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GPA Annual Conference: Adding Grant Value Through Evaluations

GPAStreamLink Software’s AmpliFund Team recently attended the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) annual conference in Portland, Oregon.

It was a bustling event with more than 600 grant writers, managers, administrators and consultants in attendance. From grant writing, to ethics, to compliance reporting, the conference covered it all.

Here at StreamLink Software, we believe grant measurement and performance reporting are critical to compliance, organizational revenue and internal capacity. It’s no surprise then that we enjoyed the presentation Adding Grant Value Through Evaluations: Must Haves for Winning Evaluation Designs at this year’s conference.

In it, Laura Davidson, program evaluator, and Lauren Ohlin, grants analyst, of Washoe County School discussed the importance of project design in grant evaluations. By building performance into the initial project plan, grantees can improve their chances of winning funds, create better benchmarks, pinpoint progress and measure results. Davidson and Ohlin outlined the four criteria below for solid project design:

  • Measurable objectives tied to goals.
  • Quantifiable activities.
  • Clear data collection roles and responsibilities.
  • Defined program audiences/populations.

Let’s dive into each individually below, with highlights from their presentation.

Measurable Objectives Tied to Goals

Your goal is your high-level vision–what you hope your project will accomplish.

It is supported by objectives, which will allow you to track progress compared to the goal. Objectives are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based. See below for an example of each, as shared during the presentation:

  • Goal: “To expand and improve effective early identification, prevention and intervention programs for students at risk of dropping out.”
  • Objective #1: “By the end of the grant, 60% of Limited English Proficiency students at participating schools will score at or above proficiency on the English Language Proficiency Exam.”

Objectives and goals should be built into your grant application, and then carried into performance reports once funds are won. 

Quantifiable Activities 

Objectives, and the activities that support them, must be able to be quantifiably measured. Grantees need to uncover the data sources they will use to track program outcomes (e.g. survey results, in-person interviews, program participants, test scores, etc.).

With benchmark data uncovered, look at the last few years of data to set realistic, yet ambitious, targets for each activity. Remember that progress usually accelerates after year-one’s pilot program, so plan accordingly.

Clear Data Collection Roles and Responsibilities

Next, create your evaluation narrative to explain step-by-step how your plan will be executed. A key component here is defining responsible parties for data collection, analysis and communication. Understand who owns each area of the process, and how they will be held accountable so that no part slips through the cracks.

Your evaluation narrative should also include data collection timelines, key project outcomes, monitoring processes, and details on how plans will evolve based on performance indicators.

Defined Program Populations

Strong programs have defined populations that they are targeting, and have clear activities and communication plans to support these audience segments. But they don’t stop at external subjects. 

They also look internally, outlining communication channels and frequency, so that all involved will be kept informed on project status and their role(s) in the process.

As performance-based grant distribution increases in popularity, how are you building your programs and proposals with measurement in mind? Share your ideas below.

For details on the State of Grant Management, download our 2014 report.

Grant Management Report

Governance by Design: Key Takeaways from the BoardSource Leadership Forum

Boardsource Leadership ForumEarlier this month, the BoardMax Team attended the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) in Washington D.C. The event convened more than 700 board members, executives, staff and nonprofit professionals.

The theme was governance by design, or intentional governance, with a conference track dedicated to the topic. Sessions illustrated how nonprofits are increasingly, and purposefully, measuring their impact, adapting to changing marketing conditions and collaborating to achieve stronger results. Below we elaborate on this trend with key takeaways from track sessions.  

Maximize Organizational Impact

What do you do if nonprofit programs and services aren’t effective or achieving the best returns? In the session, “Using Design Thinking to Enhance Your Organization’s Effectiveness,” Theresa Reid, founder of Theresa Reid, PhD + Associates, Consulting, recommended a design-thinking approach to the problem.

Design thinking is the “process of product or program development rooted in empathy and characterized by creative collaboration, and rapid experimentation and revision.”

It involves understanding end users’ challenges and desires, brainstorming solution ideas and then executing a minimum viable product solution. Users evaluate this early version of your product or service, and feedback is integrated into a revised solution. The process continues until an effective resolution to the problem is met.

By using this test-and-reiterate model, nonprofits can improve service delivery, and minimize costs associated with service planning and rollout—both of which positively affect overall organizational impact.

Adapt to an Ever-Changing Environment

The world is moving faster than ever before, and nonprofits need to keep up with the changes happening around them or risk being left behind.

In “Governance 3.0: Determining Your Organization’s Role in the Social Ecosystem,” Richard Mittenthal, president and CEO of TCC Group, encouraged nonprofits to think “beyond the organizational bubble,” and evaluate how they fit into the larger ecosystem, which includes companies, funders, government, partner organizations and individuals. With a sound understanding of organizational strengths, and how others complement or influence your nonprofit’s strategic direction, adaptability and responsiveness improve.

Collaborate for Results

When organizations strategically address social issues together, impact and capacity (both in time and money) amplifies.

In “Navigating the Merger-to-Collaboration Spectrum,” Alex Neuhoff and Maria Orozco of The Bridgespan Group, detailed the forms of collaboration that exist: mergers, shared services, joint programming and associations. 

They encouraged nonprofits to have a strategic rationale for the partnership upfront, and reminded them “human integration is harder than system integration.” As such, it’s important to properly vet potential partners (especially at a cultural level) before negotiating and structuring a collaboration with them. 

Is your nonprofit applying governance by design principles? Share your lessons below.

The Path to Open Data [Free Ebook]

Screen Shot 2014 10 03 at 10.30.42 AMNeighboring communities are increasingly tackling shared issues collaboratively, and big and open data sets are being leveraged to improve service delivery. As a result, cities and counties are sharing more resources and information than ever before.

This pivot toward open data and increased interactivity within the public sector create new challenges and opportunities for grant recipients.

To thrive, city and county governments need to adapt their operational, technology and talent infrastructure to support collaboration, shared data and data-driven performance measurement. This starts with a clear understanding of where we have been and where we are heading.

The Open Data Story

The path to open data has been a long journey. It was kick-started by the economic crash of 2008, which damaged Americans’ trust in the spending of federal funds, and igniting a public cry for transparency and accountability. 

The government responded with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Do Not Pay Business Center (2010), Government Accountability and Transparency Board (2011) and the OMB Uniform Grants Guidance (2013).

All of which culminated with the 2014 signing of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). The law mandates the creation of data standards so that federal spending information can be aggregated, reconciled and published online.

Transparency in Action

The above events transformed the way the government collects, uses and reports on data. More than ever before, cities and counties must find new and better ways to track federal dollars. Some have already made great strides.

For example, San Francisco opened up its government data on DataSF.org in 2009. New York created a data portal modeled after Data.gov. And California’s By the Numbers site, unveiled in September, makes millions of fields of state and county financial data accessible to the public.

These examples are just a few in the growing national trend of funding transparency, open data and stricter funding requirements. Once federal awards can be tracked downstream to the penny, and service performance relayed back upstream to the original source, dollars will be closely tied to results.

But success requires a shift in how local governments use data, including not limited to, the need for full grant lifecycle management, performance measurement, and dynamic coordination with grant recipients and sub-recipients to manage program execution. 

Download Our Free Ebook

The open data movement is transforming the way federal funds will be allocated and tracked, and city and county leaders need to prepare for impending changes. This starts with having a firm grasp on where we’ve been, where we’re headed and what needs to be done. Download our free ebook, “The Path to Open Data: Why Cities and Counties Are Sharing More Resources and Information Than Ever Before” to get started.

The Path to Open Data

5 Tips to Make Board Meetings Meaningful

watchAre your meetings stuck in a status-quo rut? Take back the reigns of your board meetings, and make the time spent together productive with these five tips.

1. Have an Agenda

As a rule of thumb, never start a board meeting without a shared, agreed-upon agenda.

Agendas establish a plan of action and keep meetings focused. When sent in advance, they also allow members to review relevant materials and prepare for discussions.

According to our 2014 State of Board Engagement Report, 86% of board members were engaged or very engaged when meeting materials were delivered in a timely manner. This number drops to 64% when they are not.

Go one step further, and solicit feedback on the agenda prior to the meeting. With a board portal, members can easily request agenda additions or express concerns.

2. Keep Meetings Balanced

When board meetings center solely on presentations, you risk board member engagement. Conversely, when comprised of only group discussions and debate, objective items suffer. Create a healthy balance for your meetings to keep them interesting, yet productive.

Share planned discussion points at least one week in advance so members can start to formulate thoughts and ideas before they arrive.

3. Ask Smart Questions

One question could change the entire course of a meeting.

Often, during board meetings, someone tends to ask a vague, open-ended question such as, “What could we be doing better?” This then results in tangents and off-topic debates, subsequently derailing the agreed-upon agenda.

Instead, pose metrics geared questions related to the specific topics at hand such as “How much money did we raise at our last event? How can we improve those numbers for future ones?” These types of questions tend to elicit more strategic discussions, resulting in actionable outcomes. 

4. Set Strict Start and End Times

Board members often have other obligations. Setting strict start and end times for both board meetings and individual agenda items shows that you respect their time and value their commitment.

Furthermore, hard start and stop times set a precedent and expectation of punctuality.

5. Share Meeting Minutes

Following board meetings, post minutes, notes and action items in a central location for easy access by all members. This keeps those that couldn’t attend up-to-speed, while also ensuring that the whole board is on the same page moving forward.

According to our report, 90% of board members were engaged or very engaged when archived meeting minutes, organizational data and other resources were accessible to board members, logically organized and easy to use. This number drops to 68% when they are not.

For further ways to solicit meaningful board meetings, see our report, The 2014 State of Board Engagement.

   2014 Board Report  

How do you execute meaningful board meetings? Share your thoughts below.

Image Source: Alexander Kaiser via Flickr

Grant Research: Only One Piece of the Puzzle

puzzleThe role of grant manager is far more than researching applicable awards. Grant research is only part of a much larger puzzle—one where data, reporting and measurable performance outcomes are essential to long-term program viability.

Grantees are responsible for planning, budgeting, fund distribution, compliance reporting and performance.

Pre-Award Planning

The planning stage is comprised of finding, winning and readying the organization for the award. At this stage, grant managers:

  • Identify funding goals and applicable grants to support them.
  • Review fund requirements and deadlines.
  • Gather proposal resources and draft their pitches.
  • Establish communication lines to facilitate compliance.
  • Distribute internal policies regarding the fund.

Pro tip: It is important to research the right grants. Online databases, like GrantFinder, can help narrow and organize searches for a more efficient workflow.

Grant Distribution and Administration

From award through reporting, grant managers serve as single points of contact—ensuring compliance is upheld and budgets align with goals. Grant managers:

  • Facilitate communication between internal parties, sub-recipients and funders.
  • Collect objective and subjective data on grant programs.
  • Monitor grant performance against goals.
  • Periodically advise the organization on funding allocation.

Such activities are vital to the overall grant program success. The key is to find a streamlined workflow that promotes efficiency and cuts administrative time. Many organizations turn to a full-cycle grant management software to aid in this area.

Post-Award Evaluation

Evaluation is critical to determining grant performance. Grant managers: 

  • Pull financial data to provide an overview of revenue and expenditures.
  • Share performance findings with funders,
  • Ensure compliance with grant-reporting requirements.
  • Evaluate overall program effectiveness.
  • Use historical success to fuel new funding opportunities and proposal win-rates.

Strong reporting systems help organizations prove funders’ return on investment and drive additional grants.

What part of the grant process does your organization struggle with most? Grant management software could be the solution. Schedule a demo to learn more about Grant

Image Source: Horia Varlan via Flickr

The DATA Act: One Small Step for Data, One (Potentially) Giant Step for Accountability [Free Forrester Report]

Forrester ResearchA September 2014 report from Forrester Research, “The DATA Act: One Small Step for Data, One (Potentially) Giant Step for Accountability” overviews the current state of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) and how federal agencies can lay the groundwork for compliance.

The law opens up federal spending data to be consolidated, aggregated and published. This way, it can used as a resource by government entities, grant recipients and the public, as well as help funders and watchdogs pinpoint fraud and misuse.

DATA Act implementation, however, will also have a trickle-down effect on federal grant reporting, requiring more organized and automated methods to track spending and fund allocation. There is an imminent need for grantors and recipients to adjust the way they manage and report on grants to comply with new regulations.

What’s In the Report?

To compile the in-depth report, Forrester Research interviewed six vendor and user organizations—one of which was StreamLink Software.

The report sheds light on DATA Act mandates, lays out the four-year implementation plan, explores the funding and resource impact, and provides actionable recommendations for organizations and agencies to ready themselves. It aims to help maximize the lead-time between DATA Act signage and full implementation.

Best-advised organizations will address skills, process and funding gaps before regulation and compliance measures take full effect.

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • A realistic DATA Act implementation timeline has been set. It is the responsibility of organizations and agencies to learn and understand what is expected of them.
  • The timeline may seem long, but acting now will save organizations and agencies trouble later. Prepare for success by addressing skills, process and funding gaps.
  • While the mandate is unfunded, and will bring upfront costs, improvements to data management and reporting will save money over time.
  • Organizations must be proactive and develop a thorough DATA Act readiness plan that includes active involvement in the standardization process, CIO/CFO collaboration, creation of an implementation point person and team, and identification of existing data gaps within your organization.

For more on how you can prepare for DATA Act implementation, download a free copy of Forrester Research’s report.

   Forrester Report

Technology's Role in Improved Board Communications

Board CommunicationsTechnology—social media, big data, cloud computing—is playing a direct role in how people communicate. However, organizations are struggling to keep pace. 

A 2013 survey conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting found that while 78% of respondents said achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organizations within the next two years, 63% felt the pace of technology change in their organization is too slow.

Nonprofit boards should take full advantage of new technology to improve communication with members and external stakeholders.

Identify Communication Improvement Areas

Nonprofits tend to be lackadaisical when it comes to researching and investing in technology. Resources are limited and the thought that, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, often prevails. Because of this, they often miss opportunities for process improvement.

So, how do you know if opportunities exist? Simple. Map out your current communication processes. Look for:

  • Communication deficiencies
  • Overlapping tasks
  • Process inefficiencies
  • Circuitous communication channels

When you understand where current communication processes fall short, you’ll be better able to pinpoint action items for improvement.

Improve Communication with a Board Portal

In many cases, boards can greatly benefit from a communication management system, specifically a board portal.

Board portals consolidate important documents, store relevant information in a centralized location and encourage ongoing discussion. This allows your board to sync ideas, collaborate and be informed.

Also with a cloud-hosted solution, members have any-where access to board materials, so that they can retrieve important information on the go. This caters to today’s board members who are accustomed to having information at their fingertips.

Those that invest in board portals tend to have more productive meetings, streamlined communications, organized action items and cohesive messaging. According to our 2014 Board Engagement Report:

  • Ninety-three percent of board portal-using members reported feeling satisfied or very satisfied with their contributions as a board member.
  • Eighty-nine percent of respondents that use a board portal believe the board has a major or moderate impact on the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Ninety-two percent of respondents that use a board portal agree that meeting materials are usually delivered in a timely manner.
  • When asked, “Are the majority of meetings focused, productive and adhered to an agenda?” 99% of respondents that use a board portal agreed.

Allow technology to have a role in your board’s communication process. Contact us to further discuss how you can make that a possibility, or download our 2014 Board Engagement Report for insight on technology’s impact on overall board engagement.

   2014 Board Report

How would you rate your board’s current communication process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Source: Opensource.com via Flickr

AmpliFund and BoardMax Not Vulnerable to Shellshock

shellshock iconAnother serious software bug has been making headlines over the past week. Shellshock (CVE-2014-6271) takes advantage of a vulnerability in some versions of the Bash shell, commonly used on Unix-based web servers and operating systems, to gain access to unauthorized areas and execute malicious code.

As was the case with Heartbleed, StreamLink Software products are unaffected by this latest vulnerability. AmpliFund and BoardMax run in a Windows-based .NET web server environment, not a Unix environment that could have been impacted by Shellshock.

The security of our customers’ data and private information is our utmost concern. We encourage any and all feedback, so should you have any questions or concerns regarding the security of your AmpliFund or BoardMax accounts, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly!

How City Leaders Can Create an Open Data Policy

Last week, our AmpliFund Public Sector team attended ICMA’s 100th Annual Conference. ICMA, or the International City/County Management Association, works to advance professional local government in order to build better communities.

Among the sessions was one presented by Alisha Green, policy associate at the Sunlight Foundation. The Sunlight Foundation is a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government globally and uses technology to make government more accountable. 

Open Data Policies to Promote Transparency, Efficiency and Engagement” unpacked the motivations behind the open data movement, and presented actionable steps city leaders can take to make their government data more transparent.

Create City Open Data Policy Guidelines

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 40% of internet users went online for government data or information in 2009. Of these government internet users, 23% were looking at how federal stimulus funds were being spent, and 16% visited a site that provides access to government data.

online government data

What does this mean? That citizens want to hold their government accountable, and are turning to the internet for information.

Green argued that open data has the potential to advance transparency, accountability and efficiency in local governments, while improving service quality and increasing public participation. She presented step-by-step how local governments can formulate policies and implement open-data programs in their communities. Below, we highlight some of the key points made.

1. Understand What Data Should Be Made Public   

When approaching the problem of open data, all government information should be considered. The more data that can be aggregated and made public, the better. However, city leaders should take precautions to safeguard sensitive information.

Green recommended creating a data inventory and prioritizing the rollout of data releases.

2. How to Make Data Public

The “how” of open data is arguably the most challenging piece of this movement. Currently, federal data (and particularly spending data) is fragmented across disparate systems and formats.

First, data must be centralized and standardized. Decide on a standardized data format  (Green recommends the use of open formats and varied formats), and designate a centralized location. By mandating electronic filing, city administration can avoid tedious data entry and aggregate data instantaneously as it is submitted.

When deciding on data formats, cities should keep an eye on federal spending reforms. Thanks to the passage of the DATA Act earlier this year, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Treasury Department will determine the standardized formats and processes for all federal spending data.

Cities that receive federal grants should develop data formats that mirror or are compatible with federal data to simplify compliance and reporting.

3. How to Implement Policy

Once data infrastructure is in place, city leaders must manage the human element of open data. Establish guidance and oversight, with actionable instructions and clear timelines for open data policy implementation.

It’s also important to customize open data policies for your community, even including the public in the process. After all, they are primary stakeholders.

Finally, plan for the future. Any city open data policy should be a long-term strategy designed for the future of government data.

To receive updates on the DATA Act and federal spending reforms, sign up for the StreamLink Software newsletter

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Is your community working on an open data policy?

Image source: Pew Research Internet Project

The 2014 Board Engagement Report [Free Download]

Board Engagement ReportHow can nonprofit and board leaders improve board engagement and fully leverage the board’s potential in their organizations?

To answer this question, we surveyed active board members across the country to create The 2014 Board Engagement Report.

The report sheds light on the state of America’s boards, the expectations organizations have for their boards, and how board management affects member engagement. Below, we highlight a few key findings.

Boards Are Engaged

Overall, America’s board members are engaged. More than half of respondents stated that they are engaged (52%), and 31% described themselves as very engaged.

Engagement may stem in part from satisfaction with board membership expectations. Most believe that expectations and role responsibilities are clearly defined (84%), that they “understand expectations very well” (74%), and that the number of board meetings they’re expected to attend is reasonable (86%).

Nonprofits Overlook Available Capacity

Professionals often join boards to further their skills, contribute to a worthy cause and impact the strategic direction of an organization. Unfortunately, too many board members do not feel that the organization is fully benefitting from their abilities.

Survey results found that 22% of board members do not feel that their talents are being effectively utilized by the organization. This means that nonprofit and board leaders are leaving valuable skillsets on the table, shortchanging themselves and their board members.  

Technology Catalyzes Engagement

Nonprofit technology is a burgeoning space. Board portals and board management software have gained in popularity in recent years as a means for organizations to more effectively communicate with the board. Most organizations we surveyed do not use this technology, with only 36% citing use of a board portal.

But perhaps more nonprofit boards should. Comparing board management and board engagement, organizations that use a board portal cited more favorable responses from board members in satisfaction, productivity, access to information, impact on the organization’s strategic direction, and more.

Learn more about the state of America’s boards and the factors influencing board member engagement by downloading our free report, The 2014 Board Engagement Report.

How does your organization stack up?

   2014 Board Report

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