Will: Hello everyone and welcome to How to Use an Agile Framework to Write (and Win) More Grants with Diane Leonard. This workshop is being recorded and slides will be shared afterwards. So, please keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up email later in case you want to review anything from today.
In case it's your first time here, this free grant workshop is an Instrumentl partner webinar. These are collaborations between Instrumentl and community partners to provide free educational opportunities for grant professionals. Our goal is to tackle a problem that you all often have to solve for while also sharing different ways that you can use Instrumentl’s platform to help grant writers win and find more grants.
Instrumentl is the grant prospecting and management platform. If you want to bring grant prospecting, tracking and management all into one place, we can help you do that. And you can set up your own personalized grant recommendations using Diane's link, which we'll put in the Zoom chat as well. Lastly, be sure to stick around for the entirety of today's presentation. At the end, we'll be sharing with you a few free resources from Diane as well as Instrumentl. More details to come at the end of the presentation.
With that housekeeping out of the way, I'm very excited to introduce Diane Leonard. She is a grant professional, certified, and approved trainer of the Grant Professionals Association who we're also proud to partner with. And Diane has recently become a certified virtual presenter through eSpeakers, who is also a registered scrum trainers from masters, from product, and Scrum scale practitioner credentialed by the Agile Education Program powered by Scrum Inc.
Since 2006, she and her team have secured more than $113 million and competitive grant awards for the clients of DH Leonard Consulting and Grant Writing Services. Who is an active member of the GPA. She's a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York with a Bachelors of Science in Industrial and Labour Relations.
When not working with her team on grant applications for clients, she can often be found in the thousand islands out for Hiran or drinking a strong cup of coffee. We ask that if you have any questions, to use the three hashtags in front of your questions to help it stand out in the Zoom chat. I will confirm that I've seen it. With that, Diane, feel free to take it away.
Diane: Thank you, Will, and to the whole Instrumentl team for putting this session together today. I'm so excited to be with all of you.
This is, honestly, one of my favourite weeks of the year, Will. And we’re just talking about it because Friday is International Grant Professionals Day. So getting to spend any amount of time more than usual with other grant professionals just makes my professional heart so very happy. So, I'm thrilled to be with all of you today. And I know you've been saying hi and telling us where you're from. We've already covered that I'm where it's cold, and many of you are not.
But what I would love for you to add as well, if you don't mind, do you use an Agile framework in your grant process? You can give me a Y for yes and N for no. A question mark if you're just not sure if the way you manage your work is agile or not. So, I would love it if you could add that for us in the chat box.
So when we think about using an Agile framework to write and when, because that's always important, more grants, there is just one other thing about my background that I want to share, right? Will did a great job reading all the professional stuff. And so, what I want to highlight is that my first love is grants. My second love is everything agile because, really, that's project management. And I think most of you know that our work as grant professionals is a great deal of project management to get all the things out the door in advance of the deadline. So, those two things? Well, that was the start of my Agile journey about nine years ago.
And today, from what I can see in the chat box, many of you may be considering the start of your agile journey as well. We're going to talk about definitions so that we have some shared understanding. And we're going to look at some very tactical ways as grant professionals that we can take these values and principles and put them into work in our grant seeking activities.
But while I have a professional love, one of grants, professional of two of Agile, and to me they go together like peanut butter and jelly, which in my life is a good thing. I can't imagine doing things any other way. What I want to say is that I don't have all the answers. I've not seen all the situations. I would never claim to have that on either side of the house. Grants are agile. And so, your perspective and experiences are really important. And I'd love for you to feel comfortable today as we're going along. And I'm asking questions and asking your thoughts. Please feel free to say them and share them in the chat box. But as Will mentioned, using the three hashtags is really helpful so that we can see the questions, make sure we don't miss them either along the way or at the end.
So, we'll begin with some definitions. What is Agile? What is Scrum? What does it mean? It is far more than saying, we love to use sticky notes in our work. I mean, that part is very true. I have sticky notes everywhere. You can't see them behind me. They're everywhere. They're on any rolling whiteboard. They're actually on my monitor. Not as reminders, but rather to think about prioritization.
And so when we look at Agile, that's the first big term I want to introduce. And I am talking about capital A Agile. Agile is a way that we approach our work as a team. Agile is something that is defined actually internationally, across industries, across countries, across languages by something called the Agile Manifesto. And this is something that was written way back pre-pandemic in 2001.
So, I promise, capital A Agile, one of the most overused words potentially during the pandemic. It's been around for a while. And what is so important about Agile are the values. Yes, there are principles to it. Yes, you can read about the Agile Manifesto for free in any language of your choice at Agilemanifesto.org. But the four values are what really drew me to this way of working.
The idea that the text on the left is more important is what we prioritize in our work than what's in the text on the right. And so, there are four agile values. You can see them all on the screen. And they might mean slightly different things in each of your teams, your organizations, whether you're an employee or a consultant in a small organization, or a big organization.
But the value that I believe, each of us as grant professionals, rocks each and every day of our work, is the fourth one; responding to change over following a plan. And I think the reality is as grant professionals, grant writers, we have embraced this value without always knowing the label of agile, for years, decades even. But since the pandemic happened, not only have we had to really double down on this value, but our organization as a whole has as well.
I'm curious. I'd like you to reflect for a moment over the last few years. Can you come up with at least one example where you and your team have responded to change over following a plan? If you can, please humble brag, hands up in the chat box? Or Y for yes, N for no, whatever reaction you want to give us. Can you come up with at least one example related to this value?
Ah, Maureen, every day all day. Right? So, that was true, I think, pre-pandemic for us as grant professionals because we know that sometimes very well intentioned, grant makers will phone or email with a last minute request. And so, we are responding to that change versus following our plan for the day. But there's more to that.
Our teams now see that in the way that they have changed the way they deliver services, the way they react to changes in the community. This agile value has become much more prominent. And therefore, whether we’d like to or choose to use the label of agile in our teams, it is very visible and has been very successful in many nonprofits.
Let’s go a little deeper than what Agile is. I'd like to also introduce the term Scrum. And to help you understand what Scrum is, I thought I better start by telling you what Scrum is not. Don't worry, it is not one more acronym that we as grant writers need to learn. It is not a software that you have to purchase. And while technically, yes, Scrum is the starting formation for rugby. That is not what we are talking about today.
We will think about it though as -- I mean rugby, team event, moving the ball in one direction on the field towards the goal of winning. Ah, yes, Scrum is going to be something related to our team, our grant team. So, it's helpful to know that part. But scrum, it's a uniform way of approaching our work. It is a framework, which means it is a set of rules that help us take those four agile values I showed you a moment ago, and bring them into our daily operations as a grant team.
Now, why do I have the umbrellas on the screen? Because agile, it's an umbrella. And under the Agile Manifesto, again, written way back in 2001, are many frameworks. Scrum is one of them. Scrum is one of those Agile frameworks that we see most commonly used successfully in nonprofits. But it is not the only one. In fact, there are two others that you will see elements of within Scrum. We also see Kanban to do, doing, done on board like that. We see that used in nonprofits successfully. And we also see the hybrid of the two scrum ban.
But Scrum is where we have lots of case studies about successful organizations using that framework in their nonprofit and charitable setting. But what I want to call out, I'm going to talk a little bit about the framework today. Don't worry. No pressure that you have to adapt the framework. We're going to look for areas of inspiration, things we might want to try. All of this conversation today falls under the umbrella of Agile. So if there is one thing tactically out of today, that you want to try, cool. You might be taking one step further as an agile journey for your grant team.
Do you have to do all the things I talk about today? Is that the pressure here? Absolutely not. Again, I'm hoping that you find one thing of inspiration at a minimum to try, and see if it makes the way that your team manages your grant seeking process, your grant writing process if it makes it stronger for you. And that answer will be different for all of you. And I think that's part of the fun. It helps to remember that it is personalized based on who we are, our colleagues, and our organizational culture.
But why is this conversation so important? Because occasionally, we will find a bottleneck, something that is slowing our great work down, something that is slowing down the way in which we get information related to what will go in a grant application. Maybe something related actually, even earlier, to making the decision to apply or not. Maybe it's about the approval process for something that's going to be submitted.
But if there is something slowing us down, such as stopping the flow of our work or in this image, stopping the flow of the water. If there is something slowing down our great work product, that's a bottleneck. And we want to think about if there's a way to eliminate the bottleneck to make it less of an issue in our process so we can get more great work out the door.
The Scrum framework, again, there's no pressure that we have to follow it everyone today as soon as you hang up the webinar. But it is a lightweight framework. It's a simple, we'll say, set of rules that can be adapted to your organization. It's outlined in a 13-page PDF, totally free for you to download in any language. Also, like Agile Manifesto, an internationally accepted document by all industries and fields. The Scrum framework, yep, three roles, five events, three artifacts. But no pressure that you have to download. Thank you, Megan, from our team for putting the link in the chat. No pressure that you have to learn all of it today. But we see it in all sorts of places.
And so, you might say, “Why would someone decide to use the Scrum framework?” Well, I'll tell you the line that first got me hooked. As an Enneagram 3, as a Type A, as someone who has been in the grant sector for more than 20 years, I've always been trying to think about how to get more done without doing more heroic things. I don't like pulling all-nighters, I didn't like it in college either. I don't like having to work on the weekends unless that's by choice. I don't like having to be on email while on vacation. So, I'm just always trying to come up with ways to improve the process.
And this book, The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Dr. Jeff Sutherland. This was what first got me excited. Like, “Oh, what does that look like?” And so, nine years ago, that was when I read the book. And my journey started. I know a lot of grant pros are readers. So, that's why we thought we'd share the link if you want to go see some more about it. Actually, there's a whole Agile bookshelf in my Goodreads account that you're welcome to check out.
But we don't want to just do more work. We're nonprofit professionals. We're grant professionals. We're about impact, aren’t we? We’re about the dollars we raised to create impact in our community, which is why our team, we say that it's about doing the -- creating, sorry, twice the impact in half the time. That's what's more important, creating more impact via our grant writing work, creating more impact in our organization. Okay. So, I've set the stage for some definitions, some context for what this language means? So that maybe you've got a deeper understanding than the words you've seen Agile and pivot in the news and business articles over the last few years. But there's one really important thing I need to say before I go any further. Tools do not make you agile. Why would I say that? And why would I make it such a big image and such a strong statement?
All right. How do you manage all of your deadlines? What tools do you like to use? I'm wondering, feel free to type them in the chat, if anyone here loves Asana, or Trello, or Clickup, or Monday.com, or Favro, or Mural, or Jira, or Miro. Oops, I'm fine with some folks. I'm sure I'm missing a whole bunch. I just managed to name eight off the top of my head. Oh, Notion. Yeah, Smartsheet. Thank you. See, that helps get me at least 10.
There are countless tools, like what I just mentioned, that help us with project management, that help make our work visible. These are all Agile project management tools. Using the tool does not check the box to say you are now Agile, because Agile is about those values. So, using the tool is really cool and helpful. But in itself, it does not let us say we are agile. But it does make it easier for us to think about how we're going to implement those values in our day-to-day work.
So for those of you that went, “Oh, my gosh, I know those tools. I love some of those tools,” you might find that a lot of today's conversation makes you realize that while you're not previously using the label of agile for yourself, you might already be acting in agile ways. You might already be embracing these Agile values. For everyone that said, “I don't know any of those tools Diane just mentioned,” no pressure that you have to use any of them after today because, again, the tools don't make us agile. What they can do, and why so many of us have really grown to love some of them, especially the last few years, is that if our teams are not all together, if we are not all located in one space, it makes it easier for our work to be visible to each other. Whether we are sitting on opposite sides of the cube wall or whether we are two states or two time zones apart. That is part of why these project management tools have really gotten to be a strong part of many teams' work culture.
Setting tools aside, let's think broadly about our grants calendars, about our grant plans for the year, whether we're thinking calendar year or fiscal year. I know for some of you, you might tell me, it's the tool that you just typed into the chat box. But I don't want to assume for the rest of you that are here with us. Go ahead. In the chat box, please let me know where you document your plan for the year, your grants calendar? Where is it that you keep that very important information? It could be Google Calendar. It could be Outlook calendars. It could be Excel. It could be a Smartsheet. There is no wrong answer here about which tool you type. I just want to get a sense of where folks are keeping things about their deadlines. Oh, and a whiteboard as well. Yeah, that's one of my favorites. Okay. So, I see Excel and Asana, different types of calendars, and Salesforce. Great.
Follow-up question. Can other people in your grant team see that information? Should they choose to? Not that they may be due every day. But yes or no, can other people see that information? Ah, Aaron, I agree. You said, “Yep, that's vital. High five. I agree.” Perfect. So, the fact that you're saying yes makes me smile. Jessica, I see you. What team? Right? You might say I'm a team of one. I’m a grants professional. So, the team I'm asking about, can people see your plan? I’m saying your grant team, the stake of people that have a -- the team of people that have a stake in seeing your grants be successful. Programs, HR, finance, senior leadership, it's not that they want to look at it every day, but they're people who care about what the deadlines are and what their contributions will be.
So when we think about creating our plan, I'd like to help you think about a way to facilitate the creation of your plan for your next year, or maybe your next six months in a way that's really visual, whether you are using Excel, or Asana, or Trello, or Monday.com, Outlook calendar.
The reason I'd like for you to consider making it a visual plan so that we can have interactive dialogue with our team for their approval. And so, that we have set the stage for what responding to change over following a plan will look like, because we feel pretty certain that's going to happen at some point in the upcoming year.
So on the screen, I have literally a big rollout sheet of butcher box paper and sticky notes. I used to do this in person. In fact, this is from a Grant Professionals Association training I did pre pandemic with the upstate New York chapter. But we've moved into some digital tools to help make it possible. And think about how you want to make this your own. What I recommend as a way to lay out your plan to make it visual, to make it something that is living, breathing, something that we can make changes to and then use for change in the future, is to think about the 12 months that you want to plan for. Or maybe it's six, or maybe it's three. But what's your year is my ideal.
And so, I'm showing you just a quick one quarter summary so you can read the text on the post-its. I'd encourage you to write in the top with one colour, whether you're in a digital tool like Miro or Mural, which are limitless whiteboards that will let you have free boards as a nonprofit, or whether you are physically using stickies in your office. Either is fine. But I'd ask you to lay out your 12 months that you are planning for. And then take an opportunity to lay out which deadlines are confirmed, your absolutes. You know you're going to apply to these 10. You know you're going to apply to these 5, these 15, these 25. And place them where they belong on the calendar.
Then, I'd like for you to think about what reports you have to contribute in order to maintain those great funder relationships. So ideally, we'd grab a second colour sticky if we're in person. In our digital tool, we pick another colour. And place your reports under each of the months.
Now, what are we starting to see? We're starting to see the ebb and the flow of our year, whether we've got a really heavy December because of year end reports or whether we've got a really heavy federal application season that we're anticipating, but it'll look different for each of us. But we can start to see if there are some peaks and valleys in our work or if it looks rather steady. What that allows us to do is to move on to our third step to think about where we would put some of those ideal applications we want to submit where we, as the grant professional, get to choose when we submit.
Now maybe we have a theory about wanting to get those in early in the year or saving some for late in the year. Or maybe we say, “We just need to fit them in where we have space,” all acceptable theories. We place those rolling deadlines under our individual months as well.
Now, this part, step one through three, these are things that you can do as a grant professional on your own. Now, great question. I had some notes about how we could estimate them. Thanks for asking that question in the chat box. What do I mean by estimate? So, there's a few different ways we could estimate it. But I do not mean estimating in time. I mean that we could estimate, maybe thinking small, medium, large, extra large so that we can think about the overall effort to get our work done.
A federal proposal as one sticky doesn't seem as a good relative comparison to a single letter of inquiry, right? Those are not quite the same thing. Important, equally, sure, but maybe 100 average people hours versus something less. So, we could think about the relative size of the work. We could estimate it by putting those T-shirt sizes on it. Or we could actually use different size stickies to expand them to represent big government grants, smaller for letters of inquiry, but something that helps us to understand the different relative sizes of the bodies of work that we're looking at. That's what I mean by estimate as I've had that mentioned in these steps. Thanks for asking. Great question.
It's at this stage that we would then pause. We prep steps one through three. Oh, and you know what is actually a step like 3.1? When we're doing this, we should really think about when our ideal time is for us to take a vacation. Whether it's that you want to go snowmobiling in the winter or you want to hike in the mountains in the fall, or you want to be on the beach in the summer or -- wait a second, I'm making an assumption. Does everyone here like to take vacation? Vacations where you don't check your email or write grant applications? Yeah, I know. Right? You're like, “Yes, Diane, we do.” Good.
You should put those on your grant plan as well. They deserve a sticky just like your deadlines. You might say, “Oh, I could take a vacation without checking my email or worrying about a grant deadline. Ideally, that's where we're headed. You'll hear why. We want to look at our grant calendar and step back and say, “Is this feasible for us given our capacity? The lead grant writers, the team that will contribute to the information is our ebb and flow. Is it possible? Or do we see? Whoa, lots of things are happening in December. And we should think about how to create a different flow. How could we get some work done early? Or how could we plan for that capacity? Or, oh, three federal grants all anticipated to be due in February. Okay? How much could we get done in advance so that I could still take February school break with my children?” Right? These are the sorts of questions we can start to negotiate as a team to think about what our ideal plan is to get our grant work done. That's going to generate the revenue our organization needs.
So, we have these conversations as a team. Maybe we move some sticky notes around. And we get started. We've got to write. We've got to submit. We've got to draft. We're going through the work. And life happens. Ah, question in the chat box brings us right to step five. So, we have this visual plan, which we then put into our Outlook calendar, put into our Google Calendar, put into Asana. This is what we've agreed on for what we want to do. But grants are not that clean. There's lots of unpredictable things that happen. And it could be the phone call or email from a grant maker, or it could be the unexpected opportunity that opens. And in this case, I'm making a big state grant that you didn't expect. And it opens and it's due on July 31st. So, I already had a really good plan for what May, and June, July are going to look like.
The team has agreed that this is an important opportunity. It fits with our strategic priorities. It is not us creating something out of the blue only to chase funding. It is aligned with our priorities and our needs. So, we're going to do it.
But what about our capacity? Do we have the capacity to do it? Dear awesome grant pros on the line, from what you can see on the screen right now, for May, June, and July in our ideal plan, what is something that we could change in order to create space capacity to do this really important but unexpected state grant? Go ahead. Let me know what you see on that grant calendar screenshot. What are some of your ideas for things we could move? Oh, you are all so fast. Look at you. You're like, “Okay, we could move the rolling deadlines.” Agreed. We could consider if we didn't get to them after the state grant was complete. We could maybe do them in August, September. Sure. That's one.
I also really appreciate the suggestion that we could -- if it was possible, maybe we could pull the reports forward. Maybe our programmatic colleagues or colleagues in finance could do a little bit more on the reports than normal so that we could personally, as the lead grant professional, have a little more capacity to do the state grants. Yeah, these are all options. Right? And I'm not surprised that you quickly came up with enough that it filled my entire chat window, because these are the things that we live every day.
But usually, what's happening is we are doing this behind the scene as the grant pro, moving stuff around thinking about ideas. What is different about what I am asking you to consider is making it visible to the team so that they understand how you are prioritizing? Why are you asking for this change? Why are you asking for someone to do a little more? Why are you saying to your overall senior leadership team, “We're going to do these deadlines next month instead of this month”? This makes it visible so we can have it as an open conversation. It eliminates some of those water cooler or other space meetings situations where we're talking about, “Why didn't we do that?” Or, “Why am I having to do more for grants this month?” It's visible to the entire team.
Now, this idea, this concept of making our plan visible, there is one thing that it unfortunately will not change. At least I've yet to figure out a way that will change it. It will not stop well-intentioned grant makers from making a last minute request, whether it's a report, or a new application, or extra details before a board meeting. Agile and Scrum can't fix that. What Agile ways of thinking and the Scrum framework as a way a team operates, what that does enable, it gives us the tools to prioritize these interruptions, these unexpected yet important things. And to think about how we will address what we sat down, what we might say for just a little bit later so that we aren't doing heroic things. Because of our work as great professionals -- I mean, we might on any given day with our first cup of coffee or mug of hot tea or water bottle, we might think the day is going to look like the arrow on the left hand side is a perfectly straight line to success. But then the day might go a little differently than planned. At least that's what our team sees. Best laid plans and then there's agile life.
So as we think about the fact that there are things we are reacting to, things that are changing in our plan, each of you has a mix of small, medium, large applications based on your individual grant strategy. And that's great. What I want to talk about though for a moment are the biggies. Anybody working on a big one right now? Anyone want to humble brag about the longest narrative? Either in character count or pages that they have to work on right now or that they know is forthcoming? Remember, it's about to be International Grant Professionals Day. So, this is totally the safe space for all sorts of humble bragging and celebration of each other.
When we think about large applications and what they mean for us, they usually mean many moving parts, whether long narratives, countless attachments, awkward portals. Something about it is complex. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, maybe some external collaborative partners, maybe it's about letters of commitment we need. There's a lot. So when we first open the set of guidelines, what do we do?
I would recommend that you create what we call a backlog. Yes, this is Agile Scrum language. You might already do this, and you might have a different language that you use for it. But, yeah, you're right. It's like our to-do list. And what we're doing and creating a backlog are all the big things that must be delivered in order to submit the grant and be competitive. So the screenshot I have, on the right hand side, yep, more sticky notes. This is for a huge New York State Historic Preservation grant. And why do I say huge? It does have a lot of narrative components. And yes, it has a budget and a budget justification. But the attachment list is monstrous. And it's not 501(c)(3) and 990. We're talking about architectural reports and architectural drawings and labeled figures, and, and, and, all things with lots of external parties involved and a fair amount of packaging work involved.
So regardless of which one we're looking at, I saw some USDA stuff. Yeah. Wow, lots of big things that you're focused on, lots of attachments as well. The backlog is our list of all the big things so that we can prioritize. What are we going to do first? And who are we going to ask for support from? Who do we need information from so that we can create a plan? We can make a visible plan for who will do what, when. It might be that you're in Trello and Asana as a team and that's how you're doing it, or you're in Clickup. Or you're in Smartsheets.
But we need to make it visible to the team for this application. Again, we are the lead writers, but there are awesome people that we need to contribute information to so that we can be successful. We need to have it be visible. So whether you are in one of those tools we have mentioned throughout the session, or maybe you're looking for something. I might suggest something as basic as a project digest. One centralized place where people can get to documents that they would have to provide information in. Maybe there are some quick links. There's some priority to do items that need to happen. But you want to have one central place so people aren't trying to navigate and click through and can see what needs to be done for the application to be successfully completed in a highly competitive and hopefully early submission sort of way.
We have our list of items to do. We have made our work visible to our team, something that you could consider for these big projects is to hold a daily Scrum or an every other day Scrum, or a once a week Scrum. But an opportunity for the grants team, those folks who are helping contribute to this application, to come together and say not what's our status, who's doing what, not nitpicky. I want you to spend 15 minutes or less in this update meeting.
But what is keeping us from potentially meeting our goal? What impediments do we have? Are we still waiting to hear from an elected official’s office? Could somebody call them? Are we still waiting for a key data point from a collaborative partner? Oh. Dear program director, could you email them since you know them best? Are we waiting for fill-in-the-blank? Right? What is it that's holding us back from moving forward?
The purpose of these meetings at the cadence that you feel is most meaningful for you. In 15 minutes or less, check on progress towards the goal, which is submitting a highly competitive grant in advance of the deadline. And what impediments do we have that we want to solve?
This is a formal Scrum event. But we are applying it in a slightly agile way saying it is in the way that it adds value to your team. Another thing that we can do is show progress towards our goal. So depending on the way that you structure your application and your backlog, the way that you might make your work visible to a team, we could show the amount of work that we have to get done for the application and put it on our vertical axis. And we could put the amount of time that we have until the deadline on the horizontal axis, and then start to show progress towards completion so that we can tell our colleagues, “Wow, everybody, you're doing a great job. Don't let up.” We are on track to submit five days in advance of the deadline.
Or, “Dear colleagues, the reason why it's so important we find that elected official and get that letter is that if we don't have it, we actually are at risk of maybe being, uh-oh, on the day of the deadline.” Or, “Well, we know we can't submit late. But that's a current risk for us.” Right?
So, this is called a burndown chart. And it's about the progress towards the goal. Some of the tools we've been talking about today actually automatically do this, which is why I have such a beautiful goal chart for you to see the progress towards the goal. If we were to do this, what we would see, what we would be watching for, that gray line. If we are above the line, we are at risk of missing our deadline, which we know none of us want to have happen. That anytime we are showing progress towards completion and we would be below our perfect line from start to finish, that's actually an indicator that we are potentially going to submit an advance of the deadline. And, wow, doesn't that feel good? Right?
In fact, I'd love to let you humble brag. What is the earliest in advance of a fixed deadline that anyone has submitted in the last few months? A little bit of a fun competitive contest here. How many days can we get up to? This is one of my favourite questions to ask GPA chapter members. So our vertical axis here, this is actually about story points, one way that some agile teams estimate. But you could estimate and have your vertical axis be the number of backlog items you have. There's a few different ways you could give a unit to that axis so that we could show progress towards completion.
Let's see. Awesome. All of these units of time that you are sharing on the chat box in advance of the deadline are worthy of celebration. I see, wow, 29 days. I see 9 days. Oh, you're doing that today, Christina. That's awesome. Two days, one week, a whole month. These are fantastic. Thank you all for sharing because this is so important to celebrate with your team as you think about what makes your work Agile, submitting in advance of deadlines. Wow, that is going to create such a strong team and such great momentum. Kudos to all of you.
So, we could focus on facilitating that one big application to try and make it less stressful to try and submit it as early as possible the same way that you have been talking about in the chat box? Does it guarantee we'll always submit far, far in advance of the deadline? No, still not exactly that magic moment that we were looking for. Because it does happen, right? Things go wrong. We're waiting on that one piece. We get it with literally a few minutes or a few hours to spare. And we see you. And I see that you're getting a lot of support in the chat box. It happens.
Despite our best intentions, it could happen to any of us. These agile ways of thinking and working with our team, our risk mitigation to try and prevent it. Right? That's what we're really looking for here because we don't want that extra stress. We don't want to suffer from burnout. If possible, call out, shout out to the Healthy Grant Proteam that has been researching burnout in the grant sector; Jonna Rogers, Bethany Planton, Trish Bachman, and Patricia Devoy. If you've not read any of their work or seen any of their webinars talking about minimizing, avoiding burnout, addressing burnout in our field, I'd highly recommend their work. What this shows me in the chat box is that we're a super supportive community of each other because we know we can't control everything. And sometimes, it is a last-minute submission.
So instead of thinking about only one application, let's step back for a moment and think about the whole last year, our entire grant calendar. So when we think about implementing our entire grant calendar, maybe the way that you visually just represented it a few minutes ago, maybe you liked that sticky note idea, whether in person or virtual. How could we facilitate that in an agile way?
So, I would ask you to consider that you’re a grant team. So, that group of professionals that have a stake in seeing grants be successful, not necessarily a grant of a group of grant pros, they are your Agile team. They are your Scrum team. It does not mean that they are doing it full time. It means that they are contributing. They are, we call them friends of the team. They provide an important piece of information or play an important role in meeting your goal of the grant submission.
Now, will they always acknowledge that that is part of the team that they're on? Maybe. Maybe not. Labels are not important. But one of the things that can help, as you think about this team in your organization, the people that are providing you with information, what is the cadence that you operate in? What are the ways that you share goals that you're working towards, beyond your big revenue goal for the year?
Now in Agile speak, what we're often talking about are sprints. And Sprints become a heartbeat, a cadence for the way in which we operate as a team. And so, acknowledging that there will always be more grants to write and it can feel a little bit like a hamster wheel. When we think about sprints, it gives us the opportunity to say, “Here is the work we are committing to in the next set period of time. One to four weeks. Here's a specific goal that we want to achieve within that time.” So then, when we meet it, if we achieve a goal we set for ourselves as a team within a short period of time, regardless of how many sticky notes are on the whiteboard. Yeah, that's me standing on a whiteboard in my office. If we achieve that goal, as a grant team, we can celebrate.
What it brings to the team, that opportunity to celebrate more than grant awards is a feeling of progress, progress towards the big goal of getting everything in order to get those grant awards. So, it helps us to break down our big work into smaller, bite-sized pieces. And so, I would encourage you to think about a cadence, a heartbeat in your team, by which you can set smaller goals somewhere between one to four weeks.
I know from seeing your comments in the chat box that each of you has some different cadences with which you're using -- you're meeting with your different colleagues, your different grant team members. I think I saw it monthly. I saw someone I thought of, say bi-weekly in the chat box.
Depending on the structure of your team, you may come to be daily in those conversations, 15 minutes or less. You may keep it weekly. It may be bi-weekly. In that case, well, the 15 minutes might not be exactly the time box that you have. Maybe you keep the 15-minute time box only when it's talking about one application.
When we think about the way we're communicating and why we come together, this isn't just a status report. We acknowledge everyone on the team is busy. We're busy. Again, this conversation is about what is keeping us from getting towards our goal, our short-term goal, what is it that we need to collaborate on in order to achieve our goal together?
As we are working through our grant calendar, something that I'd like to put forward as a specific Scrum event that I think is an incredibly powerful opportunity. And some of you may already do this. Given some of the names I've seen that I recognize in the chat box, some of you already might do something like this. How do you draft your application to receive feedback? And what are the different unique creative ways you present your draft for feedback so that you get meaningful input?
Find someone with a fierce red pen. Sure. We need to know if we have all our comments or not. But where are we getting feedback that helps us think like a grant maker? As the grant writer, it's -- we shouldn't self at it. Right? Dr. Ben Browning loves that we should not self-edit. We're too close to it. Right? We can't see what we've missed. We can't see our assumptions of knowledge. And, yes, we need someone to help make sure all of our grammar is as tight as possible. Oxford commas are not depending on your organizational choice, right? But how can someone review the work with the eyes of a grant maker? Because there are ultimate stakeholders in the situation. And so a sprint review is the opportunity to provide your work for feedback and have stakeholders give input.
Now, unlikely most grant makers are going to do that for us. But that is why our team calls it a mock review. I know other organizations and teams that call it peer review. But reviewing an application against the guidelines, against the scoring criteria before we submit. That is mimicking your stakeholder. And so, that activity of a mock review, of a peer review doing that work before you submit, that, you could use the label of a sprint review. You might say, “We were already doing that.” And I would say, “High five! You have found value in something that is technically an event in the Scrum framework. Great. No need to give it that label. But also, you're working in an Agile way, which makes me so excited.
One last event, if we're thinking about the Scrum framework, coming together as a team to think about in our last set period of time, so the last week, two, three, or four that we worked together, what went well in the way we worked together? What didn't go quite as well as we would have hoped, or as we had planned in the way we work together? And do we have one hypothesis for what we could do to make us better, faster, even happier as a team?
In the Scrum framework, this is called the Kaizen. This is different from a post mortem because it is not tied to the end of a grant submission. It doesn't have to be that we have this conversation only after something gets submitted. You can have it at different times during our year. What we want to do is think as a team, not just us. What are the ways our process for how we work together could be stronger? Pick just one so we know if that variable has a positive impact on the way we work together or not.
And then when we reflect on it later, say, “Keep it or not? Did the process change help us or not?” This is called a retrospective, frankly, of the five Scrum events. It is absolutely my favourite. This event, asking your questions, these questions of your team regularly, is what makes teams achieve twice the impact in half the time, twice the work in half the time. It is this event.
So if you have not found something yet, where you're like, “I'd like to try that with my team,” I would ask you to consider this. We've got lots of information available for free about retrospectives. I'm super happy to talk about it more offline. Yeah, can you tell? It's like one of my favourite events. I love it. And so, that's why I want to tell you that there are awesome additional free resources. We have literally just started the conversation about Agile and Scrum. And depending on what got you most excited in today's conversation, what you wanted to learn more about, what your hypothesis was for, you might want to try. There are some great free resources that I wanted to make sure you were aware of. Yes, today's session, recording slides all coming to you so you can reference these later. No need to grab them all now.
But there are lots of ways that you can connect with other nonprofit professionals. Not just grant professionals, but nonprofit professionals, EDs, program directors, all roles who are thinking about Agile, who are thinking about Scrum, who are thinking about Kanban, who are thinking about these tools and how to best use them. And learning from each other is, I think, such a great joy for what's worked, what's not, and to try things in your organization.
So, this promo code will be in your recording as well. If there's any other training that is of interest for you to dig deeper, you're welcome to use it and get 15% off. But I know, Will, you're going to talk to us a little bit more. And I don't remember what you said for what Instrumentl’s way of working is. I do believe it's an Agile way of working as well.
Will: Totally is. And also, as a company, we are also very much adopters of Agile. We have sprints, biweekly sprints as an organization. And so, it's something in which a lot of what you said today resonates with us as an organization.
So in the case where you haven't already checked out Instrumentl, I'll leave a link for Diane's partner link that you can check out Instrumentl from. But essentially, what Instrumentl can really help you out with is bringing all of that work into one place.
So some of the things that folks mentioned earlier was creating tasks, creating opportunity lists, and tracking all of that. That's something where when you create a project on Instrumentl, you're going to have a dedicated workspace which is going to comprise matches and a tracker. And so when you set up a project with Instrumentl, we're going to sift through more than 14,000 active grant opportunities based on the different criteria that you set up in your project and your nonprofit’s actual organization profile. And from there, it'll give you a list of active grant opportunities that you can actually start to pursue.
And one of the nice things about this with respect to bringing everything into Instrumentl is that a lot of the details about the founder will also be in the same essential source of truth. So when you see this Kia Pet Adoption grant from the Pet Finder Foundation, you're going to also see how we're feeding in the information from the IRS 990 report that essentially details some key contact people. They’re giving trends, patterns over the years, and just like what are the grant sides between new and older recipients from this foundation?
And then when you save that into your tracker, you'll start to build the idea of some of the steps that Diane talked about in today's presentation in which you'll have that concept of being able to set up different tasks for your different team members. So for example, whether that's milestone, submission, goal reporting, so some folks were mentioning how their goal is seven days before the deadline or a week before the deadline. The nice thing about Instrumentl is that everything is stored in the same place. So the information about the funder, the information about the opportunities you're working on, your history with that funder, even the things that were referenced in the presentation today, regarding the documents and things like that, you can also upload all of that into Instrumentl.
So, it's a really great way where if you have multiple team members on your team working on different parts of the grant lifecycle, you can bring it all into the same place and make sure that everybody is on the same page as well. For example, I can store my funder login credentials just so that like when we are submitting that, everyone kind of knows where to go on that. Or if I have a particular cycle that I want to set things for, it's really easy to actually start duplicating work in future years. So if, for example, I know I want to work on this grant in the future, I can just go ahead and set this for 2024. Choose a future cycle, maybe the August 1st, 2024 cycle, which again, the Instrumentl team is looking for when those new cycles are going to start. And from here, I'll see the full history of everything that's been going on and be working backwards on what my organization is working on.
One of the things that Diane also referenced in your presentation today was that idea of keeping everybody across the team in the loop. So if you're currently using an Outlook calendar, and things like that, our standard plan above also comes with a built-in grants calendar. So this is where you'll see everything across every single project. So imagine you had all the data about the private foundations and things like that, in the same place where you have all your tasks, as well as all the upcoming milestones or deadlines that are coming up around your funders. That's essentially what you get here.
And there's advanced filters where you can then kind of break it down based off of, “Oh, what is Alex working on in this sprint versus the next sprint, and so on?” And if you want to take it to a whole another level, we have a spring launch coming up in the next week or so. We've released a series of new reports that then make this even more robust as well, in which in the past, you could only download opportunities from your reports. But now, you can also download task contacts and funder data from Instrumentl. So, that makes it even easier for you to just surface to your boss or your executive director or board of directors. Here's what's been going on in the grants team of the last month, and what we're going to be working on next.
So if you are looking to just bring things into a consolidated workflow, it's a 14-day free trial. There's no credit card on signup at all. And you get full access to the platform during those two weeks. So, feel free to check it out. But it can be a really great way for saving a ton of time and researching as well as tackling some of those other concepts that we went through today. And especially, like thinking about how to consolidate all of those workflows into like a single source of truth.
And with that, the other thing I wanted to do is just open up the floor for questions. So if you have any questions, feel free to drop them into the chat. And I will also drop a link to our pricing page to answer one of the questions that came up just now.
Diane: And that we're accepting questions about Instrumentl and anything I said. And I was just like scrolling back to the chat box. And everyone was really busy looking for three hashtag items that I may have missed. Will, were there any questions that you saw come in that we didn't address live as we went through?
Will: No. Actually, we did a great job of addressing things live. So, that's something in which we think we've been doing great. And I've just been waiting for a few more questions. I know there've been a couple questions via DMs. But those have all been answered as well. So, awesome.
Well, I'll leave it open for another minute or so. We can see if there's any final questions for folks. But otherwise, this has been a great presentation. And that replay and slides will be shared in the coming days. So, definitely keep an eye out for that.
Diane: Let's see. Oh, yeah. Go ahead. I hear one.
Ashley: Hi, Will. I just posted my question in the chat.
Will: Ashley asked a question on reflections on any features, especially relevant to a capital campaign. I'm not sure I understand the question, Ashley. Can you elaborate more in there?
Ashley: So, for example, there are multiple sources of support for the same project or for the same nonprofit organization and just keeping all the data organized. So, for example, if you've got three separate grant applications for the same capital campaign and you are wanting to keep all of the data organized for the purpose of ensuring that each person is clear on the progress that you have made, as well as deadlines and other important information.
Will: Is this in regards to Instrumentl or the presentation? Just to clarify. Ashley, can you clarify if this question is with regards to the Agile approach or how Instrumentl you could track different tasks with relation to the capital campaign?
Ashley: So specifically, I'm interested to hear your reflections on Instrumentl and the use of this technology for that purpose.
Will: Sure. So one of the things you can do in Instrumentl when you are trying to track across multiple stakeholders is you can save a grant into your tracker. So when you do this, what's going to happen is it's going to show up into this sort of project’s tracker. From here, if you were to add the different team members into your account, you would then set up different tasks for them. And then you could set different deadlines for those folks. So let's say, for example, I wanted to set a submission deadline, maybe I'm going to do it all the way down in August. And so, it looks like this next cycle is coming up around that. So, I'll do it just before that date. And then what will happen is I can choose an assignee as well as collaborators that might be involved in that particular submission.
Once I start doing that, I can work backwards on kind of thinking back on the burned-down chart where like there's certain steps that you will be working towards, right? And so, what you can do is you can essentially say, “Okay, there's probably going to be reporting in the case after this grant has been awarded, maybe even further down the road. And I can start mapping backwards on these sorts of tasks.”
When I do this, what's going to happen is you will essentially see a log of records of the things that we might have to do related to our capital campaign and whatnot. And then from here, what will happen once a week is Instrumentl is going to roll up for you all the tasks that you have assigned for yourself, as well as it'll send a different personalized message to your other team members like, “Here are the tasks that are coming up that are tasked to you.” That way, regardless of who it is on the account, you can kind of filter in on these particular tasks and see what the team is doing across the board.
If I wanted to pull a report on all the things related to a particular capital campaign, I could set up a project on Instrumentl for my capital campaign. And then I could download a report. And from here, I can download all the tasks that I have related to that particular project. That can be a great way to just kind of keep track of like, “What am I working on? What is the rest of the team working on?” And then go from there as well. So, hopefully, that answers your question on that side of things.
Let’s see here.
Ashley: Diane? I just wanted to ask, I really enjoyed the presentation. But I work in a consulting firm for a large organization where I have to support different program people, and no one shares calendars. And people just constantly are flagging me with deadlines of something else that they want to pursue randomly. So, I'm just wondering what should I use as a calendar that I can share with the project people I'm supposed to support so they can see my calendar?
Diane: Yeah. So, I'm happy to connect with you more offline because it really depends on the tools that they're comfortable with. The tool, the online Agile product management tools that we've mentioned are easy to share to guests. But if there's something that an organization is already using, maybe in another function of the organization, there might be an easier answer than putting in a new tool if calendars aren't being shared. So maybe if you want to connect over email or via LinkedIn? I'm happy to brainstorm with you a little bit.
Ashley: Okay, thank you.
Diane: Yeah. Great.
Will: With that as well, let's see if there's any other questions we can tackle. Reen asked, “Can we use a JIRA board to help us prioritize the different pieces of work items in the grant?”
Diane: Yes. And I was replying in the chat. I shared a link. Actually, Megan did as well. JIRA is another one of those great Agile project management tools. It absolutely could be used by grant professionals. Our team has used it and enjoyed it. It’s very data driven. Lots of great reports and visualizations. Shelly Leysin, another awesome grant professional, has used JIRA in her team's work and did a presentation at our Agile Nonprofit Summit. You can watch that 10-minute recording for free at Agilenonprofits.com where Shelly talks about the work that their team did for how they put all of their grant backlog into JIRA. It's rather awesome and brilliant.
So, I encourage you to check that out.
Will: Awesome. And I wanted to share on the screen as we do wrap up here. If you want to follow up with Diane, there is a slide that we'll be sharing in the presentation later on where you can feel free to reach out on her website, as well as follow up in terms of some of the things that were discussed today.
And last but not least, if you are looking for -- I'm getting started with Scrum, a free guide from Diane's team, as well as 10 best lessons from 10 grant writing experts. You can feel free to check out the link that I put in the chat. And we'll also put it in one last time as we wrap up here. And we'll also include it in the follow-ups today. So, feel free to check those out.
And with that, we are at the top of the hour. So if you have any other questions, feel free to direct those to Diane via the email that we'll be sharing afterwards. Or you can also email me directly at [email protected]. We want to be respectful of everybody's time. So, thank you so much, Diane, for presenting. And we'll see you all hopefully in one of our upcoming events.
Diane: Thanks, Will, for hosting.
Will: Awesome. Have a great rest of your day, everybody.