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Results and Samples of Our Work

Below are some examples of the kinds of issues our clients have asked us to address with links to the final product we produced for them.

1. Case Studies
2. Synthesis Reports
3. Funder Guides and Issue Briefs
4. Teaching Case Studies
5. "Translating" Research and Evaluation into Clear English
6. Lessons Learned Reports


1. Case Studies

Client: The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa

The Problem: The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa (Partnership), one of the longest running funder collaboratives of its kind, wanted to capture the key lessons learned from this $500 million, 10-year program. This complex collaborative involved seven of the largest U.S. foundations (Ford, Hewlett, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Kresge, Carnegie and Mellon), worked across nine countries with five time zones and necessitated collaboration among funders with strikingly different cultures. Partnership participants wanted a clearly written case study that provided practical and nuanced advice to others seeking to work in similar funder collaboratives.

The Solution: We interviewed more than 30 participants including foundation presidents, program staff and grantees to create a case study that tells the story of the successes and challenges of this collaborative. We took the initiative to make sure that once the case study was complete it was broadly disseminated to key audiences as well. As one example, we wrote a short article describing the case study for the Alliance magazine that included a link to the full study.

The Results: Suzanne Grant Lewis, the Partnership coordinator who oversaw the case study said, "Susan did wonderful work for the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa. Everyone, including the most demanding of my foundation colleagues, were pleased with her clear and concise writing. The case study is honest and tactful. Susan has astounding skills in collecting, collating and synthesizing information."

case study | Alliance article | back to top


Client: The Atlantic Philanthropies

The Problem: Our client’s grantee was having difficulty showcasing its innovative work in helping hospitals better meet the needs of families of dying patients. The grantee, the Irish Hospice Foundation, had piloted more than three dozen successful projects throughout Ireland that were making a real difference for both families and hospital staff. But the materials they produced did not clearly convey the benefits of their approach or engage hospitals or funders.

The Solution: We focused on the stories of four hospitals including those located in cities and rural areas and those centering on family rooms and mortuaries to provide examples that could be relevant to others.

The Results: When the case study was complete, Mary Lovegrove of the Irish Hospice Foundation wrote: “It’s lovely to have this case study to showcase Design & Dignity. Thank you for all your work and the effort and patience required to finalize the draft. We are extremely grateful to you.” The magazine Fast Company took notice of the case and wrote an article about it, which further expanded the reach of the Irish Hospice Foundation in improving care in hospitals for dying patients and their families.

case study | Fast Company article | back to top


Client: The U.S. Department of Justice

The Problem: The client, the U.S. Justice Department, wanted to showcase one of the country's largest and longest standing programs that serves victims of crime. The program sprawled across every part of the big-city police department where it was located. This program was a model in the country but it had grown so big with so many moving parts that it was hard for even the director to clearly describe it.

The Solution: We decided to tell the story of this victim's service program by describing the events that occurred after an actual crime was committed. We asked the director to relate a story of a crime that touched on all the divisions of the victim services department. We then illustrated the program by describing the events that occurred after a horrifying triple murder and how members of the victim services program participated - from accompanying the police on their initial calls to the crime scene, through the investigation, court trial and conviction of the man who killed the three victims.

The Results: We designed a special report that brought to life the work of this large and complex victim services department. This became an official publication of the U.S. Justice department. The bulletin provided a real world example of how victim services departments can help victims, police departments and the larger communities. It also gave suggestions for building a victim services unit, grounded in the 20 years of experience of this program.

case study | back to top


2. Synthesis Reports

Client: The Atlantic Philanthropies

The Problem: Our client needed to clearly convey the impact of its foundation’s work to its board but was finding that its traditional memos lacked the insight and understanding its board members needed. In our review of these memos, we noticed that they gave a lot of facts without meaning. That is, they did not provide the context or the story needed for board members to make sense of why the foundation was investing in certain areas or the significance of the accomplishments.

The Solution: On a tight deadline, we started with an evaluation report about our client’s investments in nursing in South Africa, undertook additional research to fill in a number of gaps, and provided context and explanation that was missing from the evaluation to prepare a short internal report for the board. We worked closely with Atlantic’s program officer and evaluation officer to ensure accuracy and relevance in our reporting.

The Result: When board members read the report we prepared they said it was the first time they truly understood Atlantic’s investments in this area. As a result, Atlantic commissioned us to prepare an additional seven syntheses reports, including ones on their work countrywide in South Africa, Viet Nam, Bermuda, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The reports were so well received that, while they were initially meant for internal use only, Atlantic posted them on their website on the home page of each country as the report to read to learn about their work.

synthesis report | back to top


Client: Skillman Foundation

The Problem: Our client wanted to document its initial work in “social innovation,” an approach involving the use of innovative financial tools and new relationships with the private sector to support the foundation’s program goals. This is a still new and somewhat controversial area for foundations and their staff. Skillman was one of the few foundations actively using this approach and felt that what it learned in its first few years of undertaking this work could be helpful to others. The difficulties, as well as the accomplishments, needed to be captured in this documentation.

Solution: We interviewed both the key participants at Skillman and those who received support from this approach to learn more about what it takes to engage in social innovation and the tradeoffs others might want to consider. We navigated some tensions in how best to tell the story candidly while also respecting the constraints that different parties faced.

The Results: The Skillman Foundation published our review of the social innovation as part of a larger effort to document its learnings across its programs. The client said that the review worked well as an essay that delivered a number of useful facts while allowing others to feel the issues and tensions that emerged.

synthesis report | back to top


Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Problem: In 1996 our client, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), embarked on an experiment to become more open and transparent about the results of its grantmaking. Foundation officials put the word out to look for qualified writers who could produce reports that clearly explained the outcomes of RWJF's grants - the problems they addressed, the results they accomplished and the lessons for the field they produced.

The reports had to be written in plain English without sacrificing accuracy. They had to synthesize reams of documents produced by grantees into a succinct summary. The reports also had to chart a difficult course of being open about problems in projects without overwhelming readers with extraneous detail.

The Solution: We were among the first writers that RWJF hired for this new project. Over the next 20 years, we provided ideas about new ways to approach these grants results reports. We encouraged RWJF staff to adopt more storytelling in their reports, which they did. We regularly take the initiative to conduct additional interviews to make sure we capture the full scope of the work we write about.

In one project, for example, RWJF provided a grant for a university to train health staff to help reduce health disparities at federal health centers. We suggested that we interview several people who went through the training to learn more about it—specifically whether it worked and had a lasting impact. The interviews were eye opening. Some people thought the training was on target while others felt it was a waste of time. The interviews brought a depth to the report that we would not have had otherwise.

The Results: We've produced more than 125 grants results reports for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, many of which were on RWJF's most complicated and contentious programs. With these reports, foundation staff and others in the field have clear descriptions of the results and lessons learned of multi-million programs funded by one of the country’s largest foundations.

synthesis report | back to top


3. Funder Guides and Issue Briefs

Client: The Foundation Center

The Problem: The Foundation Center, which produces the GrantCraft series aimed at helping foundations improve their grantmaking, had a new director for the series who wanted to make their next publication—on foundation transparency—much more interactive than past guides and employ a variety of forms of media to reach audiences with different learning styles and of different ages. The client also wanted to make the guide as useful as possible to funders.

The Solution: We suggested a number of ways to meet our client’s goals. Those included carrying out a survey to learn about our audience’s key concerns and challenges about transparency that could inform our work, taping all interviews for the guide so we could create mini podcasts and writing a discussion guide to help funders make the most use of the report. We also suggested breaking up the content into smaller chunks on particular topics to make the guide more easily accessible. All of our ideas were incorporated into the project, most of which we carried out.

The Result: The guide on foundation transparency was the first one in the GrantCraft series to include so many interactive elements, an approach that has continued in later publications. A number of foundations as well as Chronicle of Philanthropy and The Huffington Post publicized the guide and the survey results, further adding to its reach.

funder guide | back to top


Client: The Colorado Trust

The Problem: The Colorado Trust has invested heavily in building early childhood systems so that families can get services that they need. But Trust officials were frustrated because they felt that they weren't communicating the importance of this work to key audiences, including their board. Trust officials needed to translate this important and abstract topic into something tangible so that their board members and policy makers could understand how “system building” makes a difference in the lives of real people.

The Solution: We teamed up with a nationally known evaluator who has created a model of system building. Using her model as the basis for the brief, we interviewed young mothers and providers throughout Colorado who described the frustrating barriers they encounter in trying to get even the simplest of services—such as a doctor’s appointment or a referral to a specialist. We told the story of this complex system through the eyes of one woman who struggled to get care for her young children.

The Results: We wrote an issue brief for the Colorado Trust that they have distributed widely and that met their goals of making system building real and understandable.Shortly after the brief was published, early childhood experts in another state read it and asked us to write them a similar one so that they could also better explain system building to their key leaders.

issue brief | back to top


Client: The Ford Foundation

The Problem: In 2009, the Ford Foundation was the largest foundation funder encouraging a full and accurate count of the 2010 Census, particularly among groups that are traditionally undercounted—such as people of color and people with low incomes. Foundation officials felt it was vital that other funders join in the effort as well. Because the census takes place once a decade, many funders were unaware of the importance of an accurate count. To help them, Ford commissioned a tool kit. But the tool kit was an unwieldy 100 pages, full of jargon and had few tools for foundations to use.

The Solution: The Ford Foundation hired us to pare the tool kit down to an easy-to-use 16-page document. We cut the document down to the most critical information a funder needed to know. The revised tool kit added a call-to-action at the beginning so that funders would immediately know the three most important steps they should take. It made the case for why foundations should care about an accurate count and included hyperlinks to existing materials--such as sample letters to the editor--so that it was easy for funders to quickly become involved in the 2010 Census.

The Results: Ford Program Officer Thomasina Williams said, “The tool kit does a brilliant job in getting to the essence of the message that we wanted to communicate. To me what was most impressive was your ability to distill the 100 page document down to the essence in a compelling way that was crisp and easily accessible to those who didn’t know anything about the census.”

toolkit  | back to top


Client: Grantmakers for Education

The Problem: Our client wanted to create a guide for funders to encourage them to think about investing in developmental education. The guide needed to be practical and compelling in order to catch the attention of busy funders. Our client planned to base the guide on learnings from a gathering of major funders who were working in this area successfully.

The Solution: Based on our experience in working on similar projects, we suggested at the outset that the gathering could serve only as the start for such a guide. We would need to follow up with leaders afterward and speak with them in depth to gather the kind of details that would be useful for other funders. After attending the initial gathering, we interviewed more than a dozen funders—often more than once—to make sure we had the details we needed to make this guide rich and useful to funders.

The Result: We created a guide that included a number of practical steps for funders to take in supporting developmental education as well as sidebars that provided details on successful initiatives already underway. The client was pleased with the product and wrote “I really enjoyed working with you on the Developmental Education Funders Guide, and I loved your writing.”

funder guide | back to top


4. Teaching Case Studies

Client: Center for Evaluation Innovation

The Problem: Our client asked us to write a teaching case study on their work on a “real time” evaluation of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s 10-year advocacy effort to achieve high-quality preschool for the kids who need it most in California. While our firm had never written a teaching case, our client—with whom we had worked before—trusted us to carry out this project to a high standard.

The Solution: In just a few months, we wrote a case that detailed the ups and downs of an evaluation to support strategic learning. The teaching case was originally meant only for Packard staff and evaluators. But it was so well received that it became the featured case study at the 2012 Evaluation Roundtable, which brings together some 100 top evaluation and program officers from around the country.

The Results: Evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton, who has written and facilitated a number of teaching cases, commented that it was one of the most engaging teaching cases he had ever read, a comment echoed by numerous attendees at the Evaluation Roundtable. Our client was so pleased with the case that they have hired us to write teaching cases for every subsequent Evaluation Roundtable gathering.

case study | back to top


Client: Institute for Voluntary Action Research

The Problem: Our client was starting a United Kingdom version of the Evaluation Roundtable and needed its first teaching case. Unlike in the US, where evaluators and program officers had been meeting for more than two decades and were accustomed to the approach and candor of teaching cases, this was a new approach for foundations in the United Kingdom. The subjects of the case—both key foundation participants and the original evaluator had strong reactions to the initial draft. Those reactions needed to be navigated successfully in order to finalize the teaching case, which was the centerpiece for the inaugural Evaluation Roundtable UK event.

The Solution: We spent time listening to the concerns of the principals, made some adjustments in response that strengthened the case and explained why certain points they were concerned about needed to be included in order to provide an accurate portrayal of events.

The Results: All of the principals involved in the teaching case were pleased with the final product, which maintained important points of tensions needed for the case. The case helped launch the Evaluation Roundtable UK, which continues with teaching cases as their centerpiece. Our client, Ben Cairns, wrote after the event: “One of the things that helped the first Evaluation Roundtable UK so much was the quality of the case - you really had it on the money, Susan and I can't thank you enough for your huge contribution towards making our first roundtable gathering such a great event.”

case study | back to top


5. "Translating" Research and Evaluation into Clear English

Client: The California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation

The Problem: The California Endowment funded education researchers and the James Irvine Foundation funded health researchers to produce one paper on the critical importance of kids coming to school healthy and well-nourished so that they can better learn. The paper they received was unclear, full of jargon and did not get the message across to policymakers. After the researchers had revised the paper several times with no success, the foundations asked us to get the paper into shape for an upcoming legislative briefing.

The Solution: We worked closely with the researchers to re-think the presentation of the paper, collected additional data and re-wrote the paper in a policy brief that both research groups, all three foundations and the legislative liaison were pleased with. 

The Results: The foundations used the paper as their key briefing document in a legislative hearing of California lawmakers. According to a senior program officer at the California Endowment, the paper made a compelling case to lawmakers and encouraged them to address the issue of health and student success.

report  | back to top


Client: The University of Wisconsin at Madison

The Problem: Our client, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, needed help translating an article about technology and recovery from substance abuse into plain English. The report they had received was about a high-level think tank conference in which participants gave their best ideas for how emerging technology could help people recover from substance abuse. But our client was frustrated because a draft report had language that was too technical and did not clearly explain the meaning of the futuristic technology. Our client's key messages were getting lost.

The Solution: We talked to the project director to understand the main points that were important to get across. He clarified many questions, and with our prodding, added more details to flesh out stories to illustrate the technology.

The Results: Our piece was published in a journal that our client's target audience read. The director wrote to us to say, "You did an absolutely outstanding job! You turned a lousy draft into a great document."

report | back to top


6. Lessons Learned Reports

Client: The American Medical Association

The Problem: Our client wanted to capture and distill the lessons learned from an 8-year, $20 million program. The program established state coalitions around the country to reduce underage drinking and our client oversaw its implementation. The program was drawing to a close and our client worried that much of the coalitions' successful work would go unnoticed.

The Solution: To capture the key lessons from this ambitious and innovative project we created a comprehensive guidebook for other communities that want to start coalitions. We interviewed more than 40 participants - including the people who designed the program, those who oversaw it, those who ran it and even those opposed to the idea. These in-depth interviews yielded rich details about how to implement a difficult and often controversial program.

We condensed the information into 11 steps coalitions could use to start a successful coalition. We contracted with a graphic designer to create an appealing and eye-catching piece that was easy to read and follow.

The Results: The American Medical Association uses the guide as its key document to sustain the work of this successful national program. They distributed more than 10,000 copies of the guidebook. One coalition, after receiving a few copies, asked for additional 500 to help it in its work. The funder said that the guide met a critical goal - to provide a step-by-step guide of successful programs that can help others do this work.
lessons learned report | back to top


Client: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Problem: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded ten hospitals and challenged them to transform their culture in ways that attracted and retained nurses and provided better patient care. The foundation, which was looking for solutions to address the nursing shortage, needed to capture the stories and lessons learned from these innovative and diverse hospitals to share with the field.

The Solution: We interviewed key participants at all ten hospitals, as well as RWJF program officers. We used the interviews to both tell the story of the ups and downs of cultural transformation at each hospital, and to synthesize lessons learned on the broader issue of hospital cultural change. 

The Results: The report provides practical lessons learned during this effort to change hospital culture over a short period. It tells the stories of individual hospital’s struggles and successes as well. By providing this key document, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation helped hospitals seeking to address the nursing shortage learn from their innovative peers.

lessons learned report | back to top



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