Assessing Your Capacity to Move Beyond Grant Funding

by Michele Martin on February 5, 2016

This is part of our ongoing series of posts featuring material drawn from the CIL-Net self-study manual, “Establishing and Managing Fees for Service in Centers for Independent Living.” This week we are looking at how to assess your CILs capacity to move beyond grant funding.

As the CIL moves closer to the transition from grant funding to other income including FFS, the CIL team should consider what substantive changes need to be made to account for the FFS requirements. These changes are not cosmetic and will require careful attention.

The primary barriers to making changes include time, funding, staff skill set, and fear of change and the unknown. These are not unexpected barriers, but what are strategies to effectively address them? Many consider changing culture the toughest nut to crack—often because we don’t know that its invisible hand impacts us. For example, most of us look down when we ride a filled elevator. This is a small cultural value. Try riding looking at people in the eye next time; it will probably make you and those around you uncomfortable. Your organization might have multiple cultural barriers, or even a reward system for your staff that make taking risks dangerous.

First, an internal assessment can be useful. This can result in the development of a more in-depth strategic plan. Often the initial strategy developed to move a CIL from grant funding to FFS lacks specificity. As additional information is gathered, and more questions emerge that require answers, the strategic plan will assume additional dimensions and clarity. Assessing the resources of the CIL is better accomplished using a detailed checklist than relying only on informal impressions and opinions.

As the plans become more detailed, continue to survey the staff and board to further identify skills and hidden talents that they have to share. Grant writing skills to obtain start-up funds, expertise in technology, and personal connections to business are valuable assets.

Identify Employee Capacity for Business Ventures

One of the most important ways a CIL can decide whether it is ready to initiate a fee-based arrangement for one of its services is to determine if existing staff will be able to move into the role of staffing that service and (a) provide effective and relevant services for consumers, (b) meet the requirements of the purchaser, and (c) accurately and effectively manage the recordkeeping, accounting, billing, and reporting tasks that may come with the arrangement. From a personnel standpoint, the organization will need staff that may have different skill sets to provide the services, and additional supervisory staff is often needed. To prepare, the CIL can carefully examine the requirements of the service for FFS. This is a complicated area and can mean the difference between success and failure. In determining the skill set needed, consider―

The outcomes to be achieved by the consumers of the service

The flexibility of the staff to transition from FFS to other IL work

The level and form of documentation required and what process is used for documentation monitoring
ongoing training requirements

Amount of travel and mobility required

Infrastructure changes to support the FFS

The CIL may need to deliberately invest in staff including recruiting staff with a range of skills and experience from the for-profit world, the nonprofit world, and academia. For example, one nonprofit hired an expert at creating entrepreneurial opportunities and found the return on its investment far exceeded the salary and benefits paid. Most for-profits expect their employees to provide four times the value of their benefit package—a useful guideline for a CIL to consider. It is important to pay a living wage and provide benefits. The center will be expecting a lot from the employees, so meaningful training opportunities should be offered as well as ladders for advancement.

One useful and simple way of assessing skills of existing or potential staff is to lay out the tasks involved in a service as you might in an employee performance appraisal. Down one column you can list the skills or tasks and across the top you can put various levels of skill that you want to assess.

You and your team would decide what’s essential and make up your own template, but this gives you the idea. If Architectural Barrier Consultation is a service you already provide under your grant funding, you should have enough data about your employee’s performance to undertake a reliable assessment. You can also add a section about goals and training needs since many employees may have the potential to easily move into the required level of performance if their training needs are identified and goals are set.
Assessing your employees’ performance on a regular basis is a good idea anyway, because it’s an essential component of developing and maintaining high quality services. But it may become even more critical as your center moves into more of a business relationship with customers. If services don’t meet the expectation of a paying customer, you not only may lose revenue, you can lose your valuable reputation.

Additional Assessment

As the CIL moves even further into the planning process, it is often useful to have a formal external review. This means more than a walkthrough and a casual conversation. An in-depth review by CILs who have experience in FFS is one option. Another is a business survey by a business volunteer or an organization such as SCORE (www.score.org) for mentoring and advice for small businesses. An external review tends to be less biased than self-assessment tools and checklists and provides more realistic feedback.

The elephant in the room is often how the CIL is going to fund the needed changes. Some contracts may provide start-up money, but many do not. Perhaps a small grant from a local community or other foundation could be used for start-up funds.

For instance the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, Florida, which serves the community near it, is very interested in nonprofits earning revenue. They offer grants for less than $10,000 that might be used for start-up. Check with your community foundation to learn if they support capacity building. The CIL will need to decide if, after a careful review of the current budget, the FFS can be initiated during the current fiscal year or will need to be built into the next budget cycle

Application

Here are some questions to consider:

1. Staffing-wise, what needs to happen before your project can be test marketed?

2. What plans have you made for an unexpected success or extremely slow start? How will you increase the tide or slow it down, if needed?

3. What is the smallest increment of labor that you need to begin this effort? What volume of business will you need to increase staff?

Resources

Community Foundation Locator
For other income options: 20 Frequently Missed Revenue Opportunities

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