I have the pleasure of giving a ‘state of the biz’ when my turn for the blog rolls around. Here is last year’s, where I dove into how we measure success of our business.
This year, I want to give you highlights from TGP’s 2021 that feed into what you might see differently in 2022.
In January 2021, we kicked off a relationship with Studio Hill Design and Megan Fleming Writes to refresh our website. Our prior website was most recently designed in 2015 so it was feeling stale. Fortunately, we were in good hands.
Now you can find:
- case studies on how we have supported a variety of clients and helped make a difference in their work;
- our blog embedded into the website (previously, it linked to an external site, so this is more seamless); and
- easier navigation with fewer layers and menus.
Working with SHD gave us a new sophisticated color for our palette, upped the level of professionalism conveyed, and enhanced the imagery throughout. And working with Megan allowed us to change our tone – our prior web copy was written by a bunch of grant writers! – into a stronger, more client-centered format. We are still working through a few kinks, but overall, it has been well received and I’m proud of our online presence. Check it out at www.thegrantplantnm.com and follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. One of the kinks we are still working out is that our prior blog had the ability to email subscribers when a new post was added. With it now embedded into the site, we are hoping to add an email subscription feature soon. In the meantime, please Bookmark Grassroots. Planted. or add it to your Reading List.
New business model
For years—almost two decades—TGP has used an hourly billing model, á la lawyers or accountants. From time to time, we dabbled in retainers. For at least one of those decades, we’ve been trying to figure out how to divorce ourselves from hourly billing. This comes to a head a few different ways… and sometimes all at the same time… when we hit a trifecta of burning out efficient writers (“We need you to bill more hours! Now!”), having the number of hours it takes to submit a competitive proposal questioned (“How can writing a federal grant take 100 hours?”), and creating an exit strategy for the times we hit our estimate/their cap on billable hours (“All you have to do is cut two pages without losing required content, make sure all the numbers match across all the documents, write everything to PDF, follow their naming conventions, upload the documents to the exact right place on Grants.gov, make sure your AOR is available to submit, walk them through the process, ensure you get four email confirmations, back everything up to the shared drive, etc., etc.…”). It also stifles the innate curiosity that good grant professionals have—the drive to dive deeply into a topic and become a mini-expert on it from multiple perspectives—and discourages the team spirit that is a hallmark of our company because a lone ranger doesn’t want to rack up another person’s hours and risk going over the estimate. I could probably write a separate blog article on this topic, but for my purposes today, we are in the process of transitioning to a fixed fee pricing model. In this model, each project gets its own price based on a variety of factors and our clients either enter into an Agreement for Services for the project itself, or into a retainer in which projects are deducted against the total contract.
To sum up the reasons for this:
|New Model Benefit||Old Way||New Way|
|Builds trust with our clients by providing a quote (not an estimate) for services||The longer it takes, the more unhappy our clients are; the shorter it takes, the more difficult it is for the business to thrive||We agree to terms we are both comfortable with and know upfront what success looks like for both of us|
|Allows our team to flourish in ways that are meaningful to them||Strapped to a timeclock, in constant concern of taking too long (hurts the client) or too short (hurts the business)||Rewards curiosity; focuses on brainpower, not labor; working quickly frees up time for other pursuits|
|Focuses on results and outcomes||Deliverable-oriented grant development focuses on quantity of hours, not quality of the project||Goal-oriented grant development is laser-focused on its competitiveness, not how long it takes|
|Divvies up risk appropriately||Client is at risk if estimate is inaccurate, prompting us to create an exit strategy, extend billing, or offload pieces to them; and/or the business ends up ‘eating’ unbilled hours||Client’s only risk is determining if we are a good fit for them; we transfer the risk to us and it’s shared across clients|
By far the thing Erin and I missed the most when we all shifted to remote work was the camaraderie with our team. We have always been hybrid-remote and had a team member or two permanently remote; but when we all went remote, we also all seemed to shift to tunnel vision. Despite our best efforts at team building (online coffee klatches and happy hours, new chat features, weekly news updates), and amid more federal funding streams than we will likely see for another generation or two, our work went into project-based overdrive from March 2020 through… well, it hasn’t stopped. In early summer 2021, the world started to open enough so that we scheduled an all-staff retreat for three days in September. It was wonderful! Our long-distance team members traveled to Albuquerque, and everyone finally got to meet in person (one blessing of the pandemic = we are now hiring nationally instead of locally). We laughed, we cried (at one point, doing both within a half-hour of each other), we visited clients, we had good food and fun times, it was everything that you want an in-person gathering to be (if we didn’t have the cloud of the pandemic still hovering around us).
Here’s a fun recap:
- We kicked off the retreat with a spelling bee. Congrats to Laurel for her winning word, “aqueous.”
- We launched a new project management system (Hive), thanks to Erin’s leadership in identifying a new tool and transferring more than a decade of archives and knowledge to a new system.
- We visited our clients NM Trade Alliance at Q-Station, the elementary and middle school at Native American Community Academy, and One Generation’s Indigenous Farm Hub.
- We learned how to “Make Stuff Up” and to incorporate Asset Based Writing into proposals, thanks to trainings from Aly and Cecily.
- We had a mash-up with Pivotal New Mexico, our sister nonprofit that has also been in new stages of growth and focus, to get our staff better acquainted with each other and our respective roles in the community.
- We got our creative juices flowing by playing Telestrations and had such funny drawings that we ended up having some of them made into tumblers for staff gifts at our holiday party in December.
- We revisited our Vision Script and brainstormed ideas for a new product line.
- And we enjoyed local eateries Il Vicino, Monroe’s, Sawmill, Lescombes, and Flying Star.
Enjoy these pics!
Client Survey Results
In October, we released our client satisfaction survey. Thank you to those who responded. Our survey is designed to identify services and service qualities that need improvement, what we are doing well and should continue to do, and to give our clients room to comment anonymously in ways they might not otherwise. Aly disaggregates data from the survey to give us actionable insights. Some of what we learned this year includes:
- Grant writing is so much more than grant writing. Services that trend the most with satisfaction levels are development of non-grant documents or materials, research to identify potential funders, and connections to collaborators (partners, funders, etc.).
- Share knowledge freely; charge for the product or service. Factors that trend the most with satisfaction levels are knowledge sharing, accuracy, responsiveness, and meeting needs. Nothing earth-shattering, though I want to call out our take on knowledge sharing. A colleague mentioned to me once that “consulting is selfish” because you should always just tell people what you know. You will find our knowledge shared on our website and this blog, in our community service panels, and in monthly calls with prospective clients. The product we sell is customized grant services, and that is what I’m referring to in our new business model section above.
- Aim for astonishment. (In a good way 😊) If our services can be described in one word, we want it to be “astonished!” I’m happy to report that our core service of grant writing and proposal development, along with support in setting up grant delivery, were the services in which our clients were most astonished.
What we learned from 2021’s survey is that what matters most to our clients is return on investment, meeting needs, quality, and experience. That’s what makes them feel comfortable engaging us and what makes them most likely to recommend our services to others. And the services they would most recommend are research to identify potential funders, grant writing and proposal development, and “other”—like I said, grant writing is so much more than grant writing.
I’m so proud of TGP in 2021. In a year when we have been the busiest and most-pivoty (is that a word yet?) here is a sampling of accolades received, in addition to personal shoutouts:
- TGP team is very professional, centered on our organization’s interest and vision for the future.
- Always professional, helpful, resourceful, and top expertise!
- The Grant Plant team have helped us reach new heights in our organizational mission.
- Even when it’s a quick turnaround or a long process, TGP has always supported to a successful outcome and meets the deadline with professionalism and great expertise!
- Great listeners and understand overall goals and work.
- The services received in our first year of operation was pivotal in our success.
- Helpful and collaborative.
- I appreciate you all greatly. The structures of support and the deliverables created are the best in class.
On behalf of all of us at TGP—we have 15 amazing team members—thank you for your support of us and for all you do in your community.
Contact: Tara Gohr, President/CEO, Tara@thegrantplantnm.com
This post was filed under: Inside TGP