What factors keep non-profit board members feeling motivated, vital and engaged? We’d like to find out, so we’re partnering with The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University to conduct a national survey on the topic of board member engagement.
Key findings from the survey will be presented at the 2013 Axselson Center Symposium held June 3-4 in Chicago. In addition, watch for a comprehensive report based on the survey to be published this summer. Sign up to receive details about the upcoming report on board engagement and the latest news and information from StreamLink Software.
Be Part of a Ground-Breaking Report on Board Engagement
Please take our brief (10-15 minute) survey on board engagement. Your participation will provide the data needed to fuel a comprehensive report. Your responses will be kept strictly confidential.
The purpose of this survey is to identify the factors that help board members feel they are making a positive impact on the organization they serve, and to uncover possible barriers to their effectiveness and efficiency.
This survey is intended to be taken by board members currently serving a non-profit organization.
Time to complete:
The survey takes between 10-15 minutes to complete.
This survey is being jointly conducted by the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University and StreamLink Software.
Have you ever added something you already finished to your to-do list just so you could have the satisfaction of checking it off? Do you feel a little like a superhero when you balance your checkbook to the penny? Humans like order. But yet we sometimes develop habits and patterns that all but ensure the opposite.
There’s a balancing act going on in organizations everywhere, and it stems from the healthy and necessary practice of collaboration. But as you know, the more people involved in the process, the more likely a giant paper trail will ensue. Multiple document versions lead to digital clutter that can at best cause a little confusion, and at worst cost time and money. A recent survey we conducted with 50 community colleges revealed that an average of 10 hours a month are spent tracking down grant-related documentation alone.
There Can Be Only One
You’ve earned 5 points if you caught the Highlander reference, but no, I don’t mean there can be only one heroic Scotsman. I mean there can only be one type of document - the final version. Of course there may be multiple drafts of something. But when that budget or spreadsheet or board book or custom report is officially finished and ready to be shared with its intended audience, that final version should be housed in a protected environment. Most organizations have some sort of document storage and distribution system, even if it’s as basic as a binder of spreadsheets, or a collection of emails and attachments passed back and forth. The challenge is going from a rudimentary system to one that’s more formal.
The Museum of Spreadsheets
A central online repository serves as the museum for your final documents. And like a museum, there are a number of securities in place to protect the housed works. First, and most obvious, the documents are no longer passed around or stored on one person’s laptop. They’re now stored in a secure, cloud-based environment and kept safe even if there are disruptions ranging from floods to staffing changes. Permissions are assigned to each individual user, so they only get to access the information they’re intended to view.
Who Manages the Repository?
The answer depends on the size and breakdown of your organization, but a common best practice is for one or more administrative users to serve as the curator of the repository. They determine which documents should be added to the collection, and in what area of the repository they should reside. They also have the administrative permission to set up automatic notifications to alert the appropriate users when final documents are available.
Here are two common examples of how administrative users can work within an organization.
Administrators for Nonprofit Board Management
An organizational admin would likely be the person tasked with creating board books and meeting packets. They schedule meetings, assign tasks, monitor board member and organizational engagement, performance and compliance. They are often the liaison between the organization and the leadership volunteers.
Administrators for Grant Management
Since grant funding can impact a wide number of departments within an organization as well as numerous sub-recipients connected to it, there may be a number of users granted administrative privileges. One common practice is charging an admin with the management of data associated with a specific stage of the grant lifecycle.
What Should Go In the Repository?
Anything that needs to be shared with one or more people is fair game for inclusion in the repository. Here are some examples of data that is typically found in the document repository of board management and grant managment software products.
Examples of Board Management Documents
- Board books/meeting packets
- Meeting minutes
- Organizational information (goals, objectives, and mission statements)
- Articles of incorporation
- Strategic plans
- Conflict of Interest forms
- Board member biographical info
- Tax forms
Examples Grant Management Documents
- Templates for frequently-used letters and forms
- Budget information
- Workflow and task management data
- Performance and reimbursement tracking forms
- Tax ID information
- Grantor information
Workplace teamwork will likely result in the creation of multiple drafts of documentation. That's to be expected. Many organizations have tools and processes in place to facilitate this collaboration. But when it comes to the final drafts of these documents, few institutions take advantage of the management tools that can help them save time, money and frustration.
Find out how much time and money your organization is spending on the administrative tasks associated with grant management.
Discover what nonprofit board management product is right for your organization.
Imagine a genie specifically designated to grant the wishes of grant managers. For the sake of argument, and for easier reading, we’ll say he looks a little like George Clooney in a pool.
Well, what would you ask for? (Keep it clean, people). What would make your work life easier? What would make your processes more efficient and streamlined? What would make you not want to curl up into a little ball and cry?
We polled grant professionals earlier this year and asked them to share their grant management stumbling blocks with us. The results were very telling. A vast majority of grant professionals, from writers to fiscal stewards said they are concerned about keeping up with changing and more complex funder requirements. This concern applied to both federal and private foundation funding.
How critical is streamlining the reporting process for your grantors? What tool(s) do you currently use to aggregate data from your sub-recipients? Are you well-equipped to generate custom reports for your grantors? How do you ensure that you don’t miss deadlines or forget any steps? Do you see ways your organization can save time and money with some of the administrative tasks associated with grant management? Are you still thinking of George Clooney in the swimming pool? Please focus.
Here’s the one statistic from the grant professional poll that served as the defining aha moment.
Only 7.3% of grant professionals use software specifically developed for grant management.
If you’re struggling with processes or tasks associated with grant management along any phase of the grant lifecycle, why not spend a little time learning about software that may help? Here are three easy steps you can take to start making your grant management wishes come true.
1. Take a 10 Minute Assessment
The assessment helps determine how much time and money your organization is spending on the tasks associated with grant administration. The information gathered from the assessment is based on real numbers and data you provide. The results can be used to make a strong case for grant management software to any interested stakeholder.
2. Schedule a Personalized Demo
Sometimes it helps see a product in action. We recommend gathering a group of people from different departments to sit in on a personalized product webinar. During a personalized demo you can ask the questions that matter most to your organization. For example you can find out how grant management software ties in with your HR and accounting systems, or get a better feel for how it helps during the pre-award stages by finding new grant opportunities, or understand how to more efficiently manages sub-recipients.
3. Talk to Us
Simply tell us what grant management problems you're trying to solve. We'd welcome the opportunity to help. Also, if you decide to buy AmpliFund Full Cycle from now until December 31, 2012, you can save on your set up fee, and lock in the same price for your annual renewal fee including free upgrades to every new version of AmpliFund forever and ever and ever.
Email us. We'll answer any questions you have and/or set up a convenient time to talk.
Finding exceptional board members has been a challenge for nonprofits since before the time giant reptiles roamed the earth freely. A quick Google search reveals a large number of organizations and services dedicated to helping nonprofits find and recruit board members. And of course current board members, business associates and peers can also provide a network of potential board members. Even the professional networking giant LinkedIn has decided to play Yenta by launching a program specifically for matching talented people to nonprofits boards.
With all these services at your disposal, your nonprofit may feel better-equipped to start the process of finding their next board member. But now the focus shifts to other questions. When should a nonprofit look for board members? And what should they do once they start identifying a pool of good ones?
The answer to the question when to look for qualified board members is a resounding NOW. Many experts caution organizations to be proactive in their search and recruitment process. At the end of the day it’s a great problem to have too many qualified candidates in the queue than to have to scramble at the last moment to find someone. This queue, or bullpen of potential members is generally seen as a good idea, but it seems that few organizations have one in place. This is where a board portal comes in handy.
How a Board Portal Can Help
Board portals are known for meeting and document management functionality, but perhaps less so for their member management capabilities. The member management section is the perfect place to create and manage the board member bullpen.
Creating user profiles for current board members is a no brainer. But creating profiles for members your organization is scouting can save a lot of time and frustration when the time comes to elect new leadership volunteers. Board portals with robust member profile functionality can be used to capture key data about a member’s skills, background and strengths, as well as notes and information about why the organization thinks they’re a good fit. As good candidates surface it only takes a few minutes to add their information to the board portal. And when it comes time to find a new or replacement member, the organizational administrator can simply run a report of possible candidates and filter the search results by desired criteria such area of expertise or demographic information.
For a lot of organizations, the decision to switch to grant management software isn’t just about spending money and making time to train staff on how to use it. It’s about temporarily disrupting processes, procedures, workflows, and even mindsets that may be firmly cemented in place. There’s no one pre-defined set of characteristics that make up organizations tasked with tracking, measuring, and managing grant funding. A community college will have different needs, processes and resources than a nonprofit healthcare clinic, or a local municipality, or a library, or a food bank and on and on. The one commonality is that ANY agency would be delighted to save time and money by improving their grant management process. The following four steps will facilitate the change needed to improve your grant management process.
- Understand the Pressure
- Establish Teams
- Demonstrate a Small Scale Success
- Manage the Naysayers
Understand the Pressure
Of course you’re trying to save your organization some time and money, but have you identified where these saving should occur? Is there one particularly onerous requirement or process? For example, are there repeatable steps that can be automated? Is data easy to assess and compile into custom reports? Are you spending too much time assigning and tracking tasks. Are you confident your organization can quickly adapt if grantor requirements change or become more complex?
Knowing where your process speed bumps are can help you decide what features and functionality you should look for from a grant management software provider. This understanding will also help you frame the argument to stakeholders for why change is needed in the first place.
Speaking of stakeholders, you’ll need to round up some supporters early on if you want to make any meaningful changes to the grant management process. Think of all the inter-connected, grant-funded initiatives across your entire organization. It goes beyond grant writers and program managers. For example, HR and fiscal arms of the organization will be impacted as well. Bring people from these different areas together and solicit their feedback. Learn where their process bottlenecks are. Make sure each team has a committed leader who will be responsible for helping implement changes to their group.
Demonstrate a Small Scale Success
Don’t worry about changing the world yet, worry about gaining more internal supporters. Maybe the newly-established, cross-functional team can work together at simply managing one grant throughout its entire lifecycle, all the way from pre-award planning and research right down to post-award performance and reporting. Showing a real life example of the positive impact of the new process will help convince others to get on board. It will also help your team get comfortable with the new process and be better equipped to roll it out on a larger scale.
Manage the Naysayers
The first step is to listen. Is someone rejecting change because they’re not comfortable with it or are they bringing up legitimate concerns that may impact the success of the grant management process? If it’s the former, the team leader needs to intervene and help explain the benefits of using software to help streamline the grant management process. The team leader should be able to provide specific examples of ways the new system will make it worth the effort. Also, make sure whatever software you choose comes with a solid training and support package, including well-written manuals and tutorials.
If the naysayer is pointing out specific issues or concerns, you might want to start taking notes. Get on the phone with the software company and ask them how their product addresses each issue. Find a provider that encourages users to file bug reports and feature requests and press them to develop the features and functions that you need. Make sure you’re entitled to any new or improved versions of the software.
Ideally, you can convert naysayers into supporters with a few productive conversations.
Grant management software has to account for a wide range of complexities. It takes change management in the form of careful planning and a team effort to make sure your organization reaps the full benefits a designated grant management software solution can provide.
Take a 10 minute Grant Administration Assessment to determine how much time and money your organization is spending on administrative tasks.
Introduction and Main Points
Because of the DATA Act, the federal government will have a lot more transparency into its spending habits. This new reality should make state and local governments as well as nonprofits receiving federal dollars take stock fast. Why? Because if the federal arm knows more about state and local government data better than the state and local agencies themselves, it can create a costly disconnect.
For example, federal reporting requirements are changing and becoming more complex. These requirements aren’t even established yet and could conceivable go through a number of revisions before anything close to a standard is created.* If the state and local agencies can’t keep up with changing requirements, future funding could be at stake.
DATA Act Summary
Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2011 or DATA Act - Requires each person, state, local, or tribal government (recipient) that receives federal appropriated funds, either directly or as a subcontractor or subgrantee, to report at least once quarterly each receipt and use of such funds to the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board established by this Act.
Requires each executive agency to report all federal obligations and expenditures to the Board.
Exempts an individual recipient from such reporting requirements if: (1) the total amount of federal funds received does not exceed $100,000 in the current calendar or fiscal year; and (2) no transaction in which the recipient has received federal funds during the current calendar year or fiscal year has exceeded $24,999. Authorizes the Board to grant additional exemptions for classes or categories of recipients.
Requires the Board to designate: (1) common data elements for information required to be reported, and (2) data reporting standards.
Requires the Board to establish one or more websites for the publication of all information submitted by recipients and agencies to serve as a public portal for federal financial information.
Requires the Board to establish a federal accountability portal (an integrated Internet-based system, consisting of one or more websites) to: (1) combine information submitted by recipients and agencies with other compilations of information; (2) permit executive agencies to verify the eligibility of recipients to receive federal funds; and (3) permit executive agencies, Inspectors General (IGs), and law enforcement agencies to track federal awards to find waste, fraud, and abuse.
Establishes the Board in the executive branch. Transfers all functions of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to the Board, including its employees.
Makes conforming amendments to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to terminate the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board on October 1, 2013.
Repeals the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.
A Cautionary Tale: How NOT to Spend Federal Dollars
The Government Services Administration (GSA) is a $26 billion administrative arm of the government that helps support other government agencies. They do things like manage office space in their 8,300 leased or owned buildings and run a 210,000 vehicle motor pool. In 2010, the GSA was enmeshed in a scandal that involved the spending of around $835,000 in taxpayer funds for a 300 person training conference in Las Vegas that featured a clown, mind reader and comedian. They should have swapped the mind reader for a fortune teller because maybe then they could have predicted the enormous backlash of their extravagant outing.
According to Ellen Miller, executive director of the watchdog group Sunlight Foundation “The DATA Act will transform how we are able to monitor government spending online.” She goes on to explain “The DATA Act will increase transparency for federal spending data and expand when, where and how it is available online.” While the DATA Act received bi-partisan support and earned the praises of groups that advocate for open government (including the Sunlight Foundation), there is also cause for concern.
Trying to Prepare for the Unknown
State and local organizations claim the DATA Act doesn’t provide them with the funds needed to cover the costs of the new and more complex reporting requirements. But as this Government Technology article written by Ryan Holeywell points out there’s some debate over these costs. The Congressional Budget Office claims the DATA Act will have no financial impact on state and local governments. Others aren’t convinced. “We don’t have the capacity, at this time, to implement this,” said Cornelia Chebinou, head of the Washington office of the National Association of Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers. “Without funding, it’s just not a possibility.” Holeywell’s article points out that “State and local governments haven’t been able to quantify exactly how much the changes may cost them. But whatever that figure may be, says Lars Etzkorn of the National League of Cities, it comes at a time when state and local governments are still struggling financially.”
Taking a Proactive Approach
State and local governments may have the advantage of being a bit more nimble than their Federal counterpart. Adopting tools and processes that streamline administration and aid in transparency can help thwart compliance and governance issues. It’s a bit like driving down the street with a burned out tail light. Even though you might not know the bulb is shot, you’re still accountable for potential fines if you get pulled over by the police. Even though Federal reporting requirements aren’t set in stone, it’s clear they’re changing and increasing in complexity. The following chart is taken from the white paper "The Complex State of Grant Management: Adopting New Strategies for Success."
State and local agencies will need to stay a step ahead of the Feds when it comes to transparency, otherwise they may be forced to play a very expensive game of catch up.
To learn more, please read our white paper "The Complex State of Grant Management: Adopting New Strategies for Success."
*StreamLink Software is currently involved with a federal pilot program called GRIP (Grants Reporting Information Pilot). GRIP is coordinated by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, and aimed at creating standards and improving efficiencies for state and local governments and nonprofits that receive federal funding. Information about this pilot will be published as soon as possible.
There’s nothing really glamorous about the administrative side of grant management. At its best, solid administration keeps the grant cycle moving along like a smooth assembly line. At its worst, it’s an impossible juggling act with important tasks flying all over the place. If you stop and think about all that grant administration entails, there’s a chance you’ll identify at least one task that renders you powerless…your administration kryptonite.
We recently talked to grant professionals at over 50 different organizations, including several community colleges. These guys are smart, experienced and they know what they’re doing. But each and every one identified at least one task that added time, extra cost and frustration to their grant administration process. Whether it was related to aggregating data and creating reports, or sending out task reminders to keep things moving along or any one of the other 8 million other that need to get done, each grant professional admitted there’s room for process improvements, workflow adjustments and greater efficiency in general.
Of course in order to make improvements, you need to identify the weak links in the process. Have you ever stopped to think about how much time you spend doing specific tasks? For example, how much time do you spend sending out email task reminds? Locating documents? Aggregating data for various reports? Even if your process is smooth, is it scalable if you get a great deal of additional funding? Is it a process that has widespread adoption and understanding by everyone using it? Would things come to a grinding halt if you left the organization? Creating efficiencies isn’t just about making your job more manageable, it’s about making sure your organization stays competitive and viable in the eyes of funders.
The information we gathered from the grant professionals we interviewed formed the basis of the report “Grant Administration: What Is It Costing Your Organization?” It also became the framework of a 10 minute assessment designed to help grant professionals calculate the time and cost associated with grant management administrative tasks. Since the publication of the report, dozens of additional grant professionals have taken the assessment. We'd like to invite you to take the assessment too.
How to Prepare for the Grant Administration Assessment
The Grant Administration Assessment takes about 10 minutes to complete. You will be asked to provide data about your organization's current grant initiative. For the most accurate results, please have the following information available during your assessment.
- Annual grant revenue
- Number of active grants you currently manage
- Number of grants written during the past 12 months
- Number of grants successfully funded during the past 12 months
- Amount of grant funding awarded during the past 12 months
Who Should Take the Assessment?
The Grant Administration Assessment should be completed by anyone in a grant management leadership role within a non-profit or public sector organization. These roles include, but are not limited to:
- Grant Administrator
- Grant Director
- Grant Manager
- Grant Accountant
Let’s start with this excerpt about liability and protection from an article in the Houston Chronicle.
“Board members and officers of a nonprofit can be sued for a wide variety of breaches, and their personal assets can be at risk, so most nonprofits protect themselves with directors and officers (D&O) insurance. Lawsuits generally cover claims of fraud and manipulation, personal financial gain, breach of fiduciary duty, financial mismanagement, negligence and mistakes and errors. Even when an association has insurance, every board member and officer must be proactive in protecting the organization from such claims through detailed record-keeping, maintenance of paper trails covering all decisions and management activities, and full compliance with best practices for human resource management, civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.”
A quick online search will reveal dozens of news stories about such breaches. While this is all scary stuff, it doesn’t have to be. The right board portal can ensure compliance and mitigate risk for both board members and the organization. Here are three areas in which they can help.
The Digital Paper Trail
Knowing what’s expected is half the battle. A board portal serves as a secure, centralized hub for all board-related materials enabling members to access all the information they’re required to know. The board portal can also capture voting information, and help keep track of certain expectations like meeting attendance, time and monetary contributions, and task assignment and completion.
Archiving the Past
A board portal can include a repository of archived meeting information. The final and official meeting materials (ex. board books), records of motions introduced and voting results for past meetings are kept safe and secure. So, if there’s ever a need to go back and verify something that happened in a past meeting, it’s easy to do. And only board and staff members with the appropriate permissions can access the materials.
A board portal includes a centralized calendar so everyone knows about upcoming meetings, events, and deadlines. It’s also is a logical place to store financials and other information so board members can take care of their fiduciary responsibilities. And finally, a board portal is a great tool for strategic alignment between the board, committees, and the organization. Transparency into organizational goals and strategic plans makes sure everyone knows what’s planned and expected.
Let’s start by making the following general assumption about nonprofit board members. They are professionals. It’s a lot harder to make a general assumption about a professional. There are countless types of professionals, so that means there are countless variations on the make up of a nonprofit board. A nonprofit board is a different animal, unlike say the board of an association for example. An association board is made up of people who share similarities, so everyone on the board is a pharmacist or a carpenter or they all belong to the same country club, that sort of thing. Because of these commonalities, they are essentially boards of peers. On the flip side, the only thing that really connects a nonprofit board is a shared belief in the mission of the organization it serves. While that’s a fantastic starting point, it might not be enough to form an effective board. Here’s where a little peer pressure can be a good thing.
The Benefits of Friendly Competition
The notion of competition isn’t foreign to professionals. A professional becomes proficient at their job by at the very least competing with themselves to learn, and improve, but also by competing with others internally for jobs and projects, and externally in the form of direct competitors within their professional space. And while some may see competition as a blood sport, most people understand that in moderation, competition is a powerful tool. So how can competition help a nonprofit board?
Competition within the context of a nonprofit board isn’t equal. If Professional A has lots of money and makes a large contribution, that doesn’t automatically mean all the other board members are going to whip out their check books and match dollars. Nonprofit board members are not peers. They have different jobs, different, skills, different resources. But outside of the boardroom, they all have their respective peer groups, and that’s where the competition/peer pressure kicks in.
If we learn that people with similar interests, skills and resources are doing amazing things, then darn it, we want to do amazing things too. And we want to do them, well, even more amazing. We’re social. We’re competitive. We influence and are influenced. If Professional A mentioned above was on the fence about writing that fat check, but heard that a respected peer made a contribution, that could serve as the catalyst to act.
Whether subtly or overtly, board members are expected to use their influence within their peer groups as part of their duty to serve their organization. Helping establish, foster and track expectations (from financial contributions to meeting attendance) as a required part of service can go a long way toward improving board member engagement.
A number of recent online discussions have centered on the issue of board member engagement. Board engagement is a major component to an organization’s success because an interested and engaged board member is more apt to roll up their sleeves and get stuff done. Chances are your board members are successful, busy and committed to many different activities, and because of that, your organization is in effect competing for each member’s time, talent and commitment. Knowing what board members want and expect from the organization can go a long way toward increasing their engagement.
The Three Things Your Board Members Want
1. Clear Expectations
Organizations will often take the time to orient members to the board and to the role the organization plays. But in order to increase engagement, the organization first needs to be clear about what is expected of each member and then track and measure key aspects of their contribution. Board management software can assist with keeping track of member-related
information such as attendance, financial and time contributions and the tasks and activities they’re assigned.
2. Effective Communication
Members need to be able to access information easily, consistently and in a timely fashion. While communication issues may not be the organization’s fault, they are its problem. Organizations need to create better ways to provide mission critical material for their members, and provide tools for them to respond and communicate more efficiently.
Board members want to feel that their commitment is valued and that they are accomplishing goals and objectives from meeting to meeting. One common concern we have heard from board members is that it often feels they just meet to meet, and wind up covering the same ground from meeting to meeting. In order to address this issue, organizations need to do three things:
- Have goals for their boards and committees
- Measure action items from meetings
- Relate these items back to the goals
As the organization tracks the completion of action items, the members can see the completion of the goal. To keep members engaged during organizational meetings, it is critical that meetings are productive and progress toward a strategic goal.
Engaged board members are an organization’s most critical asset. After all, the three most important words in fundraising are "come join me" and the only one who can say them is an actively engaged leadership volunteer.