE model ensures that I center my evaluation on the community and this model provides a deeper understanding of lived experience.

    To do that, I first identify who “the community” is. For example, I was part of a team that helped design an evaluation recently for an organization that provides free grief counseling for children who lost their loved ones. In this case “the community” is the children receiving services.

    The organization and I recognized we cannot truly measure success of the programming if we do not include children in the evaluation. So, our team designed a creative toolkit that uses art as a way to measure the kids' coping skills that they received in the programming. 

    The art is then catalogued and tagged to show which coping skills are resonating with which age group. This evaluation helps improve the program by showing the most effective skills that are resonating with that community (kids).

    Nonprofits seeking to de bias their evaluations should look for an evaluator who will- intentionally identify as a practitioner of CREE Here are some other things to look for - Evaluators must infuse CREE into all evaluation methodologies and designs. It requires integrating diversity, inclusion, and equity principles into all phases of evaluation.

    Participation in the evaluation by the individuals most impacted by the program we are evaluating is a hallmark of CREE. It also incorporates cultural, structural, and contextual considerations into the evaluation, including historical, social, economic, racial, ethnic, and gender-related factors.

    Three tools to de-bias evaluations

    Here are a few potential opportunities for integrating the core principles of equitable evaluation into future work:

    1. Identify effective research teams that are culturally competent and ideally include individuals who bring a diverse set of perspectives, skills, identities and lived experiences. Incorporating members of the community studied into the research teams is a great way of bringing cultural competency into the team.
    2. When developing data collection instruments such as interviews, focus group protocols involve stakeholders in the design phase. This will ensure that the tools developed are culturally relevant and provide valuable information.
    3. Ensure that all the voices are represented in the evaluation.

    There are nine steps in the CREE model and evaluators must ensure cultural sensitivity is integrated into each step.

    These steps are outlined in image 1:a grapic showing 9 stages of CREEImage 1: Nine steps to the CREE model
    Source: Adapted from Hood, S., R. Hopson, and K. Kirkhart. “Culturally Responsive Evaluation: Theory, Practice, and Future Implications.” In Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation, edited by K.E. Newcomer, H.P. Hatry, and J.S. Wholey. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015, pp. 281–317.

    What’s next for CREE

    CREE is still relatively a new practice and there are efforts at the national level to mainstream these models and incorporate community voice in evaluation.

    Federal organizations like HRSA, CDC and others are also calling for more community voice into evaluations. Nonprofits and even some evaluators are still learning about this model.  Fortunately, there are organizations like Expanding the Bench that work towards diversifying evaluation and elevating culturally responsive and equitable evaluation.

    There is a growing recognition in the field about CREE approaches and funders have expressed growing interest in designing evaluations to counter the power dynamics of traditional approaches to evaluation and to promote equity for study participants and other community members.

    Given the historic injustices and power imbalances, it is time to shine light on our current practices and find ways to debias our evaluation practices.

    Deepika Andavarapu, AICP, PhD is the founder/CEO of D.E.E.P Consultants. She conducts culturally responsive evaluations, as well as diversity, equity & inclusion training and strategic planning. Reach her at deepika@deepconsultants.org.

    Comments Policy: ACN members are welcome to add questions or comments on posts by clicking the link below. If you're not a member and have a question or comment, please contact the author or email ACN.

  • 07/22/2022 9:23 PM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    ACN elected new and returning board members in June.

    Board President Shailushi Ritchie, founder and CEO of Sevah Consulting, shares thoughts on our growth in members from across the U.S. and Canada and plans for the coming year. 

    You might be wondering what ACN's Board and Committees are working on for our membership this year. Here's a teaser:

    • We experienced exceptional membership growth outside Chicago. This is great for our national visibility and presence, but also poses challenges in delivering programming, supporting networking, and creating community among all members.
    • Program committee is exploring ways for all of ACN's programming to reach members outside the Chicago area. We'd love it if members, particularly those outside Chicago, who might be interested in helping to develop this approach join the team!
    • Save the date and plan to join us October 20, 2022 to celebrate our ability to return to in-person events. We would love it if our outside-of-Chicago members could join us, but there will also be a meaningful way for anyone who is not attending in person to participate. (Please do reach out to Program committee members if you're interested in helping.)
    • Our AJEDI (Access, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) work continues. The Board has committed funds to start the work on the equity, inclusion, and diversity challenges we are aware of and to identify those we aren't aware of.
    • We continue to explore ways to partner with nonprofits and agencies that serve nonprofits, including community foundations and state nonprofit associations. This is another area where we invite interested members to support the work and help ACN foster connections in different areas of the country.
    • Communication committee and our association management firm are working overtime to share news, information, and announcements. I especially want to raise up Tricia Fusilero’s video profiles of members - did you know we have a YouTube page? The team has been keeping our website updated, social media posts at the top of our feeds, and more.

    We have amazing leadership in the Board of Directors, Committee Chairs, and volunteer members making ACN's vision come to life.

    As the Board President, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has worked to make ACN what it is and who are offering their time and expertise to take it into its next phase. Thank you!

  • 06/25/2022 10:11 PM | Gordon Mayer (Administrator)

    Innovative cloud technologies can do wonders to increase nonprofits’ reach, efficiency, and cost savings - and the list of benefits goes on.

    But the benefits come with a price. Planning your approach when signing up for a yearly agreement with a particular cloud technology provider is important to get both the best cost and the most effective solution for your nonprofit.

    Even with the growing efforts of some tech start-ups to help shed light on cloud technology pricing, there are situations in which one organization provides similar services but still gets a significantly different price than another. What’s missing?

    Sometimes, the missing element is one or more key players in the nonprofit organization looking to add a cloud based solution (some well-known examples: SalesForce,Mailchimp, DocuSign).

    Many cloud-based applications target a specific line of business (HR, Procurement, Marketing, Legal etc.) as opposed to just IT. But those directly involved in that business area may lack the time, effort and experience to understand and negotiate critical terms in a cloud technology contract. 

    For-profits may have a dedicated “Head of Technology Sourcing.” The person in this role is specifically tasked with overseeing such cloud technology contracts/subscriptions, leveraging their experience and relationships with the business, IT and Legal to do so. 

    In nonprofits, we often see just the person leading that line of business or just the IT contractor left with the responsibility of reviewing and understanding what they are getting into. Neither of these individuals or teams alone can fully align on the importance of the cloud application to the organization overall.

    It’s helpful to get your full team at the table, specifically the line of business, Legal and IT with the understanding that each of their inputs will impact both what will be paid, and the overall relationship with the cloud technology provider. You will need everyone's commitment throughout the process. 

    Here are some additional tips on evaluating cloud-based technology solutions:

    1. Do some research prior to signing. What have your peers paid? Why? What measurable value did they ultimately get? How does the pricing provided compare to what is publicly listed on the cloud provider’s website? Are there additional discounts available for the nonprofit customers?

    2. Seek to understand the cloud technology business model along with common terminology that may show up in your agreements. This includes common acronyms like ACV (Annual Contract Value), TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), SOW (Statement of Work), SLA (Service Level Agreements), MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) and others. Uncover what else is going on behind the scenes that can influence what you will end up paying through conversations with others besides the sales team.

    3. Where necessary, get outside help.  While your internal team and the research you’ve done will certainly help equip you for the negotiation, having a partner that has experience in these types of transactions to advise on various topics, will only increase the value you plan to get from your investment while mitigating risks due to missed/overlooked nuances.

    4. Vendors can be an asset to the process. Approach these new contractual relationships in the spirit of transparency and collaboration, and avoid the combative techniques associated with the old “them vs. us” mindset. You will end up with a real partnership based on value and accountability that will ultimately result in the mutual success of your nonprofit and the cloud technology provider. 

    Planning, research and internal alignment are the biggest challenges to understanding and signing up for cloud technology subscriptions. These are never easy - but again like most other things in life, the effort you’ll put into them can pay off in effectiveness, efficiency, and cost savings. 

    Kevin Christopher-George of GreenMerits Consulting is tapping into his 20+ years of experience across different areas in technology management to advise nonprofits on how to find, adopt and use technology that will increase their positive impact. His passion is geared towards how organizations can build meaningful, value driven, and mutually beneficial relationships with technology providers.

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