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Cheat Sheet: Creating a Project Plan

Project Management is the discipline of planning, organising, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of a specified project goal. In all honesty, Project Management often can sound a lot more complicated than it actually is. We are here to share a few of our lighter-touch tips to help you get started planning a project.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antione de Saint-Exupery

Planning is an everyday activity. We all do it. The process is natural and thus for the most part goes unnoticed. We buy food in advance of cooking, having to remember which ingredients we need while running round the supermarket, checking use-by dates to see if we’ll be able to stock up ahead without food spoiling, assessing weights and portion sizes, and trying to find the best prices for similar products.

You don’t have to make a project plan complicated, simply think of it as an extension of the type of planning you normally do, written down clearly so that everyone shares your knowledge and any associated tasks, and can work to the schedule you set out for completion. It needs to be a map, one that is clear enough for anyone to follow and reach the end destination.

We’re going to start by offering some of our top project planning tips before we launch into a more in-depth look at what to include in a simple project plan.


1)      Have a clear goal from the beginning.

There is no beating around the bush here, you absolutely must have a clearly defined goal that you are working toward at the beginning of your project planning journey. You need to know what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it, and what resources you will have access to, in order to do so.

2)      Involve the right people.

Projects generally require a Project Sponsor and a Project Manager. The Sponsor is responsible for the project, they need to check that it is achieving value for money and will achieve the aims it was created to. The Manager runs the project on a day-to-day basis. This doesn’t mean that they undertake every action, often a large part of their role is to delegate and supervise, but it does mean that one person will have an in-depth understanding of every aspect of the project.

For example, the Project Manager will know when one missed deadline might impact upon another and can plan and re-arrange the project to ensure that the end result will still be achieved on time. The Project Sponsor needs to challenge and hold the Project Manager to account and ask the detail how the project will still be achieved if a deadline has been exceeded.

It is very important that you agree how much responsibility and authority rests with the Project Sponsor and Project Manager – everyone needs to be clear what decisions they can make in order to push the project forward.

Drafting a Project Plan in isolation can be extremely difficult as you may not know exactly what each action will involve and how long it will take. You might miss a key action or task that will impact on timescales when drafting, with the knock-on effect of involving a lot of re-working the plan to amend it after. Speak to colleagues at an early stage, involve them in the process and save yourself future headaches, whilst also guaranteeing that they are on-board with your goals and willing to deliver on their actions.

3)      Manage expectations.

From the outset, you need to be realistic about what is possible. Can you deliver by the date specified? Is it technically possible with the resources you have been allocated? When you begin to plan your project you need to have an initial idea about the costings, timescales, and resources involved in achieving it. It is usually best to allow some wriggle room too, as overspending is an issue that escalates rapidly if you’re running late and have to pay additional fees to ship goods faster, or buy in additional hours to cover last minute work.

4)      Use tools and technology appropriately.

Technology can make the management task a lot easier by automating certain processes, but don’t ever allow yourself to become a slave to the machine. Project Management software can be costly, especially when staff require additional training to come to grips with it. The choice to buy-in technology is yours, but ask yourself whether the scale of the project justifies spending the time and money on it when you could create a simpler in-house solution.

In terms of communications and documentation, our usual advice applies here – keep it simple! If you can meet face-to-face to discuss an issue this is often the best way to achieve consensus, but it can be time consuming. Think about simplifying any documents to ensure that they can be swiftly read and understood. For example, if you are presenting various options for a new IT product, try to set out the pros and cons as a table, allowing a side-by-side comparison of costs, benefits, features, training requirements, and so on. Providing a short and easily digestible document can save everyone time as it allows you to drill down into what is important as you set out the options clearly for others and if you provide this before a short face-to-face meeting everyone is armed with the information they need to discuss the merits of each option quickly and reach a consensus.


Creating a Project Plan

The first thing we’d recommend you do when planning your project is to come up with a clearly defined goal that everyone can understand and buy into. Once you know what you need to achieve you can start to brainstorm the various activities you’ll need to break the project down into in order to achieve it.

For example, you felt absolutely inspired after watching a documentary about the Himalayas and decided that you must go within the next year and trek the Annapurna Circuit. It is something you’ve always wanted to do and you don’t want to put it off any longer. So where do you start?

Try brainstorming the main actions you think you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. This can be as simple as the spider diagram below which covers our first thoughts about actions (and possible issues) for our example.

Project Plan Example

Once you know exactly what you want your project to achieve, and have an idea of the main actions necessary to reach that end point, you then need to start to work backwards. With the end date in mind, you then start to work out when each action needs to be taken so that you meet that date, some actions rely upon others and so need to be placed in order, others can be taken at any point. To continue with our example, actions you’d want to take to get to trek the Annapurna Circuit include:

  • Research trek providers for price, quality, availability
  • Book trek
  • Book flights (allow one day before trek starts and two days after)
  • Book additional transport (to and from airport)
  • Book airport parking
  • Book time off work
  • Pay off balance of flights and trek
  • Book kennel for the dog
  • Buy equipment
  • Increase fitness levels
  • See doctor for any travel medication/advice
  • Pack

These obviously aren’t listed in the correct order, unless you have a really flexible and easy going boss, you’d probably need to book time off work before you went ahead and booked your holiday. One of the easiest ways to set out these actions in a logical order to set out your plan and start thinking about timings is to create a Gantt chart for your Project Plan. A Gantt Chart shows activities against time, so that you can see at a glance when an action needs to happen and how long it should take.

Microsoft Excel does have a few examples among their templates, (see screen shot below for one I found when I searched for a “project plan”), which you can then adapt to suit your purposes. Otherwise, you can draw up your own simple version as I have done in my example which continues below.

Gantt Project Plan Example

An easy way to get started is to begin listing your actions and assigning rough dates to them. So, in the image below, you can see that I have listed my actions and have blocked out when the action should be taking place on a simple monthly basis. These actions still aren’t in order, but laying them out like this allows me to see what needs to happen earlier on in the project. I can then move the actions into a logical order so that the project plan flows through each action in turn to reach the end goal.

Note: when you begin, you may not know the exact dates actions will take place, some actions are dependent upon others. For example, “Pay off balance of flights and trek” is listed below without a date assigned. Until you have researched options and booked the flight and trek you will not know when this action needs to take place as every tour operator will have their own policies regarding deposits.

Project Plan Example 1

You’ll notice, on my next screenshot, that I have added additional actions as they have occurred to me. This is a vital part of the process as it is often hard to visualise every aspect of the project at initial conception, when you start to work through and put your actions in order, any additional tasks that will need to be included should start occurring to you.

The plan has also evolved to include due dates for each action, along with a column to show whether it has been completed. This includes a colour coded key to make it easier to see at a glance what the situation is for each action, whether it is complete, still a work in progress, or overdue. Adding a column for notes is useful too, as it allows you to explain any overdue actions to everyone who has sight of the project plan.

Project Plan Example 2

What this plan does not have yet, is a space to assign actions to others. Most projects will not be completed in isolation, you’ll have a team of people helping you deliver the project. It is always best to include a column detailing who is responsible for each action so that everyone is clear about their role and responsibility to deliver on time. Under a column titled “Responsible” I have listed the person responsible for ensuring that action is completed – “Me” along with others who are involved – e.g. “Manager” in booking time off, and “Doctor” in receiving travel medication/advice.

Project Plan Example 4

Depending on how far you want to drill down into the details when planning, you can choose to include each of the tasks that sits under the main actions you have identified, for example, to book time off work you will need to:

  • Consult your team’s diary for the dates you want to book leave
  • Contact your manager with potential dates for leave request
  • Agree dates with your manager
  • Have leave signed off

You can choose to present this additional information in various ways, whether by including all the actions and tasks on the same plan, (as in the below screenshot example, with the tasks mentioned above highlighted using grey colour/italic text), you could have a Project Plan that only includes headline actions, or maintain a headline sheet with high-level actions only to make it easier to feedback progress to Project Sponsors that is supplemented by a more detailed Project Plan with all tasks outlined for the benefit of the Project Manager.

Project Plan Example 5

As we have hopefully demonstrated, putting together a Project Plan does not have to be complicated. You don’t have to buy in any expensive tools and technology unless you feel it would be of benefit to you. The example plan here was created from scratch in very little time using only Microsoft Excel.

You can make the plans more or less complex depending on your needs. This example is clearly a simple one, but projects plans can include costs, risks, overspill time allocated to each action and so on. However, we do recommend that you aim for simplicity. The biggest document isn’t always the best. If your intended audience don’t read or understand the plan because it is too detailed, or too complicated, then it has failed.

On a final note, your plan will constantly evolve. The planning process should be continuous throughout your project. Many things can happen to force you to change your approach and no plan could survive in its original form from the start to the finish of the project without being amended. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Contact us at Active Outcomes if you’d like to know a bit more about project planning.

 

 

 

Brief Guide: Planning a Charity Fundraising Event

Charities are under immense pressure to raise funds and ensure they can keep up the good work. We’ve noticed that an increasing number of charities are being assisted in their fundraising efforts by enthusiastic volunteers who throw themselves into organising events but may not have all the background knowledge about charity finance and governance regulations. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. For us, it’s always great to see the passion that people have for charities and their generosity in giving up their time to help your organisation raise the funds you need to continue to help your service users.

So, if you’re ready to get started planning your event – here’s a brief introduction to the things we think you need to consider when planning a fundraising event to keep things safe and legal.


1.    You need clearly defined goals at the beginning.

Money isn’t everything. You need to set out some defined goals you want to achieve in your fundraising events and communicate these clearly with the people tasked with planning and running an event. After all, if your fundraising team are unaware of regulations and accidentally break fundraising rules, the reputational damage can far outweigh the benefit of any monies raised. Think of the bad publicity and how much a single negative news story could undermine all your hard work.

Sitting down and having this discussion about goals at an early stage can make a huge difference to the end result. Your proposed event might be better aimed at raising awareness than money, for example, or it might simply be a way of giving back to the community rather than asking for donations from them. 

2.       Make sure everyone is on the same page.

You want anyone who is involved in running an event for you to understand your mission and vision and to be able to explain these clearly to any member of the public they interact with on your behalf. If they are asking people for money they need to be able to explain how it will be used and for whose benefit. You might have specific information that needs to be shared in a certain way, make sure that your volunteers know exactly how to do this before the event gets underway.

You also need everyone involved in the planning to understand the type of events you want to be associated with, any activities that are especially appropriate (or inappropriate) for your group to be part of, and as mentioned previously, the desired end goal.

3.       Size matters.

Who is coming to your event? You need to think about the potential audience, how best to reach them to advertise an event, where best to offer the event and how big it will be.

Remember, you need to balance risk and reward, a bigger event may have the potential to raise substantial sums of money, but on the other hand, nobody wants to lose money and there are never any guarantees that you’ll generate the level of interest needed to make a success of an expensive big-ticket event. Obviously, the bigger the event, the longer you’ll need to prepare and promote in advance – you might even need time to recruit additional volunteers to steward and so on.

We suggest you think about:

·      Target Audience: Who are you going to invite? How will you let them know about the event?

·       Activities: What activities will you include? Will this appeal to a broad range of people? Is your event going to be family friendly, and if so, how will you cater for all ages of visitor?

·       Facilities: How many people are you aiming to see at your event? Can your chosen activity be accommodated? What venues can accommodate this group – think about catering and access requirements? Is your venue flexible if you have smaller/larger than anticipated numbers?

·       Admission: Will you charge an entrance fee? How would you ticket the event, in advance, on the door, or a combination of the two? Will you monitor numbers even if the event is not ticketed? Remember – advance tickets, even for free events, can help you gauge the level of interest in your event and plan accordingly.

 

4.       Venues and access.

There are a few things you might want to keep in mind when looking at booking potential venues, even if they are allowing you free use of their facilities.

·       Access: Is the venue accessible to all? Can accommodations be made for people who might find the building hard to access and will these be advertised in advance? Do people need transporting to the site? Can you provide details of public transport, parking and so on for attendees to make their own way there?

·       Equipment: Will you need to hire any equipment? When and where will it be delivered? Is someone available to receive it and set it up then? Do you know how to use it safely? Will you require additional transport to move any equipment from elsewhere?

·       Timings: Have you booked the venue for a sufficient amount of time to allow for setting-up and clearing away after the event too? Will you need additional volunteers to help ease this process if not?

·       Performers: Check what they expect you to provide and how long they will need to get ready either side of their show.

·       Weather: In Britain this is a given, but it is worth stating that you cannot trust the weather to be the same from one minute to the next. What impact will the weather have on an event (especially an outdoor one) and can you provide any shelter at the venue?

 

5.       Share the work.

This applies mainly to larger events as you may want to form a working group to manage all the various aspects of organisation. Planning all the dates and deadlines in advance as a group and agreeing to share responsibilities means that you are less likely to find that one or two people will be burdened with more than they can manage. Small groups could look at individual aspects of planning, for example marketing, safety, licensing and so on – however, if you do have separate groups, you’ll need a designated core contact to oversee all the various aspects to ensure that they tie in together.

6.       Risk assessments.

We strongly recommend you carry out a risk assessment to ensure the safety and security of everyone attending your event. Don’t worry – this is not a complicated process! You only need to think about some practical and common-sense issues that might arise and how you’ll prevent or deal with them. To learn more about drafting a simple risk assessment see our blog post here which offers a worked example and get in touch if you’d like an easy to use template that you can download and adapt. Bear in mind as part of your assessment that certain size events may require a First Aider to be on site – you are best to check this with your local authority.

7.       Boosting attendance.

Avoid clashing with other events happening locally – reach out to other groups, community and voluntary support agencies and the local council for more information before you set a date. This is also a great opportunity to ask them to get involved and/or share their expertise, they may know of a more suitable venue or another event you can piggy-back onto, it is always worth asking.

Plan well in advance and allow for longer lead-in times to advertise the event. If you are waiting on confirmation of details for the event (e.g. performers, activities, catering options etc) you can still start promoting an event. The main details you need to get across as early as possible are:

·         Date and time

·         Venue

·         Purpose

·         Organisation(s) involved

·         Price for admission

·         Mention that more information will follow and how to keep in touch for more details

If you can produce publicity materials that act as a “Save the Date” you are at least ensuring that you are marking out that date well in advance, any additional details can be added later. You can also use this early stage promotion as an opportunity to appeal for people who want to be involved in running the event too.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with local press contacts and let them know about the event well in advance. They might be willing to appeal for assistants on your behalf or to cover the event on the day to review the activity. Even if they cannot attend the event, submit a press release before and after telling them about the event and how it was received. Include images if possible, and try and make sure that the press release is as well written as possible – make the journalists job easier and they will be more likely to include your information. Some members of the press may be willing to get involved in other ways too, for example, a local radio personality might be willing to act as an auctioneer at an event.

8.       Permission and licences.

While many activities can be included legally in your fundraising event, certain ones will require specific permissions or licenses, and these include public collections and certain types of raffles which many members of the public assume can be held as and when without any regulation. Each event will have different requirements and we recommend you look at the rules for the activities you are planning with both your local council’s licensing team who will be able to advise on what you might need to apply for and with the Gambling Commission if you intend to run a raffle (especially if you plan to sell tickets in advance of the event).

For larger events, you’ll also need to consider the impact the event will have on the local community – residents may want the noise to be kept to a minimum after a certain hour and businesses may have access requirements. 

9.       Insurance

Public Liability Insurance is the main cover you’ll need to consider if your event involves members of the public. Check with your venue what coverage they provide (if any) as part of their event package. It is an additional cost to take into account, but the alternative financial penalties can be far worse.

10.   Refreshments.

Offering food and drink as part of an event can generate a lot of revenue, however, if you plan to offer food or drink for sale to raise funds you’ll want to keep things above board. Food safety rules apply whether you sell the food or not. If you’re booking food with the venue, or an outside catering company, you’ll need to check they have food hygiene and environmental health certificates and Public Liability Insurance of their own. If you’re planning to prepare and sell food yourself to raise funds, check out the latest advice from The Food Standards Agency here.

Alcohol has rules and regulations of its own. Your venue may already be licensed to sell or serve alcohol, in which case you’re covered. If not, you will need to contact your local authority to ask about how to apply for a Temporary Event Notice to do so.


We hope this helps you get started planning your fundraising event. As always, Active Outcomes are happy to chat about this, so get in touch with us if you need any advice. For more information about what we’ve discussed you might also want to take a look at the links to other websites we’ve included below.

Good luck!

 

Recruiting the Right Trustees

Finding people who are willing to give up a few hours each month voluntarily to act as a Trustee can be difficult enough, but how do you find people with a specific skill-set your Board is lacking and encourage them to get involved?

 

Having worked with several charities to evaluate their work and help them with strategic planning we see this issue being raised time and again. With the newly released Good Governance Code aiming to improve the operation of Boards and offering simple guidance on diversifying, accountability and transparency – this is clearly a common issue. The guide encourages trustees to regularly examine their effectiveness and seek new skills to shore up any weaknesses in their leadership.

While it is easy to offer guidance that assumes the need is not being met because Boards do not understand the benefits they could gain through further development of strategic skills, on an individual level, we feel this is unfair. Charity boards are already being encouraged to diversify their recruits and to encourage people with a broader range of skills to get involved and many are already actively trying to do so. The problem, as we see it, is one of competition.

The vast majority of Boards Active Outcomes have advised already completely understand this need and have attempted to recruit individuals with specific expertise in areas such as social media marketing, strategic planning, finance, fundraising, and sustainability. Charities need to innovate and recruit trustees from a wider pool, so here are our suggestions for how to think outside the box and find people who may not normally have noticed your calls to action.

A lot of Trustees we speak to say that they kept seeing an advert and thinking “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” before eventually taking the plunge and getting in touch with the charity.

Professional Expertise

One issue with needing this level of specific expertise is that the people who can offer it are already working at full capacity elsewhere. People are busier than ever. Asking for a few hours each month does not seem unreasonable, but a lot of charities are failing to adapt to meet the needs of Board members who are currently employed professionals. Meetings tend to be scheduled in the middle of the day and in the middle of the working week. Flexible working is on the rise, but it is simply not an option for many full-time employees who could otherwise have a valuable input into Board meetings.

Consider: Varying the times of Board meetings and holding them on evenings and/or weekends if necessary. Investigate options for holding sub-committee meeting virtually, sharing documents and discussing actions online rather than in-person could cut down on travel time (and associated travel expenses for the charity) and may encourage less vocal Board members to speak out more on issues in a lower pressure environment.

Attracting New Trustees

Think carefully about where you advertise Trustee vacancies. Who sees the adverts there? Are they your target audience? What are the costs and benefits associated with your current methods? How could you find the “type” of Trustee with the skills your Board needs?

For example, a poster on the noticeboard in a community centre would be seen in passing by the people who use the facilities there. So, think about who visits, retirees, or parents with young children, professionals working in the building, members of the public attending fitness classes – look at what else happens there and consider if your target audience makes up part of the footfall. Who is likely to notice the poster and stop what they are doing and think seriously about the opportunity you are offering?

Consider: Ask your current Trustees where they saw the vacancy advertised. If cost permits, repeat your adverts. A lot of Trustees we speak to say that they kept seeing an advert and thinking “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” before eventually taking the plunge and getting in touch with the charity. Don’t forget to take advantage of free publicity – think about drafting a press release to the local newspaper to advertise the opportunity to take over a vacancy – tell the story of the Trustee who is leaving and ask them to explain what they do and why they’d encourage someone to take the plunge and replace them on the Board.

Look at distributing flyers in office buildings, or ask a local Chamber of Commerce to put out a request, Linked In offers another way of getting a request out to interested professionals and even if they do not personally want to help, they may reach out to their wider network to see if anyone else wants to donate their time. Developing connections with employers can lead to mutual benefits, as larger employers often have in-house social responsibility programmes that encourage employees to donate their time to a cause, you could offer development opportunities for their staff and excellent publicity opportunities as they in turn support your work.

Develop the Skills Internally

Obviously, recruitment isn’t always going to go to plan and if you can’t recruit the specific skill-set you need, we advise that you are prepared to consider developing the skills in-house. There are additional risks and costs associated with this option, as people may choose to move on and you might be left with the same knowledge gap and a hole in your budget as you were forced to pay for the training that you no longer benefit from.

Consider: Put in place learning and development strategies that encourage Board and other staff members to share their learning and that set out clear succession planning actions to ensure that the specific duties carried out by one Board member can be carried on in the interim.

Diversify with Younger Board Members

Expertise is often associated with age. A potential recruit who has developed their knowledge over years will have a lot to offer, but we feel that discounting younger recruits because of a perceived lack of experience is a terrible idea.

Consider: Get in touch with local higher or further education providers (if they have an in-house career advisory service this is an ideal place to make initial contact with). Becoming a Trustee is a great opportunity for personal and professional development and young people have a range of transferable skills and a unique perspective and level of enthusiasm they can offer.

Be honest about your expectations and requirements but let people know that what you get out of the experience will, by far, outweigh what you put in.

Really Sell the Benefits

The benefits of volunteering their time might appear self-evident to the Board but members of the public need this making crystal clear. Many are put off by the perceived responsibilities and liabilities that come with being a Board member. You need to tell potential recruits what the opportunity offers them. Be honest about your expectations and requirements but let people know that what you get out of the experience will, by far, outweigh what you put in.

Consider: Creating an application pack to outlines the main roles and responsibilities, keep it brief and simple, no more than a few pages. Tell people what to expect, when you hold meetings, what the risks are and really explain the rewards. Giving your time to help others has massive benefits to both your own personal well-being and that of others, it can help you move your career in a completely different direction and allow you to widen your social circle and meet like-minded people. Get one of your current Trustees to create a profile to include in the pack that explains who they are, why they volunteer, what they do in a typical month, and what they get out of it.

 

Remember, if you need any help with attracting trustees we are always on hand to advise you. We can work with you to develop training packages, draft strategies, create recruitment packs and posters and press releases to support your Board in gaining the recruits they need. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the ideas we’ve put forward above.

 

2016 in Review

It may be late, but you know what they say, better late than never. January is a time for reflection and it is hard not to get swept up in the ‘New Year New Me’ resolutions fever. We’ve hoped to take a more measured approach to this, allowing a little more time than we would normally before reflecting on the previous year. Partly for pragmatic reasons, we had an extremely busy month and struggled for time to blog and to set our strategic direction for the year ahead.

Following our own advice, we have started by looking back at what has really worked in our business over the past year. It is a great starting point to see what you’ve achieved, how you went about doing it, and to identify the types of project and client you ideally want to work with in the year to come. By being clear about what we’ve enjoyed and done well, we can see exactly who we need to target in order to grow our business. Deciding on the type of project we love to work on means we can aim to do more of it, and to sustain the huge levels of passion and enthusiasm for the work that our clients expect of us.

Here are a few of our highlights from 2016:

  • Drafting an Evaluation Report for a small charity to submit to Big Lottery. On the face of it, this does not sound like the most interesting thing to write, but you’d be wrong. Anna has spent almost three years working with this charity, speaking to service users at focus groups or whole day evaluations, attending volunteer courses or celebration events, mapping performance and identifying the real benefits and outcomes for the people who rely on the charity for support. We have been privileged to see the progress made on the project and to work with the charity to ensure that they are working as effectively as possible to support some really hard to reach and vulnerable families within their community.
  • Proofreading and Editing a manuscript of poetry and songs aimed at children. It almost feels like it isn’t work when you can indulge your love of nonsense poetry and get stuck into a rhyming dictionary on a daily basis. It is fantastic to be trusted with the creative endeavours of another person and to be able to add to it in a small way whilst ensuring it is polished and ready for publication is one of the things we love doing.
  • Undertaking an Organisational Review for a local charity. We were pleased to be invited to review the work of a previous client who had been lucky enough to secure five years’ of funding to continue the work they do in their community. In the process of analysing their current working practice, organisational structure and management practices we helped them identify a few areas to start working on to improve their outcomes. We advised on the strategic steps they should be taking to ensure future sustainability and build capacity (in line with the funding requirements Big Lottery put in place).
  • In terms of Fundraising, we assisted in drafting and editing three successful £250k+ bids for funding, ensuring three charities can continue the inspiring and necessary work they do in their communities. We’re proud to have helped them keep the doors open and the donations flowing.
  • Managed Social Media for a national educational campaign aimed at maintaining and boosting creativity in education. This has been great fun, we’ve assisted in creating campaign materials including posters and online content, and even live tweeted a Q&A session with educational specialists including Professors, STEAM campaigners, teaching union representatives and MPs. It was rewarding to be part of promoting a cause we believe in, creativity is so vital for development and should never be an additional extra at school, plus it was great fun for us to take part in a family activity day that involved getting our hands dirty creating protest art at the National Railway Museum in York.
  • Finally, we’ve taken over management of all Consultation and Engagement activities for a public sector organisation and two small businesses. Maintaining a higher level of impartiality that would not otherwise be available and offering all the efficiency benefits that outsourcing can offer.

This barely scratches the surface, we’ve helped write business plans to get new ideas off the ground, created website copy and blog articles to promote art classes and encourage people of all abilities to get involved, ghost written a performance management e-book and short fictional story, and drafted bids and tenders to cover topics from gardening and building maintenance to furniture supply.

We’re looking forward to more of the same this year and if you’ve got a new project you’d like some professional writing and management consultancy support to deliver we’d love to hear from you. We care deeply about what we do and aim to please. For us, the best kind of customer is a repeat one, and we are passionate about building a great working relationship with our clients, understanding and responding to their needs and implementing solutions that deliver the results they crave.

 

 

 

The Complete Guide to Our Services

Active Outcomes’ goal is to empower you to achieve more in the work you are already doing. We offer a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective. We work with you to improve the effectiveness of your documents, policies, and processes.With a wide range of services, including fixed-price and bespoke options, we can design a great value support package based on your needs and budget.

Our services fall into four main categories: professional writing, editing and proofreading; project evaluation and monitoring; consultation and engagement; and management.

Professional Writing, Editing, and Proofreading

We believe that words are powerful things and our writing strives to have maximum impact. We work with you to ensure that your documents are working as hard as you are. We’ll develop an understanding of the purpose of the writing, the target audience, the tone you wish your organisation to adopt and the subject matter you want to include.

Our approach involves creating a written solution that is clearly understood and engages well with your target audience to meet a specific purpose. Our services include:

  • Copywriting
  • Copy editing
  • Proofreading

We have drafted a huge variety of documents for clients from Annual Reports to Ziggy Stardust-themed event promotional content. Whether the document is technical in scope, requires a professional tone, or  is more creative, we can help.

Project Evaluation and Monitoring

We can analyse the impact of your service or project, providing an independent evaluation report to submit to funding bodies or to use internally to inform strategic planning. Our person-centred approach helps you demonstrate the difference your project has made to real people. We measure outcomes rather than outputs, share stories rather than statistics, we speak to the people directly affected by your work to help you understand and improve their experience. We offer:

  • Project Evaluation Reports
  • Organisational Reviews
  • Building Capability Assessments
  • Monitoring Reports
  • Ongoing Project and Performance Monitoring

We have developed fixed-price services aimed at charity and community groups to meet the specifications of funding bodies, including Big Lottery. Our user-friendly reporting style allows you to share the evaluation with a broad audience and provides concrete examples of strengths and weaknesses to assist in producing annual reports, press releases, and applications for bids and tenders.

Consultation and Engagement

Our consultation and engagement services let you know what people really think. Our communications are carefully designed to provide you with all the information you need to make key decisions. As we are impartial, people can speak their mind freely. We offer assistance with:

  • Survey design
  • Survey management
  • Online surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Round table events
  • Drop-in information settings
  • Feedback forums

We can help you set realistic objectives, target your audience effectively, and design strategies that deliver real results.

Management

We provide a new perspective so that you can see the way forward. We can undertake ongoing performance monitoring for key indicators, and review current processes and procedures to identify efficiencies and plan sustainable for the future. Services include:

  • Performance management
  • Project management
  • Capacity building
  • Strategic planning
  • Service planning

Our Approach

Active Outcomes focus on people. We listen actively and create solutions that work for you and your organisation. We tell stories that engage the reader. Above all, we talk to people to discover genuine experiences that can be shared to tell the world about your mission and achievements. We use these conversations to create authentic content that really hits home with your target audience.

We would love to chat about what we do, so please do get in touch if you want to see whether we can help you maximise your impact and share your good news.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg, (2012),The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change, Random House Books.

An award-winning New York Times journalist, Charles offers an informative yet witty insight into the surprising amount of power that habits hold over us. His simple yet engaging style of writing helps condense what could be dry, technical matters into concrete examples of how overcoming habits has led to massive transformations in the lives of real people, athletes, and multinational companies.

“Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

The prologue starts with a bang. Lisa, a woman who had run away to Cairo on a whim after her husband left and demanded a divorce, woke up in a strange bed and tried to light a pen instead of a cigarette. She decided that she needed a goal. Something all-consuming to work toward. In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal.

In a taxi on her way to go see the pyramids, she made up her mind that she would come back to Egypt and trek through the desert. As an overweight smoker, she knew she would need to make huge lifestyle changes, with no money in the bank and no idea whether such a trip was even possible she committed to trying to achieve that goal. The first thing she decided, was to quit smoking.

Four years later, she hadn’t had a cigarette, didn’t drink, had lost sixty pounds, got out of debt, bought a house, ran a marathon, started a Masters degree and had held down her first job for longer than a year at a design firm. And it had started with changing one single “keystone” habit.

Neurologists discovered the patterns inside her brain fundamentally changed. Where her old habits pathways were evident, it was clear that her new habits had overridden this data, any impulses to engage in the old behaviour were crowded out by the new. Instead of craving the satisfaction of giving in to the old habit her brain was now rewarding her for showing self-restraint in her behaviour.

“This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

The book covers three main topics, individuals, organisations and societies. Exploring why we do the same thing day in and day out and how companies exploit our shopping habits, or follow the same destructive patterns even when the results are demonstrably growing worse. The section on society also offers some interesting insights into what conditions need to exist in order to facilitate a campaign movement and ensure that people can realign their thinking and move with the changes.

“Someday soon, say predictive analytics experts, it will be possible for companies to know our tastes and predict our habits better than we know ourselves.”

This was a great read, whether you feel the need to start transforming your habits or simply want to see how organisational change happens at a ground-up level. We can highly recommend it. Now, we just have to choose one of our bad habits to focus on and get the ball rolling…

If you have any recommendations for an interesting read we would love to hear from you. We are planning on adding more book reviews to the blog so if you have one that you think is worthy of inclusion we’ll be happy to take a look. Get in touch via Twitter @ActiveOutcomes, email info@activeoutcomes.co.uk, or by visiting http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

NaNoWriMo: How to start writing.

This November I’m writing a novel in my spare time. Rather, I should say, I am trying to.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) offers a space for aspiring writers to announce their intention to write a novel, meet writing buddies, attend local write-ins and it provides an additional boost of motivation as you track your word count and see how it stacks up against others in your region or in the wider world.

According to their press release:

“Last year, NaNoWriMo welcomed 431,626 participants in 633 different regions on six
continents. Of these, more than 40,000 met the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.”
In my region alone, Yorkshire, there are over 800 novelists signed up. Last year, I’m happy to say, I was one of the 40,000 who did meet their goal and wrote the 50,000+ words necessary to be presented with a Winner certificate.
This year, I’ve had a bit more trouble with getting started. With work and life being a bit hectic over the past few days, I’m already a week into the challenge and the page is blank. I’m happy with my characters and my story arc, everything is plotted on a draft outline but still, I’ve not committed the first sentence to paper (well, word processor) yet.
I wanted to address the issue of getting started. I don’t think that I am alone in worrying about making that first mark. Here’s a quote from an author I admire:
the-fact-is-that-blank-pages-inspire-me-with-terror-what-will-i-put-on-them-will-it-be-good-enough-quote-1

If Margaret Atwood can worry that her writing is not good enough then so can we all. Especially when writing something based purely on your own imagination. You are taking a chance and opening up parts of yourself to public scrutiny. But, as Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Perhaps, writers do need to take the pressure off themselves by repeating this as a mantra and understanding that writing is hard. That it is never perfect. That way, the idea of writing something terrible on your first attempt is inevitable and therefore less daunting.

Writing is what I do. Today, I’ve written three blog posts for others, scheduled some social media posts and sent numerous emails and one proposal to a prospective client. I’ll estimate that amounts to a word count of around 2,500 words in total. Far in excess of my initial 1,667 words a day goal for NaNo, a target that is now rapidly increasing the longer I leave it to get started.

Writing prompts have started appearing everywhere, I’ve spotted them on Buzzfeed and have seen a few shared by various writing groups I follow on social media. I quite liked the simplicity of this one shared by Writers Write. I’m sure that these prompts will come in handy on the days when my well runs dry and I need a nudge to send my story in an unanticipated direction. What they will not do, however, is get me started.

medium_november_prompts

One fantastic tool I have found was a cheat sheet created by @peter_halasz at No White Space which you can find here. This two-sided, single sheet of A4 paper covers absolutely everything you need to consider to get your story off the ground. One side will help you explore the hero’s journey, decide upon structures, advise on adding conflict, or on making dialogue realistic. The other covers characters,  what motivates them, how they would react in a given situation, their values, virtues, personality type and physical appearance.

Yesterday, I procrastinated by spending a day working through the prompts contained  within this cheat sheet and I now have a far better handle on the story I want to tell and the way the main protagonist will move within these parameters.

I am a planner. I like to have an overview and an outline structure before I start writing a novel. I use post-it notes to draft the hooks I’ll use within the story, key scenes and characters, events and places, I move these around as I find it easier to think visually. They are not fixed, I can re-arrange them at will to change the pace or introduce conflict. This is what works for me.

For me, once I know where I am headed I can flesh out the rest of the detail. Right now, the only place I’m headed toward is disappointment for not reaching my goal of 50,000 words this month. So on that note, I’m going to sign off the blog, brew up a big batch of coffee and start writing in earnest. If I don’t like what I write, well, that is what editing is for isn’t it?

Saying More With Less

We’re living in an information age.  Every day we are bombarded with data, from the moment you switch off the alarm on your phone to that final glance at the screen before you go to sleep. The average person spends hours consuming and producing information daily. Attention spans are decreasing. What people need is for you to get to the point.

According to Statista, 725 minutes every day was spent consuming media in the US in April 2016. This included a huge:

  • 131 minutes on the computer,
  • 186 on your mobile, and
  • 245 minutes watching TV.

We are all busy. Nobody has time to spend searching through a document for the relevant information. It should be right there, at your fingertips. As soon as people have to work hard to find what they are looking for you risk them giving up and going elsewhere.

So here are Active Outcomes’ tips for crafting clear and concise communications. Whether you are drafting a blog post, leaflet, internal email, or a report that will run to hundreds of pages.


 1. Use plain English.

Jargon has had its day. We like to keep things simple and use plain English. Official, legal, technical, or academic language is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances, but you need to consider your audience carefully.

As they say over at The Plain English Campaign, it is easier to read, easier to write and you get your message across. Here is how they describe plain English:

“It is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.”

2. Simplify your communications.

A one-on-one conversation can help avoid misunderstandings, but when this isn’t possible, you need to make sure your message comes across loud and clear.

When writing, imagine that you are talking directly to your reader. Adopt a tone of voice that will engage with your audience. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say your message will never be received.

Don’t overwhelm people with details, include lists and bullet points if you can. Use short sentences and active verbs. Make sure any charts or graphics are clear, with explanations or instructions for interpreting data if necessary.

A great tool to help with this is to simply ask someone to take a look at what you have written and check that they understand what you were trying to say. Get them to explain it back to you in their own words. You’ll see what they picked up on and what they missed or misunderstood.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” –Albert Einstein

3. Have a plan.

Before you start writing, jot down all the points you need to cover. Move these points around until they are in a logical order.

Think about what you aim to achieve, what information are you going to share, who will you target, what will the end result be? The more specific you can be, the better.

4. Don’t value a document by its weight.

It can be tempting to pad a report out so that people see all your background research and can tell at-a-glance the amount of effort you put in. Resist. A document should be as long as necessary to give relevant information. If your intended audience does not read the document you have to ask yourself what was the point.

Consider including a briefing note that outlines the contents of the report, give additional information as appendices so people can refer to the data if they choose.

5. Simplicity is deceptive.

Finding the right words to get your point across quickly, and clearly, takes time.

 “Good design is as little design as possible.” – Dieter Rams

Thinking about writing from a design perspective can help. A designer must create a product that completes various functions and takes a form that customers find both attractive and easy to use. Writing should be the same.

Basic Introduction: Writing a Constitution

What is a constitution?

A constitution sets out the aims of a community group or charity. It makes clear the rules about who can join, how the group will be run and how finances will be managed. It offers a great chance for everyone interested in getting your group up-and-running to have their say on your vision and talk through any potential issues before you get started.

Why bother? Well, there are a few reasons, it can strengthen your group by setting out clear aims that you all work toward. It can prevent any future disagreements by putting set procedures in place from the beginning. A clear constitution can also really help you out when it comes to making bids for funding and a lot of funding bodies ask to see evidence of governing documents before they are willing to proceed with assessing your grant applications.

What should I include?

The following topics tend to be included in a constitution:

  • Name of Organisation
  • Aims/Objectives
  • Powers
  • Membership
  • Meetings
  • Management Committee
  • Finance
  • Alterations to the Constitution
  • Dissolution

Of course, as this document will form the basis of how you govern your organisation, you need to adapt the content to suit your own specific needs. Take a look at examples you find online, see what similar groups or organisations have drafted for their own use and see what clauses might be useful to include in your own document when you come to write it.

Think of it as being a point on a map, you need to include accurate details to show where you are currently and what you have in place to help you remain in this position.  You can’t include every detail and it isn’t necessary to get from A to B, but you need to provide enough information so that anyone could pick up the document and see exactly who you are, how you are formed, who makes the decisions and when they do.

Tips

As we mentioned, check out a few constitutions that other groups with similar aims have drawn up for inspiration BUT don’t be tempted to just cut and paste – your constitution should be written to suit YOUR needs, not THEIRS!

Set aside time to discuss your content and to re-draft the constitution to ensure that everyone gets to have their say.

Formally adopt your constitution at a general meeting so all your members feel involved in the process. You will need two current members to sign and date it.

Constitutions don’t have to be long to be impressive. Try and keep things concise and precise. If you can, avoid any jargon too as it is meant to be a public facing document. Your readers will thank you.

It may seem strange to think about dissolution if you are just starting up your group but it is important that funders know what will happen to your assets should your group disband – and trust us, it can save a lot of arguments further down the road.

Example Constitution

This simple two-page constitution was drafted for a small community association based in Goole and covers all the bases necessary for their needs whilst remaining short and to the point.

mariners-association-constitution-pdf

Active Outcomes have drafted constitutions for a number of groups and organisations and if you feel you’d like to outsource the process we’d be happy to discuss your needs, get in touch via info@activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Making it Personal: Meet the Team Question Prompts

If you’ve been tasked with creating content for the Meet the Team section of your website don’t panic, just remember to make it personal. People love to read about other people, what they like or dislike, what they do in their spare time, what their story is.

A list that tells you their job title, exactly where they graduated and when, where they’ve worked previously and how long they have been with the company isn’t all that inspiring. It’s easy to come across as impersonal, maintaining a professional façade when describing yourself and your team mates can translate as being cold to a reader. Especially when accompanied by a bland headshot with a white corporate background.

The best relationships are built on trust, authenticity and to some extent, a little vulnerability. You need to let the reader know that the people you work with are real, that they can trust you to understand what makes them tick because the real people who they will come into contact with share similar needs and wants.

So ditch the boring bios and bland thumbnails and inject a little fun into your ‘Meet the Team’ webpage. Try out a few of the question prompts below to get started and let people fill out the questions themselves, it’ll sound more authentic if you let their voice shine through anyway.

The same goes for photographs, take your headshots outside in a park, go to a café and snap a few over coffee, ask people to give you a photo of them in their favourite place or doing their favourite activity. Check out the image below, it is of Anna the owner of Active Outcomes in her guise as a volunteer organiser and host at a silent movie themed life drawing event in York earlier this year (the photo was taken by the extremely talented Glen of Allsorts Photography by the way).

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  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your passions in and out of the office?
  • If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip tomorrow where would you go?
  • How did you meet your oldest friend?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?
  • What song do you sing in the shower?
  • List three things you love and three that you hate.
  • Tell us three random facts about yourself.
  • If you could time travel to any period in history where would you go?
  • Describe yourself in one word.
  • What is your favourite quote?
  • What quote describes you?
  • Which literary character do you identify with most?
  • What do you never leave home without?
  • Could you go a week without checking your phone?
  • Dog or cat?
  • Tea or coffee?
  • Early bird or night owl?

Of course, you can, (and usually should), include the usual information that establishes the credibility and expertise of your team, and we have included some prompts for this information below, but we feel that a few fun facts that humanise your colleagues will help engage the reader and make them want to work with you.

  • What made you want to work in this particular field?
  • What is your biggest achievement at work?
  • How long have you worked at this company / in this field?
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What are your main qualifications for your job?
  • What made you want to work for this company?

Let us know what you’d add and if you find any great examples of Meet the Team pages we’d love to see them.