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Practically Speaking: Rx for Weak Objectives

Dec 14

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Friday, December 14, 2012  RssIcon

By Susannah Mayhall

For organizations engaged in projects designed to benefit communities, distilling the overall impact of that project into a list of concrete and measurable objectives can prove challenging. Unlike profitable businesses, nonprofit organizations and public entities are not necessarily wired to produce a clean-cut demonstration of return on investment for their projects. However, with grant dollars dwindling while community needs continue to increase, funders are looking for increasingly empirical data to demonstrate that their money is being well spent. In the examples below, a few average (or worse) project objectives are diagnosed and treated with a good dose of specificity. While these examples are purely fictional, the methods used to improve them can be used for a variety of grant applications. 

Weak Objective 1:

Improve student retention of material.

Diagnosis:

This objective fails to correlate directly to the project by omitting how it is tied to the needs statement or project description.  It also does not include any measurable outcome. In order to strengthen this objective, the writer will need to provide more information concerning what students will be impacted, what material they will be retaining, how much better their retention will be, and, perhaps most importantly, what will be done to result in higher retention of material. All of these details should be directly tied to the other information described in the grant application, including the needs statement, the project description, the budget narrative, and any other relevant portions of narrative. Essentially, the objectives get down to the granular details of how the project will be carried out and why the project is a worthwhile investment.

With a few tweaks that incorporate the above information, the improved objective might be:

Improve retention of English language and math material by 15% among low-income Hispanic students in the fourth and fifth grades by implementing targeted core curriculum workshops during school hours.

This objective is much clearer than the first example and, more importantly, it is measurable. The objective clearly defines who will be impacted (low-income fourth and fifth grade Hispanic students), the action that will be taken (core curriculum workshops), and how it is expected to impact the target population (15% improvement in English and math). To support this objective, the proposal should clearly state how this improvement will be measured (standardized testing, teacher surveys, etc.) and why it ties to the target population (in this case, the proposal should make clear how it defines "low-income" and "Hispanic" and why these categories, as well as this grade group, were identified for the project). While it can be difficult to put a number on something that will occur in the future, keep in mind that you are projecting an anticipated result based on research,  experience, and data—not predicting the future. Of course, overpromising and under-delivering is undesirable, but if you are too conservative, you might be selling yourself short and losing grant funding in the process. Research similar projects, take a good look at your setting, demographics, and other factors impacting the project, and use the judgment you've developed in your own experiences to make an educated projection.

Weak Objective 2:

 Improve patient satisfaction.

Diagnosis:

While the intentions behind this objective may be good, the truth is that it really doesn't say anything about the project, who it impacts, or how to gauge its success. In this case, the writer should dig a little deeper to see why patients aren't satisfied now—do they desire more face time with their doctors, shorter wait times/more convenient clinic hours, lower costs of care, more collaborated care services? Furthermore, why should the funder be concerned about patient satisfaction when there are likely more pressing health-related concerns?

For the sake of this article, let's say these patients are high-risk diabetes patients who experience multiple barriers to receiving the care that they need to stay healthy—maybe they speak a different language than most of the health care professionals they see, or they live in a region that makes trips to the doctor inconvenient, or they have a hard time making an appointment because their typical work schedules conflict with the clinic's hours. In this case, patients who are dissatisfied with treatment services may forgo treatment, worsening their health outcomes over the short and long term. Eventually, their conditions may worsen to such an extent that they need expensive hospital care. It is in the patients' and the providers' best interest to keep these patients on track with their chronic care management and preventative treatment.

After looking further into the matter, the improved objective might look something like this:

Increase identified high-risk patients' compliance with diabetes management and preventative care services by 40% by expanding clinic hours to 9 p.m. to accommodate patients' work schedules.

Although the improved objective doesn't mention patient satisfaction, it addresses the same issues that inspired the original objective while stating it in measurable, defined terms. In addition, this objective likely has a ripple-effect objective concerning the avoidance of more serious health implications and expensive care options such as hospitalization.

These two examples demonstrate just a handful of the methods that can be used to improve grant proposal objectives. As long as you keep in mind that objectives are more like a business plan than a mission statement, you'll be on track to improving your case for funding.

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Categories: Proposal Development
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