October 27, 2010

Want Stories?

There are two topics that always come up with funders get together - funders who are engaged in grassroots grantmaking, investing everyday people as key contributors to healthy and resilient communities.

One is what the groups they are funding need to grow and realize their dreams - how they can provide help that is really helpful.

The other is evaluation or assessing impact - knowing what really happened and what is meaningful to measure.

I've been involved with philanthropy for nearly twenty years, and must admit that I've become really tired of these conversations - tired because of their sameness and of the overly complicated, funder-centric "we know-they don't know" tone that characterizes many of them.

So that's why I found a recent conversation with Anne-Marie Taylor, Executive Director of the Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center, so refreshing. Anne-Marie was talking about INRC's experience with Indy's IMAGINE grant program and what she and her team have learned over the past several years. She said that they learned to be clearer on the front end about expectations and requirements, and how to build technical assistance and accountability into their program.

One requirement was for grantees to share a story about the project or activity that the IMAGINE grant had supported. The INRC staff learned that just saying "share a story" was not generating stories, and so they dug a little deeper instead of hoping that the story genie would magically appear. They set up their grant process in a way that builds the capacity of grantee organizations to tell their own stories and ups the odds of having the good stories they are seeking turned in as final reports.

Here's what they now do:
  1. They ask each organization that is receiving a grant to designate someone in their group as their storyteller.
  2. They host a "how to tell your story" workshop that is required for all the designated storytellers.
  3. They hold the grant check until the designated storyteller has attended the storytelling workshop.
And guess what. This very practical approach - with its clear statement about what they need, its appropriate use of funder-power, and its clear-thinking about how they can get what they need and at the same time build skills that can be useful to the group in ways beyond satisfying their grant requirements - is generating great stories that are adding an important dimension to understanding the impact of the IMAGINE grant program. And knowing INRC, I can guarantee that these workshops are fun, interactive, and energizing. You can see some of the stories on INRC's home page.

Love it! Practical, powerful, and people-friendly.

If you're stuck in the "can't get good reports" and don't know how to help mode, try this and let me know how it goes! Or if you have another practical, powerful, people-friendly approach to share, jump in and say a few words about what you do here.

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