Start Soaking Those Beans

boston baked beans I’ve got a fantastic Jill Dupleix recipe for home-made baked beans that starts: “Don’t wake up in the morning and spontaneously decide to have this for breakfast. Instead, wake up yesterday morning and decide to have it for breakfast today.”

This month we’ve been helping some of our favourite clients – and some new ones – prepare really critical tenders. In some cases it’s make or break time. Many of them have talked about what they could or should have done yesterday to prepare for today’s funding environment.

We’ve been suggesting to them that they start thinking today about tomorrow’s breakfast.  When a tender is announced it’s really too late to set up partnership arrangements, put quality systems in place, start collecting meaningful outcomes data or plan an effective service model from scratch.

We know it’s really hard to think ahead when you’re busy doing your organisation’s work. But the bottom line is that every organisation needs to be thinking about the future if it’s going to survive and thrive. So start soaking those beans now!

If you’d like the baked beans recipe, or you want help with thinking about your organisation’s future, give us a call.

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Winning tenders

We three 99 Consulting partners are working our way towards qualifications in training and assessment. We enjoyed the coursework but are distracted from our assessment by all the real life fun things to do instead: like helping our clients write tenders for example!

My solution: to develop training materials about how to write tenders, so our clients can improve their ability to win those pesky critters.

I’ve added a selection of tender tips (sounds like asparagus!) to the Smart Stuff section of our website, focusing on responding to selection criteria) so have a look if tenders interest you.

Meanwhile we need training victims, so if you’d like to talk about how we can help with training or mentoring of your team (or writing winning tenders) give us a yell so I can finish my assessment!

From audits to plaudits: thinking Annual Reports

I’m really liking this year’s annual report by Youth and Family Services, Logan (YFS). They’ve used a poster-style layout that folds down to A5. It includes lots of great photos and a layout that highlights their achievements in 2012-13 without getting bogged down in text about business as usual. Publishing their financial report in a separate document liberated us to be creative with the rest of the report. It was fun working with designer Scott Edgar and YFS staff to come up with something fresh and different.

Over the years I’ve worked on lots of annual reports. My favourites have been for clients who use this “have-to-do” task as an opportunity to position their organisation strategically. For some, that’s been about impressing fundersmall p2s and donors, for others it’s been about demonstrating their corporate partnership credentials or profiling the human impacts of their work to build buy-in from decision makers and their influencers.

 
A section of the 2012-13 YFS Annual Report

For one memorable project, my brief from the Director General of a Queensland Government department was to win an Australian Reporting Award – I hope he still has the trophy somewhere!

Clients say one of the most common uses for annual reports (beyond legislated requirements) is to help potential recruits prepare for job interviews! I’d like to think annual reports can do much more than that. If you know of any great annual reports, let us know.

Courting and consorting

We are currently seeing a new wave of consortia, partnerships and amalgamations. Some of these moves are in response to perceptions that current and future government tenders will favour providers that can service large geographic areas such as regions or states. Others are hoping that increasing their size through amalgamation will protect them from the impacts of funding reductions and policy changes.The source!

When we’re working with organisations considering various collaboration options, one of the questions they ask us is how to decide who they should consort with. Given that a business partnership is much like a marriage, I recently turned to my reliable source of wisdom on many topics, the Ladies Guide by J.H. Kellogg M.D. (1895).

Dr Kellogg has some sound advice for young ladies considering who to marry, and this advice is equally relevant to organisations considering consortia or amalgamation. Here is a summary of his advice:
1. The individual should be the possessor of good health and a good constitution (i.e. don’t shack up with a basket case!)
2. He should be a man of good habits (find out whether they have met their commitments and honoured their contracts in the past)
3. He should be of suitable temperament (assess their compatibility with your organisation in terms of values, service model, culture and the like)
4. He should be of good morals and good reputation (find out what others say – get some intel from those in the know and do some research)
5. The individual must be of the proper age (consider how established the organisation is, and that their thinking is from the same era as yours)
6. The prospective husband should be of proportionate size (i.e. consider size and power imbalances and establish roles and governance up front)
7. Take care when marrying a cousin (perhaps the relevance of this is to check that your organisations don’t have the same weaknesses, and that you are not creating conflicts of interest or nepotism perceptions)

A decent time for courtship is recommended by us as well as by Dr Kellogg:
“The primary object of courtship should be to allow the parties to become acquainted with each other’s characters so as to know whether or not there exists such mutual adaptation as to make a life partnership desirable or likely to be a happy one.”

If there’s time, it’s worth considering low-commitment forms of partnership before signing up to a long-term contract or amalgamation. After all, as Dr Kellogg says, “young people can judge of each other’s characters much better by daylight than lamplight.” Working together on a project, or sub-contracting some services for a trial period, can be a chance to experience working together before committing too deeply.

Following Dr Kellogg’s advice will help you avoid the mistake made by a young woman he features, who married a man of obnoxious temperament to avoid being left an old maid: “During the first few months of marriage, when her eyes had become thoroughly opened to the folly of her course and the dreadful slavery to which she had bound herself, reason was nearly dethroned; but it was too late to correct the fatal mistake. She had nothing to do but bear it with as much calmness and patience as she could summon.”

Community facilities: success secrets

Well-run community facilities can make a huge contribution to the wellbeing of local communities. Yet these facilities – community centres, local halls, arts centres, youth centres – are often taken for granted. Planning can be haphazard, and management arrangements are often left to chance.
Our work in evaluating and planning for community facilities suggests the success secrets are simple on paper, but harder in practice:

  1. Clear goals – owners of buzzing facilities can usually articulate why they own the venue, what they want it to achieve and how they know it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
  2. Fit facilities – lots of older facilities were great dance halls in the 40s, or excellent sales offices for developers, but don’t work so well for today’s community activities.
  3. Responsive management – whether they’re managed by government, community or commercial interests, the best facilities have pricing, access and management that encourages full use and works towards the venue’s goals.
  4. Appropriate intervention – if facilities are meant to achieve community development then programs, partnerships or targeted pricing strategies might be needed. If they’re meant to support cultural development then owners might have to invest in developmental activities.

We’re grappling with some questions about facilities that you may be interested in too. Like:

  • Would we be better with fewer, really great facilities than with lots of run-down facilities that are under-used?
  • How much is providing facilities the role of local governments?
  • Can we ever close (or sell, or – gasp – demolish!) a community hall?
  • Are traditional volunteer facility management models doomed?
  • What are valid, measurable assessments of the contribution made by community facilities?

If you’re interested to talk more about community facilities, we love talking about them!