How was your 2018?

I’ve had the pleasure of gathering content for and laying out three annual reports this year. Here are some observations about the process. And why the most important thing is that they exist.

From the Left, The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe Sports and Excercise Medicine Research Centre and The Living with Disability Research Centre, all at La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia.

So many things: It’s the sum of a whole years work, it’s one in a series, its the product of a team, it’s a physical manifestation of sometimes pretty intangible collective activity.

Its a ton of effort for the people who have done the work to remember, recap and remind the team what they did, how many people were there and where they put the photos they swore they took.

Figuring out the story you want to tell beforehand is a good dream, but that’s hard for a lot of research teams new to creating an annual report.

Photos are important as well, alcohol and disability are two very hard subjects to summarise easily in photos. For alcohol, we ended up looking for the things around alcohol, bars, glasses, empty, nondescript bottles, rather than risk glamorising alcohol, which I fully realise now is a poison and should be treated as such.

Disability is hard too, treating it like any other modelling shoot was the best thing the photographer that was commissioned to do the shoot could have done, and did do, long before my time, the images are starting to look a bit stale now though.

It will take longer than you think, involve more people than you think and need a lot more editing that you think. Even if you just use the same format as last year. The message from the director has to agree with the project descriptions, the summary of income has to agree with the detailed list of income and endless other details.

Two of these used infographics, both well I think and this is an area that can benefit from infographics.

The most common feedback I get is ‘looks really good’. They have many audiences, and many functions, being nice to look at, reassuring and interesting, coherent and consistent is the baseline, anything above that is showing off, not a very Australian thing to do. The hard work is doing what goes into them, they should be a celebration.

Putting it all together in one place is an act of pride, and those that have anything to do with them should be proud.

One part communications

I found a comms strategy I worked on back in Scotland recently and it made me realize how much I love them. I love the security of planning your work then working your plan, and knowing how the sometimes abstract work of comms fits into the overall goals of the group.

They all work out differently, and the process of doing them is as unique as the people involved. But the ones that work all have a few things in common.

Here’s one, with identifying features removed, the basic theory is that (working up from the bottom) if you communicate the outputs via the channels to the audiences you will achieve the outcomes.

As the title suggests comms strategies are just one part of an overall strategy, your org needs to know where it’s going, what it wants and how it’s going to get it and from whom. A big ask for some groups.

Every strategy I’ve worked on and every board, external advisor and CEO has had different language and approaches for the strategy specifics. I’ve worked within timelines, horizons and waymarkers. And achieved goals, objectives and outcomes with actions, tactics and even once implementables.

Working through those specifics gives me such a good insight into the teams and leaders of orgs that I would suggest the meetings might make good televised content for adding to glassdoor.com. From deep disconnects to just not having the ability to make a decision doing a strategy doc really tells you a lot about the people in charge.

But the things that the ones that have worked have all had in common are buy-in, follow-through and looking back.

I’ve been frustrated trying to get leaders to look at a strategy they asked me to create and moreso trying to get them to look at it a quarter later so I can show them how we’re going. The best experience was a CEO calling me late one night because they wanted clarification on a plan I submitted weeks before.

That one worked well and we did good work. I like to keep them on my wall just behind my monitor so they are always visible.

How to teach grant writing.

No to Venn diagrams, icebergs, or onions!

No to Venn diagrams, icebergs, or onions!

Someone gave me cause to think about how I would teach what I know about grant writing  today. I’ve sat on the other side of the desk plenty of times and been given lots to think about by some great teachers. I also think I have an approach that can help your application stand out, make a case and leave a mark.

The people in the class have to be prompted to think through the problems from their own point of view. I’m not sure how you would do that just yet. It could be through some grant giver/grant seeker role play, a dragon’s den pitch session, all verbal probably. If you can say it, you can write it. And it would help get away from ten dollar words that are dull and boring to read.

Obviously, you need to do some work on the donor knowledge gap and opening your eyes to the assumptions we all make when we tell our own stories.

After that it’s just decoding inputs, outputs, outcomes and budgets.

Should be a blast!

the reason for it all…

“If you’re trying to persuade someone to make a decision – in this case, a donation – you depend on emotion. We make decisions with our feelings, then rationalize that choice.

That’s why logical arguments will fall flat when a moving story will work.”

– http://mcahalane.com/why-empathy-is-key-to-great-fundraising/

The vital century

My paternal Grandfather was a conscientious objector during the war, my maternal Grandfather a decorated war hero. Neither of them spoke about their experiences. To my mind either course of action takes courage.

My paternal Grandfather, John, was good with his hands, and wore brylcreem. He spent the war hiding in the hills of the Yorkshire dales, away from his wife and young family. He worked at a bakery making bread in the early hours to get by. He phoned my Grandmother through a friendly telephone exchange operator to keep in touch. After the war he worked in quarries, handling dynamite. He was a health and safety inspector in a paper factory. He never talked about having friends, or his time during the war. I learnt about it from my parents.

John also cycled a lot, with a group of Yorkshire dales riders. Weekend long trips among the hills, out to a B&B and back again on Sunday. Over a hundred miles sometimes. Wool trousers and leather boots to ride in, cagoules when they became cheap enough to buy.

I like to think my grandfather found refuge in a group of people who didn’t judge him for his actions during the war and found quiet peace in nature and the shared achievement of cycling a hundred miles in a day. I admire the resolve he had in staying where people knew him and working the jobs he did. It can’t have been easy, and makes every smile I saw him crack that much more precious.

When I’m out with my cycling friends that’s what I think about. Courage, sacrifice and doing just enough for yourself to make the rest of life bearable.

When I found out my own father cycled 100 miles from Grimsby to Keighley during the courtship of my mother, I had to try and continue the legacy.  Took a while to get there, but I did it last year. Thanks go to Chris at Bike Craft Edinburgh for helping out.

Not super clear, but the digits at the bottom are that trip in miles, it reads 100!

WP_20141005_003

I had bought the t-shirt months earlier, I took it out of it’s packagin and I swear I had not worn it before I did the distance.

me, wearing a t-shirt that says "100 miles done" because I did.

me, wearing a t-shirt that says “100 miles done” because I did.

Why don’t charities tell more stories?

I know why we don’t tell more stories.

Because we have lost the understanding of how powerful stories are. And we’re afraid of being vulnerable, and afraid of sharing the connectedness that telling stories exposes us to.

Let me explain, with a story.

What did your father do in the war has, for my generation, been replaced with what did your Grandfather do in the war. Like most people I’ve got two, both now deceased. They both had two very different war stories, one hated publicly one not given the heroes welcome he was expecting. Much to my disappointment I never heard their stories from them, I gleaned little pieces of history from other family members.

Stories from our family give us meaning, help figure out who we are and where we come from. Maybe we don’t share them often, and especially publicly, because they are precious and important to us, how long do you have know someone before you tell them about the patent fraud criminal in the family (I’ve still not told many people that one).

her’s hoping I can help people reassess the value of their stories, for themselves and for others. When you share something like that you create a bond that is not easily broken.