Today, I took a break from the computer to go on a bike ride along the Black Diamond Trail. I’m pleased to report that here in the hearty north, there are signs of spring emerging. The grasses along the creek beds have become vibrant green and the willows and forsythia along the waterways are beginning to take on a golden hue.
On the bike trail it is so obvious that water brings life and so I was musing on what the equivalent of water is for non-profits? The easy answer is money. But what are the conditions that allow money to flow? And then it occurred to me that Governor Andrew Cuomo is demonstrating a fantastic example of the kind of strategic planning and leadership that is a precursor to the development of the conditions necessary for resources to flow.
Like many Americans, I have been tuning into to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefing on COVID19 preparedness. His leadership is a great example of the kind of strategic thinking that happens during the grant development process. Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Be clear about your organization’s mission
His stated mission is that his administration serves the people of New York. In a grant proposal, this is part of the introduction.
Step 2: Be clear on your values and boundaries
He has stated that he is committed to protecting all New Yorkers including the most vulnerable – no one gets left behind. In a grant proposal, these values are wound into the narrative.
Step 3: Look at the data and define the problem that needs to be addressed
Early in the crisis, NYS used world-class projection models to determine a potential need for 110,000 hospital beds and 30-40,000 ventilators. Current stock includes 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 ventilators. The problem to be addressed is clear. The data aren’t solid, so leaders are making best guesses based on current information and taking into account the unknowns. In a grant proposal, these data are the basis of the needs section that is then coupled with story and context.
Step 4: Set Clear Goals
The Governor’s goal for New York is to
- Flatten the curve: Reduce the number of infections and the rate of increase.
- Increase Capacity: Double hospital bed capacity and meet the projected need for staff, PPE, and ventilators within 2 weeks.
These are stretch goals and demand that people expand their horizons and get creative to meet goals that appear impossible. In a grant proposal, bold stretch goals would be seen as unrealistic, whereas in this context they are both necessary and viable.
Step 5: Consult with experts and devise a plan
There are multiple methods that are being used to achieve these goals, including,
- Opening streets in New York City for pedestrian traffic
- Creating temporary hospitals in convention centers, dormitories, and hotels
- Taking down basketball hoops in the city
- Declaring a stay-at-home requirement for all non-essential staff
- Using federal hospital ships docked in the harbor
- Asking for retired medical staff to volunteer their services
- Procuring PPE and ventilators wherever they can be found
In a grant proposal, you would justify which method(s) you are pursuing and why and how those methods will be executed and by whom.
Step 6: Be clear about which metrics to measure to assess achievement of stated goals
In New York, the Governor’s team is tracking and reporting each day on,
# of available beds, staff, ventilators
# of tests administered
# of positives
# ICU admits
In a grant proposal, these metrics are the basis for the evaluation plan. They are then coupled with a plan for how the data will be collected, by whom, when, and how it will be analyzed and used for making course adjustments.
Step 7: Be clear on the budget: What are the costs and how will they be covered?
This aspect is hazy at the moment in New York since there are a lot of unknowns. However, the Governor has started talking about projected costs, shortfalls in income, and how to cover the gap.
In a grant proposal, it must be clearly stated how much a project will cost and the revenue streams available to meet those costs (including grants).
Strategic Planning Best Practices:
Best Practice: Ask for help from people with expertise and use your resources
Early in the crisis, New York asked for permission from the federal government to use labs in the state to conduct our own testing. This has resulted in the highest testing rate in the world –170 people per 1,000 compared to 160 per 1,000 in South Korea.
Governor Cuomo is also in communication with leading medical experts such as Dr. Fauci, statisticians and ventilator experts from across the globe, and elected national politicians. He has asked for mental health professionals from across the country to volunteer their time for counseling and asked retirees to offer their services.
The best plans are created with collaboration and input from experts, with help from people in authority, and with the support of the local community – all while making best use of the currently available resources.
Best Practice: Be prepared to adjust your plan based on new data
The Governor’s Office is adapting their plan based on incoming data. This is a little harder to do during grant strategic planning process and once an application is submitted. However, all funders are open to making adaptations to the original plan if new circumstances arise.
Best Practice: Be creative and be open to experimentation
Examples of creative thinking in New York include,
- Splitting ventilators to serve two people
- Converting anesthesia machines to become ventilators
- Conduct clinical tests to determine the efficacy of available treatments and drugs, thereby further reducing demand for medical services.
- Offering drive thru testing throughout the state
When you are in strategic planning mode for grant development, encourage your team to get creative and come up with ideas, however oddball them may seem.
Best Practice: Communicate Clearly and with Passion
Governor Cuomo is doing an excellent job of clearly communicating his case. In a written form, his communication style would make an award-winning grant application. He gives the facts, states the need, clearly communicates the plan, explains strategic decisions, expresses empathy and his values. He offers inspiration grounded in fact which is a perfect recipe for a grant application.
Best Practice: Invoke Myth
I believe that the best grant applications invoke myths. Myths speak to universal truths that live deep inside all of us. They remind us of the ethereal fabric beyond the physical world that links us all together and the grace that penetrates the veil at our most vulnerable moments. While I haven’t seen Governor Cuomo talk of the Gods, Goddesses, and the ethereal, he has certainly evoked the American myth and what it means to be a New Yorker.
Best Practice: Appreciate and thank your staff and friends
During the grant development process people get tired and tempers get frayed. Often grants are written with an impending threat of budget shortfalls and layoffs. It is imperative that grant professionals keeps the team’s eyes on the larger prize and ensure that people feel appreciated for their professionalism and hard work and are respected and supported. Governor Cuomo is demonstrating how to sustain morale during trying times with aplomb.
Best Practice: Think at a community level
The most inspiring grant applications are those that while addressing a local need address also recognizes a regional, national, or global perspective, such as promotion of a local energy efficiency program that addresses global climate change.
Governor Cuomo is clearly addressing a global issue. He is ensuring that New York State works in tandem by requiring hospital load be shifted from downstate to upstate and also making impassioned pleas for national solidarity.
The leadership and strategic thinking that the Governor is demonstrating is laying the groundwork for effective, compassionate action and for the flow of resources necessary to address the need in our midst – just like a well-conceived grant application.
And, I can’t end this post without giving a shout out to our Governor and to thank him and his team for their tireless professionalism under extraordinary circumstances. Thank you.