Skills to Cope with the Completely Unexpected: A COVID Perspective

Science programs often run on carefully balanced budgets. When unforeseen circumstances befall your lab, collection, digital data repository, or other research programs, what tools and resources do you have to effectively pave a path forward that keeps you afloat until the storm has passed? We’ve seen some amazing acts of ingenuity from spaces for science seeking to continue reaching their audiences and doing their work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of current events, SBI skills (strategic planning, communication, stakeholder engagement, financial management) are more important than ever. We provide you with an arsenal of tools and resources that are highly adaptive. Our course is designed to help you futureproof your program in times of growth, in times of maintenance, and in times of hardship.

“Things I learned in the Strategies for Success course, have been directly applicable to the situation we’re in right now”

Elizabeth Long, SBI Alumni 2018

Sustainability has been completely redefined in the wake of this pandemic. SBI Alumni, Elizabeth Long, oversees the Daniel Smiley Research Center of the Mohonk Preserve in upstate New York. Elizabeth has turned to her SBI toolbox when considering how the conservation science and research wing of the Mohonk Preserve, can adapt to a new normal. When asked about how she’s weathering the pandemic Elizabeth said: “Things I learned in the Strategies for Success course, have been directly applicable to the situation we’re in right now”.

When Elizabeth used the matrix mapping tool during her course, it helped her look more objectively at the programs the Research Center had dedicated resources to. When she looked at each of these programs based on the Preserve’s mission statement and the revenue each program was producing, some needed to be prioritized and some needed to be phased out. She pointed out how valuable this tool can be when making tough decisions in light of the financial hardship professionals across all industries are currently facing.

Together, we continue to battle the uncertainty this pandemic has brought to our daily lives, our monthly goals, and our yearly targets. Building programs that can sustain these conditions is no easy task. Our Strategies for Success course helps you: create budgets that tell stories of creativity and adaptability, strategically plan the future of your organization, and provides you with tools to rely on in times that require tough decisions.

If you’ve never taken our course before: We’re offering an online SBI course this fall to help you assess your situation, plan for uncertainties, and diversify your funding sources. If you want to get started ASAP, consider taking a look at the free resources we have and sign up for the October course before it fills up.

If you’ve already taken our courses: Time to break out that SBI Coursebook! If you’re struggling with sustainability, strategic planning, communication, or funding right now, your SBI Coursebook is a valuable resource and includes tools like matrix mapping, storytelling, the Kellogg Logic Model, and others. Don’t forget about the SBI team, your instructors, and your fellow SBI alumni, all valuable resources when you’re feeling stuck. Let us know what SBI skills you’ve found most useful lately for a potential feature on our twitter account!

 

 

Harnessing Private Foundation Funding for your Research – WEBINAR

The SBI Training Initiative held a webinar, Harnessing Private Foundation Funding for Your Research Project, with SBI instructor Bill Michener, April 9th, 2020. This webinar is helpful if you’re looking for funding, for advice on proposal best practices, or an opportunity to learn more about the funding options out there for research. Bill does a fantastic job of explaining why scientists should investigate private funding, how one navigates the process of identifying and engaging with funding sources and developing a winning proposal. You can watch Bill’s full presentation here or continue reading for some of Bill’s key messages.

It’s worth your while to explore foundation funding!

Not only does foundation funding have the potential to diversify your funding sources and increase the stability and sustainability of your project, there are over 100,000 foundations that can potentially support your research. Navigating foundation funding doesn’t have to be a pain, they have grant guidelines that can be researched, and staff dedicated to managing the funds they use to support projects. Average foundation grants range between $35,000 – 50,000. Some search engines you can use to find foundation funding include Foundation Directory Online and GuideStar. These are both subscription-based sites, but some parts of the site are free.

Foundations are people-centric

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

Foundations are focused on people outcomes. They have a vision and mission of what they want to see happen in the world. What impacts will your project have that relate to a societal need? Think about how many people will be trained, employed, or educated, through your project. Consider how your project has the potential to improve our ability to solve a societal problem. Keep these values in mind when researching foundations and considering a proposal. This will help you find which organizations your research is best suited for and subsequently where you’re most likely to successfully secure funding.

When considering a proposal, hone in on the message most appropriate for that foundation. How does funding you help make steps towards the long-lasting systemic change this funder is dedicated to? How do you accomplish the foundation’s priorities? How do you help the foundation gain community visibility? How does your project contribute to creating a lasting change?

Engage!

Respectfully engage with foundation staff both during the application process and after you’ve been awarded support. During the webinar Bill calls for you to consider a funder’s point of view: “If it was your job, how would you want to engage with a potential grantee?”

As the researcher, position yourself as a resource, provide the foundation with opportunities for visibility within your community, and share news regularly (this is particularly important if you’re funded, consider updating your foundation on a quarterly basis).

THE Proposal

Humanize your project, tell a story and avoid jargon.

The Proposal Package

Use the Kellogg Logic Model to think through your proposal. A well thought out logic model will make it easier for you to identify your ask, need, and outcomes/response.

Check out the webinar recording and handout for a detailed walk-through of the steps to putting together a proposal!

Where to start?

If you need somewhere to start, start by cultivating your donors. Build relationships and identify potential grantors well before you have an immediate need for funding. Communicate with them and offer your time to them as a reviewer or in some other capacity. Foundations are a rich source of funding researchers should invest time and energy into so that their research projects can be more stable and sustainable. Check out Bill’s webinar recording for more in-depth explanations of the topics mentioned and more. Finally, if this is something you believe you could use more training on, consider joining one of our courses!

 

 

Why Your Project Could Use an SBI Upgrade

 

The Sustaining Biological Infrastructure Training Initiative was created to help scientists gain key business, communication, and finance skills to enhance the sustainability of their projects. The culture surrounding business and science are very different, but business skills play an integral role in long term sustainability for any project, facility, or initiative, regardless of discipline.

“I searched for ‘business plan’ online and came back with thousands of results, I’m looking for the biologist’s perspective on what a business plan is and how it’s used”

Just like preparing and writing a grant proposal gives you the opportunity to explore a research idea, strategic plans and business plans give you the opportunity to explore your business idea. SBI’s courses have been running since 2014.  Over those 5 years we’ve refined and expanded our courses and we know exactly why this isn’t an opportunity you should let pass you by.

These skills are essential and transferable.

No matter the discipline, leaders often deal with finance management, strategic planning, internal and external communication, and future planning. Your funding sources have competing priorities; make sure your project is a long-term top priority by learning to effectively quantify its worth and communicate a clear path for the future.

Our courses are taught BY Scientists

Instructor Jon Anderson interacting with participants during our Fall 2019 Strategies for Success training in Fort Collins, CO

“Our audience is academia and we’re trying to sustain biological infrastructure, we’re not trying to overprice our product, we’re trying to sustain ourselves and establish respect, what works for the academic and research customer?”

 

 

 

Sure, you can sign up for any business or program management course online, but our courses address the unique issues you face as a scientist, and we leave out the business jargon you don’t need.  Our instructors have decades of experience in successful fundraising, managing nonprofits, financial management, and communications.  Odds are, they’ve already encountered some of the problems you’re facing and can offer tailored advice.

This course is about MORE than just content

In addition to the rich content, and empathetic instructors, our courses provide you with time and space in a conducive environment where you can devote your energy to focusing on this crucial, but often overlooked, aspect of your work. Spending two or three days (depending on the course) focusing on strategic planning, sustainability, and the future of your project, can help you get a solid start on deliverables like a strategic plan or a business plan. This will help you work more efficiently and strategically, and allocate your resources and time in better ways when you return to your busy schedule.

Over the past 5 years, our participants have reported increases in skills confidence at the end of the training across every skill category we cover

These categories include: Determining if my project is financially stable, understanding and communicating financial information, putting together a business plan, planning and prioritizing future activities, measuring and communicating project impact and success, analyzing stakeholders, communicating with stakeholders, approaching private funding sources, writing foundation grant proposals, and pitching my ideas to others.  Overall participants exhibited a 51% increase in skills confidence when comparing pre- and post-training survey results.

Over the past 5 years, 100% of our participants agreed that the knowledge and skills they gained would make a meaningful impact in their projects over the next year.

This implementation leads to reaching indicators of success in your project sooner, identifying unique and innovative funding opportunities to help you diversify, and having a clearer and more productive vision for the future of your project/program/lab/etc.

This is a training you will refer back to countless times over your career, and as an alumnus of the program the SBI team is there to support you!  We’re constantly updating our online resources, we use your feedback to develop new and relevant training opportunities, and we’re available via email to support you whether it’s been 6 months or 6 years.

Check out our courses page for our latest offerings, join the SBI community, and become one of our success stories!

 

 

Which Program Management Course is Best for YOU?

A few months ago, the Sustaining Biological Infrastructure (SBI) Training Initiative released a brand-new training: Creating a Successful Business Plan.

This 2-day course is for people with a background in program management. Participants get to workshop a specific business plan with the opportunity for a follow-up consultation with their expert instructor. This course builds upon the skills gained through our signature three-day Strategies for Success course, which is focused on providing participants with program management skills, and workshops a pitch and strategic plan. These courses are designed for different experience levels, but without formal training it can be challenging to decide which training to start with.

The SBI team and our expert instructors developed a few short questions to help you better understand what each course offers, and what sort of background qualifies you as prepared to move on to the more advanced class. The easiest way to know you’re ready to move on to the Business Planning course, would be to first take our Strategies for Success course. Participants who sign up for both can access a special discount of their Business Planning course fee (email us to learn more) and can rest easy knowing they’ll be completely prepared for the more advanced class. But if you’re unable to take both courses or feel your skills are too advanced for Strategies for Success, check out these questions:

When thinking about these  yes or no questions, it helps to have a specific project or program goal in mind that you would be working on during the training:

  • Do you feel like you have a good grasp of your project’s finances, what resources you need to maximize your impact, and where and how best to acquire those resources?
  • Does your project have a compelling strategic plan that provides a sound basis for guiding new activities and supporting fund-raising?
  • Can you state your project’s vision, mission and value proposition from memory? Do you and others find them concise and powerful?
  • Does your plan incorporate ways to monitor, document, and communicate success?
  • Do you feel like you fully understand who your stakeholders and users are and what they need?

If you can confidently answer “yes” to all of these questions, you’re probably ready to go straight for Creating a Successful Business Plan. If you answer “no” or feel uncertain on three or more of the questions, take another good look at the ‘Strategies for Success’ course outline and see if you think the tools and skills mentioned seem beneficial to you.  Also look at the items in the “what you will learn and do” column and consider if they would help make your five year plan more effective.

Tell us about your decision! Are you ready to move on to Creating a Successful Business Plan, or will you be joining us at Strategies for Success first?  Sign up for our Training News email list to stay up to date on upcoming courses.

Still unsure? We want you to find the most appropriate training opportunity for your experience-level! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us to learn more, ask more questions, or seek guidance: sbi@esa.org

 

Pitching Practice

 

“So, do you want me to give you my pitch?”

“Yep! This is your chance to practice.”

“Ok. So, I study the housing market of frogs…..”

It was a really great opening. I was immediately intrigued, and everything that came next totally related to me personally.

He went on to describe how everyone thinks carefully when they’re deciding where to live (What school district? What commute? What kind of neighborhood do I want?). He elaborated about how frogs also have to decide where to live, but that his research results show that they don’t always make the best decisions. We went on to discuss habitat fragmentation, habitat management decisions, and modeling.

Picture the two of us at a table, in the midst of a large sectioned-off area set up for 50 people. If you could pan out beyond that, you’d see that we’re actually in a large exhibit hall in an even larger conference center. You can hear the hum of other people talking and see movement all around us. In this situation I’m supposed to be the “teacher” and he the “student.” I’m leading a Career Central session on “Honing your Elevator Pitch” at ESA’s 2019 Annual Meeting, and he’s the only person who came.

Clearly this person doesn’t need much help or advice from me – he has already thought of a creative, relatable, and compelling way to talk about his research! After chatting a bit, I send him on his way with a handout (containing some pitch-related resources), some reminders to tailor language for his audience, and encouragement to practice as much as possible while he’s here at the meeting.

On one hand I’m disheartened – only one person showed up to my session. On the other hand, I’m elated. This student, who studies the housing market of frogs, is an excellent example of a young scientist who acknowledges the power of effective communication and the art of “pitching.”

In our Strategies for Success course, the final session is all about pitching. We do this for a few reasons: first, it gives our participants a chance to practice in a friendly environment; second, it links to all the other skills we teach in the course; and lastly, it’s fun! Participants get to role-play funders and give each other feedback.

You never know when you might be in a random situation and have an opportunity to make a “pitch” and you never know where that pitch might lead! Practice, be prepared, and practice some more. The more you practice, the more natural your delivery will be when you’re in a real pitching situation. This will let you truly convey your passion and enthusiasm about your research and the work you do.

From one imperfect pitch-er to another, I wish you much practice, and much success.