Cynthia O’Connor heads to Savannah next month to facilitate a board retreat for AIRA. Cynthia has teamed up with Steve Schack of Clear Blue Associates of NYC for this engagement. Together, they are leading a five-month strategic planning and organizational capacity building process with AIRA’s senior staff and board of directors . Our holistic approach is based on the published body of work by Susan Kenny Stevens known as “Nonprofit Lifecycles”  We find that organizations often embark on strategic planning efforts that are almost exclusively focused on looking outward and focusing on their programs and services, with little consideration to the capacity that it will require. By taking this holistic view, we can help ensure that growth is managed, and efforts stay in synch.
 Susan Kenny Stevens, Nonprofit Lifecycles Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity (Wayzata, MN: Stagewise Enterprises, Inc., 2002).
A&O has been selected by City’s First Readers (CFR) to develop and implement a comprehensive and rigorous evaluation plan. CFR, an initiative of the New York City Council, is a collaboration of not-for-profits and public libraries with the goal of implementing community-wide early-literacy immersion programs. They offer children literacy experiences at their homes, schools, daycare centers, libraries, hospitals and other key locations throughout their neighborhoods.
Endorsed by the American Pediatric Association, City’s First Readers has worked to address the literacy crisis and education disparities facing New York City. By investing in effective, high-quality early childhood literacy services, programs, and resources for children from birth to age 5, City’s First Readers works to ensure that all children — regardless of their social and economic backgrounds — have a solid foundation from which to start school successfully.
A&O was chosen for their years of evaluation experience in early childhood and literacy related programming and is thrilled to support this important initiative. Call or email us for more information!
Data Driven Decision Making – Evaluation – Continuous Quality Improvement – Accountability – Performance Measurement – Getting to Outcomes – Value Propositions
Whatever you call it, everybody’s talking about it . . . and Apter & O’Connor can help!
A&O is working with a wide array of non-profits and coalitions to build their internal evaluation capacity so they can measure impact, improve program planning and become more competitive for funding. We help organizations:
Articulate a Theory of Change
Define intended outcomes
Develop measurable indicators and data collection methods
Explore the data they already collect and create tools for additional information
Design user-friendly reports to document efforts and demonstrate impact
And the reviews have been positive! As one executive director recently noted:
Cynthia was critical in moving us forward with measuring outcomes of our programs. We now are able to collect data to show the impact of our programs and use data to make informed decisions about those programs. Cynthia was able to teach us how to break down this process so that it wasn’t so overwhelming.
And another offered:
We are in a different place thanks to our work with Apter & O’Connor. They facilitated some very difficult conversations and moved the agency forward sometimes with a gentle nudge and other times with a strong shove. I have enjoyed working with you and so appreciate your guidance and advice professionally and personally.
The A&O team provided us with thoughtful, engaging and realistic leadership for our evaluation project. They helped us understand the data and provided recommendations and ideas for our organizational growth (to address what we discovered in the evaluation.) Our organizational culture is shifting – we are “evaluation ready” and are now using data to inform our program planning thanks to the patience, skill and talent of the A&O team!
Family Reading Partnership in Ithaca, NY is working to create a culture of literacy in which all children have early, frequent, and pleasurable experiences with books, as a special part of everyday family life, right from the start! They hired A&O to develop an evaluation framework and build an internal capacity for using data to demonstrate their impact. A&O also conducted three independent program evaluations. The FRP team worked hard over 18 months and as noted by the executive director, made great strides with A&O’s guidance.
The Gifford Foundation has announced the newest cohort for ADVANS (Advancing and Developing the Assets and Value of Nonprofits in Syracuse), a major capacity building initiative started by the Foundation in 2007. Cynthia O’Connor was asked back as one of ADVANS select consultants to lead AccesCNY through this two-year process. It starts with an extensive self-assessment and is followed by the implementation of a work plan to strengthen all facets of their organizational capacity. AccesCNY was founded in 2015 as the result of the merger of Enable and Transitional Living Services (TLS). They offer person-centered services that empower individuals of all ages and abilities to reach their full potential as part of our shared community. This is Cynthia’s third ADVANS cycle and she noted “I am excited to get started with this new ADVANS cohort – – – and am honored to be a part of this important work building strong non-profits that are so vital for life in Central New York .”
. . . is how a staff member of the Northeast Hawley Development Association (NEHDA) described A&O Senior Associate Vicki Quigley. Another NEHDA director noted: We couldn’t be happier with the work we accomplished with Apter & O’Connor. Vicki was more than a consultant, she was a project team member and went far and above what we expected. Vicki recently NEHDA through a strategic planning process resulting in a new Community Engagement Coordinator staff position shared with the Syracuse Northeast Community Center (SNCC). The project deliverables included a job description for the shared position, a memorandum of understanding to codify the shared employee’s work schedule and compensation, and a Process Manual that enables other organizations to replicate the process for developing a shared staff position.
Ann Sutherland recently completed a process evaluation work for The Health Foundation of Western and Central New York. A &O was commissioned by the Foundation to document the emerging design, implementation and early successes of The Springville Concord Elder Network (SCENe). Th evaluation was designed to highlight lessons learned for sustainability as well as replication in other rural communities with limited senior services and activities. SCENe began as a grassroots initiative with a mission to help people “age with dignity and independence in their own community”. Ann worked with the Network stakeholders for two years. The evaluation found that SCENe developed a highly regarded program that has brought significant benefits to the area’s senior population, exceeding original expectations. Its members are passionate about the new Springville-Concord Senior Center, SCENe staff, and the difference the program has made in their lives. Upon reading Ann’s completed evaluation report the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer commented, “Thank you for sharing this very thorough evaluation report. This was a great history lesson for me. I will use this over and over to help me understand where SCENe was, where it is now and where it may be in the future.”
Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations by Sheri Chaney Jones. Impact & Excellence is the “culmination of a four year research study into successful data-driven strategies for today’s non-profit and government organizations. Each chapter includes discussion questions and action items to help leaders implement key concepts in their own organizations.” It is a fabulous resource for any organization or nonprofit looking to strengthen its internal evaluation capacity!
Unity House of Cayuga County has engaged A&O to provide technical guidance to move forward with Priority Area 2 of their Strategic Plan 2016-2018: “Unity House will have a robust performance management infrastructure to support high quality programming and sound financial health (data-driven decision making).” This effort builds upon previous work by Cynthia O’Connor and Corinne Ribble who facilitated the strategic planning process in 2016 with the members of the management team and Board of Directors. The planning process emphasized integrated board – staff expertise and ownership of the 2016-2018 Strategic Plan through an ad hoc Planning Team, workgroups, surveys to Board and Management staff and a retreat for the Board of Directors and Agency Directors and Management staff. With A&O training and technical assitance, Unity House is now working to develop a systematic approach to identify outcome measure, collect data, analyze results and then adjust interventions and programs accordingly.
Again I want to thank you for everything. I was so impressed by your ability to take information from our industry, digest it and feed it back in an organized way. You were attentive and did not miss anything from what we said, to how we engaged. I feel that you helped to push the agency and staff to a new level in terms of strategic planning and program evaluation. I completely enjoyed my experience with you. Thank you!
– Feedback from a Unity House Director
RECOGNITION AND NEW CREDENTIALS FOR A&O TEAM
Cynthia O’Connor presented at the invitational Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute Winter Conference in Scottsdale Arizona, held for three days in January, 2017. Her presentation entitled Making It Stick…Documenting Value, focused the importance of evaluation for organizational capacity building. Her talk emphasized that evaluators need a clear understanding of how a particular intervention is intended to work, i.e. what is being implemented, for whom, how it’s different from “business as usual.” For Institute attendees she posed the question “when we are successful with a Lifecycle Capacity Building engagement what is different for the foundations or nonprofits we are working with?” Cynthia is a founding partner in the work to create the Institute and serves as a Lifecycle consultant for both the Gifford Foundation’s ADVANS initiative and the Health Foundation of Western & Central New York’s Ready or Not project in Syracuse, New York working with organizations at various lifecycle stages facing their own specific challenges.
The Institute is based on the work of Dr. Susan Kenny Stevens as outlined in her book, Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity. Dr. Kenny Stevens has been a trusted counselor for numerous foundation executives and her down-to-earth approach is valued by hundreds of nonprofits as they work to address with capacity building and sustainability.
A&O team member, Stephanie Burt Pelcher achieved her certification as a Cognitive Coaching Training Associate with Thinking CollaborativeTM at their 2017 Symposium in Denver, Colorado. Cognitive CoachingSM is a research-based model based on the work of co-founders, Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston that allows teachers to explore the thinking behind their practice and the teaching decisions they make. Research indicates that teaching is a complex intellectual activity and that teachers who think at higher levels produce students who are higher achieving, more cooperative and better problem solvers. According to Costa and Garmston, a cognitive coach helps educators “to develop expertise in planning, reflecting, problem‐solving, and decision‐making.” Stephanie is now authorized to teach the 8-day Seminars. The teachers benefitting from Stephanie’s work include a variety of learning styles, teaching philosophies, and stages of an educator’s professional development. Teachers provide rave reviews about Stephanie’s work. One administrator surveyed her staff and shared: universally positive feedback on Stephanie . . . knowledgeable; relevant and approachable presenter – would love to work with her again.