On Dec. 26, 2014, newly released Uniform Grant Guidance shifted the way grantees will be held accountable for performance and results.
Grantees must now be able to demonstrate both:
- Grant performance metrics.
- Effective performance management systems.
This will require proper identification of performance measures, structured data collection processes and the ability to create data-driven reports.
Though increased accountability will be beneficial in improving the way funds are managed and allocated, the transition to performance can be intimidating at first. Our webinar will provide you and all the essentials needed to prepare for the switch.
About the Webinar
StreamLink Software and Sandy Swab, an independent public sector consultant at SRSwab Consulting and former senior policy analyst for the OMB, have partnered up for a second webinar. “Uniform Grant Guidance: How to Connect Performance and Financial Data."
The one-hour free webinar will cover:
- Why the UGG is increasing its focus on grant performance.
- The goals and objectives of federal programs.
- UGG organizational and award performance requirements.
- How to identify and address performance measures within reporting processes.
- Tips for collecting the right data and creating data-driven reports.
Watch the webinar on-demand.
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Last February, StreamLink Software teamed up with Sandy Swab, an independent public sector consultant, for a free webinar on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG).
As a former policy analyst for the OMB, Sandy provided insight into UGG, which presented new financial management and federal award requirements that affect federal agencies and recipients of federal dollars. (Watch the webinar on-demand.)
Attendees brought excellent questions to the table. Below are several that didn’t make it into the webinar, and Sandy’s advice for federal grantees.
Does UGG’s conflict of interest stipulation require that employees sign a document stating they do not have a conflict of interest, or simply that a policy be in place?
Comply with the awarding agency.
Each federal agency will establish its own conflict of interest requirements. Recipients should have policies in place that reflect the awarding federal agency's conflict of interest policy. The conflict of interest requirements issued by the federal awarding agency may include how the recipients are to address conflict of interest, which may require employees signing conflict of interest statements as specified in the requirements.
If awarded funds from several agencies, adopt a policy statement that is general enough to cover all awards. However, recipients might need to have procedures in place for different funding streams to address those conflict of interest requirements. Recipients should also review current award documents for any reference to conflict of interest requirements. See Section 200.112 for more information.
Adopt a procedure to address standards of conduct under procurement rules.
Under the Procurement Standards of the UGG, recipients must have a policy and procedures in place that address standards of conduct for employees covering conflict of interest when they are performing duties associated with contracts. The procedure should indicate how the recipient organization would address conflicts of interest and any disciplinary action associated with any violations. It should also address parent, affiliate or subsidiary organizations. Recipients should review Section 200.318 (c) (1) for a complete overview of the requirements for standards of conduct and conflict of interest for procurement.
Verify no conflicts exist prior to contractor selection.
In order to participate in the selection and administration of a contractor, each employee must verify that there is no conflict of interest. The organization may be able to file a signed general statement in the procurement documentation that no conflicts of interest exist, but how that is determined must be documented in the recipient’s procedures and who is authorized to sign a general statement. See Section 200.318 for more information.
Review past audit findings.
Finally, if the recipient organization had any audits that addressed conflicts of interest, policies and procedures should be written with these insights in mind and address the issues.
How should recipients relate costs to performance, and report whether goals are met?
Track costs to the activities that are being measured.
A simple way to do this right now is to identify required quarterly milestones or deliverables, and to record the amount of staff time and funding resources used to meet the milestone or deliverable. Recipients may be doing this now through written progress reports. (Note: Also refer to any specific instructions issued by the federal awarding agency or pass-through entity.)
Identify any delays in meeting a milestone or deliverable during the specified timeframe.
Building on the above, flag delays and estimate additional resources that may be required to meet a milestone or deliverable. To do this, associate resources, dependencies, milestones or deliverables with each award activity. For example, staff resources, sub-awards or contracts awarded, and the results of these on the milestone or deliverable.
Work with the awarding agency on reporting.
Recipients should anticipate working with the federal awarding agency or pass-through entity to determine how information is to be reported. For example, it may require actual expenditures or what may be considered payables (obligations for the activities). Either way, reporting should be defined within specified timeframes, often quarterly or when reports are due.
When questions arise about requirements or policies.
Recipients should always check with their awarding agency, whether it be a federal agency, a pass-through entity (e.g., state or local government) or prime recipient regarding any questions they may have associated with award requirements or policies associated with the funding.
Consider grant management software.
Some grant management software solutions offer the ability to establish performance data. This way, a report can easily be run that links the financial expenditures to the performance measures.
To learn more about the new UGG requirements, check out the following resources:
For a high-level overview of key federal initiatives, and what you need to know to prepare, download our free fact sheet.
What questions do you have about OMB’s new UGG regulations?
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Recently, we conducted a nationwide survey on recruiting, developing and managing boards. Many responses centered on board portal adoption and successful technology implementation.
Below are the three biggest tips our survey respondents had to offer.
1. Commit to Training
Training is essential to long-term adoption. To best teach staff how to use new software, board portal users suggested:
- Ensure internal champions are well versed with the software, so that they can better facilitate pilot programs and rollout.
- Plan training based on board members’ technology aptitude. Evaluate the tech-savviness of each board member, and customize training accordingly.
- Be patient. While set up may seem tedious, know that there is a big payoff at the end of all the training.
Pro tip: Simplify training by partnering with a board portal vendor that offers robust training and support services.
2. Simplify the Technology Rollout
Rollout should be done gradually. This way, training and technology kinks can be solved before widespread implementation. For a smooth rollout processes:
- Plan, and then play. The rollout process should not be rushed. For long-term adoption success, document a rollout plan with clear and realistic timelines.
- Phase in the new technology. Give board members time to adjust to new procedures. Do this by providing hard copies, in addition to online files, for a period of time after initial rollout.
- Implement the buddy system. Ask board members to help one another through the training process.
- Keep the portal top-of-mind. Link to content on the portal in emails and documents, so board members are reminded of its functionalities.
3. Plan For Future Use
Ongoing board portal management takes preemptive planning and well-established processes. For best chances of prolonged board portal success, consider these best practices:
- Promote consistency in use. Thoroughly document how board members should use the portal in specific use cases. This includes naming mechanisms for documents and files, and how to communicate through the portal.
- Provide support. Dedicate a staff member to be the liaison between board members and the vendor’s support/training team. Route all inquiries and troubleshooting requests through this individual.
- Commit to the software. Set a precedent for board members by sending all communications, scheduling requests and documents through the board portal. The less you link to resources outside the portal, the better adoption will be.
Share your board portal adoption advice in the comments below.
Find more advice on board management in our recent report: Board Management Tips and Tricks: A Community Curated Guide.
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Good communication is a key part of keeping board members informed and engaged. It keeps activities organized, goals on target and members accountable. A board that lacks proper communication policies and channels risks falling short on duties.
In early 2015, we conducted a nationwide survey to collect board communication best practices (among other management topics). Below, we outline a few pointers shared.
Related content: Download the Board Management Tips and Tricks guide for a full look at what your peers had to say.
1. Create Consistency and Establish Processes
This was commonly citied advice among survey respondents. Communication consistency sets a precedent for expectations, and loops members in on daily activities and goals. To promote consistency, thoroughly document board member communication processes:
- Create standardized naming mechanisms for files and documents.
- Set best practices for each communication channel—i.e. how to best utilize the subject line of an email.
- Document how board members should approach specific communication use cases—i.e. when to have an in-person meeting versus sending an email.
2. Make Communications Count
Agenda-less meetings can result in poor attendance, disengaged members and ultimately unmet board responsibilities. Every meeting should have a purpose, and be focused on results and pertinent decisions.
One way to do this is by sending materials ahead of time. This saves time as the agenda isn’t debated at the meeting, and members can come prepared to dive in and discuss. One survey respondent explained it this way:
“[It lets] them know that I understand they are busy and, as such, they will receive a board packet one week in advance of the meeting. They are expected to review, call me and ask any questions prior to the board meeting and be ready to discuss the action items listed on the agenda.”
3. Solicit Feedback
Feedback is a crucial element of a good communication system, providing the insight needed to re-engage board members and tweak processes for maximum effectiveness.
To improve feedback collection:
- Tie feedback collection strategies to goals. Identify the information you seek based on board goals.
- Promote open communication. Encourage honesty in feedback sessions.
- Activate ideas derived from feedback. Put the gathered information to use. It’s not enough just to listen. Responses must be transformed into action.
Related content: Listen Up! Tips to Improve Board Feedback Collection
Are you looking to better your board’s communication processes? See what else your peers had to say on the matter in our free guide: Board Management Tips & Tricks.
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More and more, organizations are realizing the value of board portals. However, just having a board portal is not enough to enhance processes. Boards must optimally use the technology to garner the most out of it—but how?
To find out, we surveyed board members from across the nation to collect the top tricks they use to get the most out of their board portals.
1. Set Yourself Up for Success
Setting yourself up for success is all about preparation—from researching options to implementation. This begins with securing internal buy-in for the technology by building a proposal that articulates organizational benefits (cost savings, advantages, etc.).
Successful preparation also includes proper vendor evaluations. Don’t settle for the first vendor that comes along. Pick a solution that is easy to use for both you and your board.
Pro tip: Don’t just pick a vendor based on portal features. Also look for quality training and support. For more on how to pick the right vendor, download our free resource: The Board Portal Purchasing Guide.
2. Encourage Participation and Engagement
Participation among members during board meetings is vital to a productive discourse. The same is true when using a board portal; the more board members participate, the more useful the software becomes.
That said, participation could easily be garnered through:
- Open communication. Frequent and open communication promotes organizational transparency and is key to creating a culture of participation.
- Promoting inclusion. Tailor tasks and conversations to board member’s personal and professional lives to make the work more relevant to each member.
- Educating board members on core business units. The better board members understand the organization, the more confident they will be voicing opinions.
- Leading by example. The more you participate and openly communicate, the more likely it’ll be for other board members to do the same.
Pro tip: Ease of use plays a big role in encouraging participation. A more intuitive portal interface is less intimidating for board members to actively use.
3. Be Consistent in Portal Use and Board Management
For ongoing board portal management, consistency matters. This includes being consistent with naming documents, addressing members and timing when materials go live—i.e. meeting agendas.
Consistency in the use of your organization’s portal helps keep the system organized and efficiently run. It also sets expectation levels for members.
With this in mind, consider how training, rollout and continued board management play a role. Standards should be set from the get go to set a precedent for future use.
Pro tip: During implementation, create a document that details communication processes, document file name mechanisms and overall board portal use best practices.
How do you ensure your board is getting the most out of its portal? Share your tips in the comments below!
Find more advice on board management from board members like you in our recent report: Board Management Tips and Tricks: A Community Curated Guide.
A strategic and well thought-out implementation plan is vital to achieving grant management software success.
If rolled out incorrectly, the software may not have the impact you wish on your organization’s processes.
Below, we’ve outlined specific questions to ask and items to consider as you plan your implementation timeline.
What is an Implementation Timeline?
An implementation timeline is a working document that lists activities, responsible parties and estimated time for task execution. It may also include costs, expected obstacles and objectives.
Here’s an example of what an implementation timeline may look like:
Download our guide for an interactive implementation guideline worksheet (found on page 10).
The implementation process varies by industry and organization. Dependent on organizational size, previous processes and inherent ability to adapt, our grant management software can take as little as three months or a long as nine to implement.
Important Factors to Consider
Think through the following as you outline your ideal implementation timeline:
- Who will lead the implementation process? Who will support? Your project leader should be the person with final accountability for grant-related data, both performance and financial. It’s great if this person is also organized, tech-savvy, and willing to learn and ask questions.
- What approvals are needed at each stage in the implementation process? Map out the decision hierarchy for each stage of the process.
Pro tip: Find an executive sponsor, someone within the c-suite who will act as your internal champion and advocate.
- How will the organization integrate or transfer data from its current system? In most cases, this can be done through a series of imports using a template to map data to specific software fields.
- Who will need to be trained on the new system? Identify affected employees. Typically, this consists of the grant management office and any other personnel who handle grants, budgets and finance.
- How does the organization plan to rollout the software? Consider a pilot program to rollout new processes to select employees. Once that runs smoothly, implement organization wide.
- What is the organization’s typical grant calendar? Comb through previous calendars to identify peaks and valleys of busy times. Find a time of year that is commonly less hectic to begin making process changes.
Seek the Right Partnership
As with any technology purchase, a strong vendor partnership can improve your chances of implementation success by streamlining the process. As you evaluate potential partners, ask each:
- What is the typical or recommended implementation timeline?
- Is integration with current processes turnkey, or is development necessary?
- How flexible and customizable is the software?
- How often will the system need to be updated and maintained?
- What level of support is provided in technology rollout and training?
Once you’ve squared away any outstanding questions, it’s time to build out the timeline. Get started with our free guide: Grant Management Software Evaluation Guide. It’s jam packed with helpful information and interactive worksheets.
What key factors will you include in your organization’s grant management software implementation timeline? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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One of the most significant ways to improve your organization’s fundraising (often without investing in any additional resources) is to review and strengthen your grants team.
While a development director, grant writer, and/or an advancement team may oversee grant seeking and oversight, an organization cannot reach its fundraising potential without the full participation of members of the organization’s leadership team.
Organization leadership is responsible for the organization’s fundraising and for developing a comprehensive, long-term fundraising plan. Despite common misconceptions, fundraising, even grant seeking, does not happen alone.
No matter your organization’s size, or how you divide responsibility, here are six tips that every organization can use to develop an effective grants team and raise more money effectively.
1. Have a Mission-Based Long Term Strategy that Reflects the Organization’s Priorities
Too many organizations employ a piecemeal approach to fundraising, submitting funding requests for specific programs without considering the organization’s long term plans. Lacking a long-term perspective can turn off funders that may otherwise be interested in your organization's work.
Internally, lack of a long-term plan can lead to wasted time as staff decide which funders to approach and which programs to seek support for. Taking the time to outline the organization’s priorities and how existing revenue streams are directed lays out a clear path for which core programs need grant support.
2. Have Regular Fundraising Team Meetings
While a clear plan is essential, an organization’s needs and priorities may change as unexpected events arise. A key staff member might retire, a government funding source might end, or a competing organization might close its doors, increasing demand on your organization.
Regular communication among the fundraising team and all leadership, allows for an ongoing team approach to problem solving and keeps fundraising staff informed about activities in other parts of the organization.
3. Track Proposals in a Grants Calendar
Every organization should have the year’s grant requests outlined in a detailed grants calendar. So many pieces comprise a successful proposal—whether service numbers that need to be compiled by program staff, or a signature from a board chair—that tracking requests in a comprehensive calendar helps ensure that quality proposals are submitted on time, with all supporting documentation.
A grants calendar also ensures that things run smoothly if there is a change in personnel. AmpliFund can help you stay organized and keep your grants calendar on track!
4. Know Who Is Responsible For All Aspects of Grant Management
Grant management entails many administrative components, including contacting program officers, submitting proposals, tracking which ones are funded, following up on proposals that weren’t funded, complying with funding requirements, submitting timely and accurate reports, and accurately recording every step in your database. These responsibilities should be clearly delineated so no step is missed.
5. Always Review Proposals
Any funder can recite a list of egregious mistakes they’ve encountered in grant requests, from proposals that name the wrong funder, to a proposal with dollar amounts inconsistent with the project budget. Often these are last minute mistakes that undermine a lot of hard work. Whether it’s the development director editing the grant writer’s work, development staff editing the program staff’s writing, or simply two colleagues supporting one another, time for this important step needs to be built into the grant calendar.
6. Have a Clear Chain of Command (And a Process For Capturing Staff Ideas)
Program staff often have great ideas for funding, and need to know who to bring those ideas to. In turn, the organization also needs to have a protocol for evaluating these ideas and turning them into successful funding requests. One Grants Plus client developed an internal form called “Great Ideas Get Funding.” Any staff member within the organization can complete the form, outlining the program idea and the estimated costs. The staff member’s department head then reviews the form and decides whether to address the idea within the department, or pass the form along to the development staff.
Effective fundraising is deeply integrated into an organization’s activities—from strategic planning, to program development, to management and board meetings. Embracing an integrated approach to fundraising including grant seeking and oversight, and developing the team to administer it, is an essential step to maximizing an organization’s fundraising capacity.
About the Author
Lauren Steiner is both the President and founder of Grants Plus. Lauren worked as a filmmaker, attorney, college instructor, and nonprofit development executive before founding Grants Plus in 2007 to help worthy causes raise more funds. Since then, the firm has secured well over $20 million for organizations around the country. With Lauren’s leadership, Grants Plus received a 2013 Weatherhead 100 Upstart Award, earning the #5 spot out of twenty companies in the region, and a 2014 NEO Success Award.
Grants Plus is a grant writing and research firm, and a valued strategic partner to StreamLink Software. Visit them at grants-plus.com.
To meet an annual reporting requirement set forth by the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) compiled 18 audits that were conducted in fiscal year 2014 on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding. Included audit findings span 13 states, four territories and the District of Columbia, providing a cohesive look at the agency’s grant management and oversight abilities.
The main takeaway: In most cases, audited agencies administered grants appropriately; however, with $14.5 million in questioned costs uncovered, FEMA needs to improve strategic planning and grant activity oversight.
Audit Goals and Objectives
Through 18 audits published in 2014, DHS aimed to uncover if Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) funds were spent as intended and in accordance with federal laws and regulations.
DHS also sought to identify the impact of funds, particularly how they helped “...prevent, prepare for, protect against, and respond to natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other manmade disasters.”
Program Management Recommendations
One hundred sixty-nine actionable recommendations were made for FEMA to better “...strengthen program management, performance and oversight.” FEMA agreed with 165 of them. Recommendations were filed under two categories: state strategic planning processes and state oversight of grant activities. A vast majority of recommendations (127) were attributed to the latter.
Questionable Costs and Recommendations
DHS identified $14.5 million in questionable costs, indicating a lack of standardized processes and grant reporting oversight. Of the 13 states audited, 10 were found to have substantial unidentified expenditures.
Hawaii was the biggest offender with more than $7 million. In Hawaii’s individual assessment, auditors uncovered that the questioned costs resulted from “…[Hawaii] not complying with Federal procurement rules, unsupported personnel time charges, and an inability to support the benefits received by local [sub-recipients] for funds withheld by the State Administrative Agency.”
DHS made 26 recommendations for Hawaii to overcome compliance and questionable cost issues; FEMA agreed with 25 of the 26 recommendations. A few key outstanding (open) recommendations include:
- Develop processes so that the grant management office’s activities are compliant with federal requirements. (Detailed further on page 10.)
- Use available tools to train new staff, prep agency for succession and standardize activities.
- Establish and implement policies and procedures to maintain federal compliance.
- Implement sub-recipient monitoring procedures.
Oregon was another notable offender. According to its individual audit report, of the $30 million received from DHS during fiscal years 2010 through 2012, more than $2 million were unaccounted. Recommendations to rectify this include:
- Improve cost documentation and claiming.
- Better monitor sub-recipients.
- Attribute awarded funds to programmatic efforts within the required timeframe.
- Properly report data and efforts.
As of December 2014, when the DHS report was published, FEMA has taken action on half (85) of the agreed upon recommendations. Eighty-four are unresolved and open.
Learn how grant management software can help realign strategic planning and grant activity oversight. Download our free guide: Finding Your Grant Management Software ROI.
Image Source: Department of Homeland Security
When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Congress approved $29 billion in relief funds to help spur economic development, and rebuild levees, bridges and roads.
However, according to a 2009 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Inspector General, $700 million of those funds are still missing.
The funds were associated with the State of Louisiana’s Road Home Elevation Incentive program, in which money was provided to homeowners to elevate their houses. Four years after fund disbursement, more than 24,000 homeowners were still incompliant, nonresponsive or lacked supporting documentation to prove proper use.
During disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, money must be moved quickly. This can easily open the door for waste, fraud and abuse, due to:
So what lessons did we learn from Hurricane Katrina to mitigate fraud in future disaster relief situations?
1. Standardized, Real-Time Reporting is Required
To properly track funds and performance, reporting needs to be uniform, real time and centralized. When reporting data is submitted in a standardized format at required intervals, analytics tools can be used to prevent fraud before it happens.
This was not the case for Hurricane Katrina. There were no data standards in place between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), HUD and the states, making government coordination between parties difficult.
The use of consistent data standards is the core premise behind the DATA Act, which was signed into law May 2014. The Act requires agencies to report information in compatible formats, so that it can be checked for accuracy, aggregated and made public.
That said, the DATA Act increases transparency along the entire grant management pipeline, and heightens agency and government accountability. Furthermore, as a result of an enforced DATA Act, grant-recipient businesses face new reporting requirements. To remain compliant, they must now report on project performance across the entire grant lifecycle and submit information in standardized formats.
2. Databases Must be Easily Accessible
In addition to being standardized, databases must be easily accessible and usable by emergency management vertical channels. When data is readily available in the right format, funds can be more strategically allocated and monitored. This maximizes impact, and mitigates waste, fraud and abuse.
Inspectors general, government agencies and others shouldn’t have to pull teeth to get the information necessary to properly manage and report on fund use.
3. Information Needs to be Transparent and Public
Standardized, accessible reporting provides the opportunity for improved data presentation (e.g. visualization, mapping, mobile apps, etc.), making it crystal clear where and how funds are allocated, and the results that were achieved.
When this information is posted publicly online, spending becomes transparent. This gives watchdog groups and citizens the ability to see where taxpayer money is going. It also allows the government to better map trends and patterns, and more responsibly allocate resources in real time—a critical task in disaster situations.
Be Prepared When Disaster Hits
When faced with a disaster, proper grant management infrastructure can help agencies avoid calamity of their own through:
- Paperless and consolidated document workflows hosted securely in the cloud, making them accessible anywhere at anytime.
- More thorough recipient and project assessments.
- Increased fund drawdown through improved performance tracking, and better identification of under-achieving projects and abuse.
Is your organization prepared? Let us know below. For more information on changing federal grant regulations, download our fact sheet.
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A software solution is only as effective as it is set up to be. A thoughtful implementation plan must be in place to position the organization to reap the technology’s full impact.
This starts with assembling the right team. Below, we outline the implementation team’s roles and responsibilities.
Find Your Internal Champion
Every new solution needs an internal champion to rally support. Typically, the internal champion also facilitates the initial implementation process—including assembling a team. Strong internal champions possess leadership skills, are good communicators and are not adverse to change.
Assemble the Team
Implementation teams should include four key players: the internal champion, impacted employees, the software curator and the executive sponsor.
Impacted employees are those who will work most closely with the software. Pick a few key players to fill this role. They will mainly help ensure rollout, training and adoption goes smoothly.
The software curator’s main responsibility is to serve as the main point of contact between the organization and software vendor. The software curator is also responsible for keeping up-to-date with new product features and updates, and leading internal training, troubleshooting and process updates.
For this role, select a person to have final accountability for the data or documents that will be entered into the software system. Then, build the above-mentioned responsibilities into their job description to ensure accountability. It’s also beneficial if this person is tech-savvy, or willing to learn and ask questions.
The executive sponsor is a C-suite employee who helps rally internal support and aids the implementation team in overcoming internal roadblocks (e.g. inadequate resources, limited or slow-to-approve budgets, lack of management/key stakeholder buy-in, etc.).
When evaluating potential executive sponsors, seek out an individual who readily grasps software goals and benefits, is willing to advocate for the project internally, and has the authority to make budget, personnel and process decisions.
Often times, having a senior executive onboard and championing a project gives the initiative more weight and priority internally, which results in faster implementation.
The chart below shows the roles and responsibilities of each team member:
In addition to the above outlined responsibilities, participating employees must also:
Promote good communication. A communication plan should be created that outlines the five W’s—who, what, where, when and why—of software selection and rollout. Related: “How To Communicate a Technology Rollout Plan.”
Provide accurate implementation feedback, training and support so that users can be confident in the new system and so that sore spots can be proactively mitigated. This includes understanding, and teaching others, how to use the feedback tools built into the software (if available). Related: “Listen Up! Tips to Improve Board Feedback Collection.”
Be efficient. Involved employees should complete delegated tasks in a timely fashion. The sooner the software is implemented, the sooner the organization can reap its benefits.
For a successful transition, your organization must appropriately plan for the adoption, implementation and long-term perpetuation of the software—and have the right people in place to carry out the initiative.
For more in-depth insight on software rollout, download our free asset: Change Management: Adopt and Implement Grant Management Software.
How do you promote successful software implementation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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