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The Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative: What it Means for Grantees

budget managementIn November 2009, President Obama initiated an Executive Order to reduce improper payments and eliminate waste across federal programs. The Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative is one effort to help the federal government achieve these objectives.

Here’s how the Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative affects your organization’s award activities.

How the Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative Works 

Government agencies use the Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative to determine grantee eligibility prior to releasing federal funds. This ensures that the federal government is only paying out on grants in which recipients are compliant with award requirements. It also allows the federal government to hit a stop button on payments if ineligible. 

To evaluate eligibility, agencies can search, match and analyze data sets within an online portal—known as the Do Not Pay Business Center. Currently available data sets include:

  • Death Master File (DMF)
  • Treasury Offset Program (TOP) Debt Check
  • List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (LEIE)
  • Credit history, social identity matching, and others from Dun and Bradstreet
  • Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
  • System for Award Management / Excluded Party List System (SAM/EPLS)
  • SAM Central Contractor Registration (CCR)

Additional data sets are pending.

Agencies can search available data sets by entering a social security number (SSN), employee identification number (EIN), taxpayer identification number (TIN), first and last name, business name or DUN. From there, they can see a history of compliance, identify parties that are excluded from doing business with the government, learn of past performance metrics and more. In essence, Do Not Pay Business Center’s data allows agencies to prevent improper payments by verifying entity eligibility information. 

Note: Not all government agencies currently implement “Do Not Pay” as it is not legally required.

The Effect on Federal Fund Recipients

Thus far, the Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative has only affected recipients of large sums of federal dollars—i.e. states and counties. While no nonprofit or educational system has had “Do Not Pay” issued against them yet, smaller organizations may become a target down the road as data becomes more readily available via open data initiatives.

The main risk to nonprofits is projection of cash flow. As traditional drawdown cash flow timelines become more mitigated based on programmatic performance and organizational compliance, drawdowns and paybacks will become less concrete. This forces questions like: How do I manage my expenses? How do I know how much cash flow is at risk, even if it’s drawn down? How much might I have to pay back?

To safeguard your organization from stifled cash flow and lost funds, it is wise to put the proper systems in place to maintain compliance. Implement a technology solution to:

  • Record and consolidate grant-related documents.
  • Make data machine-readable.
  • Track programmatic progress, and create performance reports.
  • Assist in meeting deadlines.

The ability to drawdown the full amount of federal dollars awarded will be contingent upon performance and compliance, and your ability to measure both. The Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative is one more stepping stone in the government’s quest for greater spending transparency and accountability.

How does the Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative fit into the greater discussion on open data and government transparency? Download our free ebook, The Path to Open Data, to learn more. 

The Path to Open Data

Image Source: OTA Photos via Flickr

An Overview of States' Open Data Policies and Initiatives

Open DataOpen data is taking the United States by full force, and it’s not just happening at the federal level. Many states are embracing the movement with open arms. As of writing this post, 38 states have launched open data websites and policies. That’s more than three-quarters of the country.

Leading the Pack

While all 38 are trailblazers in the quest for open data, an August 2014 report by the Center for Data Innovation places Maryland, New York, Illinois, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Utah as the six top-scoring states for open data policy and portal accessibility.

All of these states have open data policies that mandate portals disseminate basic government data (including expenditures) in machine-readable format via intuitive user interfaces. Data can also be downloaded or used by third-party developers through APIs.

Below we feature a few of these programs to help guide future state initiatives. 

Maryland

Maryland’s open data policies were established in 2012 via executive order and amended in 2014 via legislation. The policy applies broadly to all government data (not just financial information), requires machine-readability and is enacted statewide.

The policy also established a Council on Open Data to decide what state information would be made public, and what would remain private. The Council is “in charge with moving the state toward more proactively open data,” according to Senator Bill Fergusan.

Maryland’s open data portal—data.maryland.gov—is Socrata-based. Like other Socrata sites, the portal provides searchable open datasets and views with the goal of empowering constituents to be more involved in civic decision-making.

New York

New York formed its open data policy exclusively via executive order. The open data bill came in 2013, seven months after Governor Cuomo issued the order to establish an open data policy.

The state’s open data policies aren’t about simply making datasets open; they are designed to make the information usable and actionable. According to the Center for Data Innovation report, “New York City is one of the most active cities in terms of beneficial use of open data.”

New York’s open data site brings local, state and federal data together into one, consolidated space. It is accompanied by 16 satellite sites that cover specific areas of transparency—i.e. parks and recreation, public transportation and the New York Lottery.

Site visitors can search data sets and view information in multiple formats (e.g. charts, maps, calendars, documents, forms and APIs), then choose to export to a variety of standard formats (XML, JSON, CSV, etc.) or even share on Facebook and Twitter.

Illinois 

Like Maryland, Illinois established its open data policy first through executive order in 2012, and then amended the policy via legislation. The subsequent legislation made clear Illinois’ intentions by specifying that it superseded all contradictory or inconsistent executive orders made prior to its passing.

Illinois' central open data site hosts searchable datasets and views. It also connects five microsites: Health Data, Rockford, Champaign, Belleville and SSMMA, which provide deep-dive information on city- and agency-specific data.

Andrew Ross, chief operating officer of Illinois, speaks to the future of open data: “The open data initiative in Illinois is part of a purposeful and deliberate project-driven approach focused on creating new opportunities for non-government actors who can apply their creativity and critical thinking to transform Illinois’s public data into innovative new services.”

These three states are among those that have gone the extra mile to ensure open data is meeting its true potential. See the full report here for a more in-depth analysis and full data.

How does your state’s open data policies match up to Maryland, New York and Illinois? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For a deeper dive into how local governments are using open data, download our free ebook: The Path to Open Data: Why Cities and Counties Are Sharing More Resources and Information Than Ever Before.

The Path to Open Data

Image Source: Open Knowledge via Flickr

Uniform Grant Guidance: Preparing Your Organization for Compliance [Free Webinar]

federalThe Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG) presents new financial management and federal award requirements that impact both federal agencies and recipients of federal dollars.

Proper preparation and a thorough understanding of what changes UGG will bring is important to overall organizational success.

However, it can be difficult to navigate the intricate changes and requirements by yourself. That’s why we’ve partnered with Sandy Swab to bring you a free webinar on what your organization needs to know to prepare.

About the Webinar

Sandy Swab—formerly senior policy analyst for the OMB—is an independent public sector consultant. Her extensive experience in the federal space, specifically as it pertains to open data, government transparency and compliance, validates her advice and guidance on UGG requirements.

This one-hour webinar is jam-packed with information organizations need to know, including:

  • What changes were made to the UGG, and why.
  • Who will be affected.
  • When changes will go into effect.
  • How public sector award recipients can positions themselves for compliance.

Watch the webinar on-demand.

Register for Webinar

Additional UGG Resources

You can also read up on the UGG and OMB’s goals: 

Image Source: Frankieleon via Flickr

How to Fight Board Member Absenteeism

empty roomA nonprofit board should be the guiding light for the organization. However, this can be difficult to accomplish when members aren’t physically or mentally present at meetings.  

Below, we outline four common causes of board member absenteeism and steps your nonprofit can take to overcome them.

1. Expectations Are Not Clearly Defined 

Boards run into trouble when members’ initial expectations don’t align with expected responsibilities and requirements. Make sure the opportunity is a good fit for both the potential member and the board: 

  • Be upfront about time commitments, roles and responsibilities—including the number, duration and meeting times of board and committee meetings.
  • Document expectations in a centralized place for easy reference.
  • Keep track of attendance, and set a precedent of enforced expectations.
  • Establish processes that encourage ongoing feedback.

For additional pointers and details, read our blog post, How to Properly Set Board Member Expectations.

2. Board Members’ Talents Are Underutilized

Board member absenteeism often starts to materialize once members realize that their skills and talents are not valued or utilized.

Each board member has something unique to bring to the table. These talents should be unearthed during the nomination processes via a skill assessment, so that skills and specialties can be put to use at the onset of the relationship. Conduct one-on-one meetings, small group discussions or administered self-assessments to gain an  understanding of educational backgrounds, areas of interest and specific talents..

With this knowledge on hand, you can better assign board members to specific projects and board meeting roles. You’ll also know who to look to for advice and guidance when meeting discussions arise in specific topic areas.

See here for more information on reversing the effects of unplugged talent.

3. Board Meetings Lack Focus and Meaning

Never meet just to meet. A board meeting without a clear and focused agenda can be viewed as a waste of time by members, and may discourage them from keeping perfect attendance. Avoid this by:

  • Having an agenda that is shared with members prior to meeting.
  • Keeping meetings balanced with a healthy mix of presentations and group discussions.
  • Asking smart questions geared toward metrics.
  • Staying diligent with meeting start and end times.
  • Practicing transparency by sharing meeting minutes.

Read our recent blog post, 5 Tips to Make Board Meetings Meaningful, for a more thorough explanation of how to execute the above suggestions.

4. Board Members Forget to Attend

It may sound silly, but part of the reason board members may not show up to meetings is simply because they forget the day and time. Make it a habit to remind members of each meeting. Consider sending two emails—one a week before the meeting and one the day before.

Another option is to leverage board management technology, which allows you to automate board member meeting and project reminders.

How does your board’s practices compare to others? Learn more about the current state of board management: Download the 2014 Board Engagement Report.

   2014 Board Report

Image Source: KT King via Flickr

Share Your Best Board Management Tips and Tricks

feedback

Editor's note: The survey is now closed. To receive a copy of the report when it is available in Q2 2015, submit a request here.

Boards are vital to the long-term sustainability of NPOs, yet managing them can be plain old hard work.

Between finding the right talent mix, defining roles and delegating responsibilities, and simply keeping everyone informed, board management challenges are widespread.

So, where should one turn when the hurdles are mounting, the best course of action is unclear, or improvements have plateaued? We’d recommend your peers—those individuals and organizations who have “been there, done that.”

And we’re here to help facilitate the discussion.

Submit Your Board Management Best Practices

We’ve all picked up a trick or two along the way—whether it’s an out-of-the box idea to keep members engaged or a simple, yet often overlooked process tweak to improve efficiency. We’ve also all learned hard lessons that, if shared, could save others headaches.

Our team is looking to uncover these board management nuggets of wisdom. To do this, we’re collecting feedback from boards across the country on how to:

  • Improve board member engagement.
  • Recruit and retain members.
  • Simplify board communications and management.
  • Adopt a board portal.  

Join the conversation, and submit your tips here. In return, we'll send you a compilation of the best board management advice we receive to help guide your organization’s governance strategies and processes. We'll also enter you for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

   Share Your Board Tips

Image Source: Alan Levin

Creative Funding: How to Stretch Federal Grant Dollars

stretch grant dollarsIn today’s competitive grant economy, it is important for nonprofits to be frugal with funding dollars. Every dollar wasted or not fully drawn down can negatively contribute to overall program performance and hinder your organization from winning future awards.

Sometimes, to utilize every dollar of your federal grant, you need to get a little creative. Here are four ways to stretch federal grant dollars.

1. Be Diligent About Deadlines

One deadline slip can not only push your goals back, but also cause the organization to miss out on the full amount of federal dollars pledged. Agree upon realistic and attainable deadlines with the grant funder—then, put processes in place to ensure you meet them. A few steps to help you meet deadlines:

  • Care about the deadlines. Realize the importance of meeting the deadline and what implication it has on your organization’s funding relations.
  • Be organized. Deadlines can easily fall through the cracks or sneak up on your office. Create a list or calendar to mark when each task must be completed to stay on track.
  • Over communicate. Communicate with all parties involved each step of the way as you work to complete tasks on time. Update personnel on deadline statuses, roles and responsibilities to make meeting deadlines a team effort.

One foolproof way to achieve the above is by implementing a technology solution such as grant management software. With it, you can track deadlines, automate reminders and maintain communication with your team, all through one consolidated portal.  

2. Maintain Compliance

Staying compliant increases your ability to draw down award dollars, reduce costs associated with bad audits, and set your organization up to win future awards.

With the DATA Act and other government transparency legislation, compliance will become more important and slightly more complicated. But it doesn’t have to be.

Become acquainted with new legislation and individual funder requirements. Some important points include:

  • Grantees will soon be required to submit reports to a single portal in a machine-readable format.
  • In addition to grant performance, award recipients will need to demonstrate that they have a performance management system in place.
  • Grantees will now go through a risk evolution prior to being granted funds to prove past audit issues have been resolved. 
  • Award recipients must uphold consistency in how cost information is managed.

Once you have an understanding of new requirements, put processes in place to ensure continued compliance.  We recommend integrating technology to simplify internal management and reporting.

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, explains, “Any grantee or contractor that invests in systems to connect financial reporting to grant or contract reporting will see that investment repaid once DATA Act standards are in place.” In other words, there’s an early mover advantage to putting the right technology in place to stay compliant—helping stretch grant money further in the future.

3. Cut Back on Administrate Waste

Often times, award funds end up going toward grant management and administrative expenses. In fact, federally funded organizations report spending on average 40% of their time on administrative tasks. That's time that could be going toward program execution and money being expensed as an indirect cost.

Improvements can easily be made to time management, data organization and operational efficiency—and doing so will pay off in a big way. A few examples include:

  • Prepare for yearly audits year-round. Don’t wait until it is down to the wire. By realizing how day-to-day tasks feed into the organization’s yearly audit, you can efficiently gather required documents organically. This way, no additional preparation is needed once auditing season arrives.
  • Automate grant reporting and compliance. By automating certain grant management tasks, personnel can cut administrative time and reallocate it toward revenue-generating and program-execution activities.
  • Streamline processes. Use a technology solution to simplify daily tasks such as communication efforts, deadline reminders and relationship maintenance.

For more specifics, read our blog post, “Three Steps to Reduce Grant Administration Time.”

4. Collaborate with Like-Minded Organizations

Another great way to creatively stretch grant funding is by collaborating with other nonprofit and government organizations that have similar missions. Doing so can result in greater efficiencies and propel program performance, as your organization won’t have to shoulder the brunt of the weight in execution, reporting or compliance.

To start collaborating, look into shared service programs. A shared service program is when two or more nonprofits share office space, equipment, staff and/or programmatic resources. This reduces duplicative efforts, thus making better use of federal funds.

How does your organization stay frugal with federal grant dollars? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Source: Tax Credits via Flickr

OMB Uniform Grant Guidance: Effective Date and What You Need to Know

checklistLast December, OMB published guidance developed by the COFAR with the intent of establishing better performance and accountability for federal awards. After months of soliciting public opinion and questions, OMB released interim requirements that will go into effect for new awards on Dec. 26, 2014.

The OMB Uniform Grant Guidance sets new requirements for financial management of federal awards, impacting both federal agencies and the recipients of federal dollars. Below we outline what provisions are applicable to grantees, and what you need to know to remain compliant.

Performance for Accountability

The OMB Uniform Grant Guidance shifts how grantees are held accountable for performance and results. Award recipients must demonstrate grant programmatic performance, in addition to a performance management system. This means that auditors will be evaluating both the grant performance itself, as well as the systems put in place to actively manage grant performance and hold all responsible parties accountable throughout the life of the grant.

Recipients will go through a risk evaluation prior to award. In order to apply for federal funds, grantees must show they have corrected past audit issues. This type of review will be required by pass-through entities during the award making process.

Standardized Business Systems and Processes

The guidance encourages grantors and grantees to collect, transmit and store federal award-related information in open and machine-readable formats. This follows President Obama’s Open Data Initiative, which was established by Executive Order in May 2013. The directive made machine-readable the new default for government information. That said, machine-readable data is not yet a requirement.

Instead, recipients must demonstrate that they have created consistent standards and systems across internal business processes and data. Standardization allows for better controls over federal dollars.

Additionally, a federal award identifier must be tracked with the funding. Recipients and sub-recipients must record the award ID in their accounts. This guarantees grantees (both primary and sub-recipients) can easily identify where federal dollars were spent.

Consistent and Transparent Treatment of Costs

Most organizations have established a way to consistently and transparently treat costs. However, this grows more complex if sub-recipients or other external parties are involved in grant program execution. The guidance calls for consistency across parties in how cost information is managed.

Recipients also need to make sure they have internal controls in place in order to easily demonstrate accountability over funds.

Future-proof Your Organization

Overall, the new guidance aims to reduce administrative burden, increase government transparency and strengthen program outcomes. As such, federal award-reliant organizations should aim to:

  • Create standards for business processes, data and treatment of costs.
  • Centralize grant management processes.
  • Commit to measurable performance outcomes.

Specific questions can be submitted to cofar@omb.eop.gov. For more information and frequently asked questions, visit the COFAR website.

To learn more about how grant managers can prepare for government grant reform, download our whitepaper, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.

 Grant Reporting Whitepaper

Image Source: Jurgen Appelo

Align Grant Research and Management for Maximum Impact

Grant ResearchWhen workflows and tasks are siloed, it can be nearly impossible to promote a grant management system from beginning to completion.

Organizations can increase efficiencies, as well as save time and money, by better connecting grant research with management. Here are three tips for maximum impact.

    1. Align Awards with Organizational Goals

      When executing pre-award activities, such as grant research and proposals, it is important to understand the future impact of your actions. If won, how will these awards fit into the organization’s greater plan?

      To start, meet with internal goal setters—whether board members or upper management. Discuss what types of grants will most benefit the organization based on desired performance results and overall vision. Then, focus grant research efforts there.

      Think big picture. Strengthen award applications by including detailed information on target audiences, budgets, goals and performance measurement plans.

        2. Use Targeted Grant Submissions

          Targeted searches of available grants will yield greater pre-award efficiency and success. Leverage grant research technology to easily search opportunities by category, eligibility requirements, deadline, funder types, terms and/or geographies.

          For example, imagine your nonprofit is looking for federal grants in the energy sector with a deadline after March 2015. Grant research tools will quickly scan multiple databases, evaluate grants based on your pre-set criteria and then aggregate matches for you.

          Using research technology to narrow results like this reduces administrative time. No longer do you need to manually scour multiple federal, state, foundation and corporate grants to find those that are most applicable to your nonprofit. The software does it for you.

          Some research tools even allow you save your search parameters, notifying you of new matches to criteria ongoing. 

            3. Plan for Performance Monitoring

              Performance monitoring should be an ongoing activity within your grant management office, and the most successful teams leverage technology to simplify.

              For the best results from the start, utilize a grant research tool that allows you to export grant details into your management platform, such as the grant name, funding organization and individual contact data. With two compatible tools, you won’t need to retype grant research data. Instead, needed information will transfer with ease, so that you can focus your time on what really matters—grant execution.

              StreamLink Software’s recent partnership with EfficentGov brings AmpliFund users the ability to connect research and management with seamless integration.

              Learn MoreGrantFinder

              How does your organization align grant research and management? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

              Image Source: Opensource.com via Flickr

              Creative Ways To Find New Grant Funder Prospects

              describe the imageCreativity can be a valuable tool throughout the grant seeking process, especially in funder prospect research.

              The basis of any successful grant proposal begins with in-depth research to target funders best suited to an organization’s programs. In most cases, grant proposals are only selected for funding if they are in alignment directly with a funder’s priorities.

              Therefore, identifying the right funders to send proposals for a specific program is both an art and a science, but where to start? 

              Here are three fantastic methods for finding new grant funders:

              1. Databases
              2. Online Thoroughfares
              3. Brainstorming

              Databases

              It may help you to start with a search in a comprehensive database like GrantFinder, which compiles information on federal, state, corporate, and foundation sources. Not only can it provide you with a great starting point, but also give you an indication of whether your proposed project will be of more interest to public or private funders, depending on the results of your search.

              The Foundation Center Library

              For private funding, the premier repository of private grant information is the Foundation Center Library (FCL). Understanding nonprofit organizations is the FCL’s strength—as a nonprofit itself—and its mission is to help the community access funding.

              The FCL’s online database is searchable by keywords and includes a directory called “fields of interest.” This is a general list with subjects such as “Agriculture” and “Healthcare.” Comb through the fields of interest list for terms that could apply to your organization. This can take additional time, but it can be illuminating.

              Online Thoroughfares

              Using search engines such as Google may seem obvious, however, how you use them speaks to your creativity. Additionally, you’ll locate sources that would never arise from a traditional directory search.

              • Statistics reveal that 94% of Google’s users don’t click beyond the first page of search results.
              • A smaller funder that might be the perfect fit for your program will likely not show up on the first page, so always explore the google search results several pages deep.
              • Google searches can lead to other similar nonprofit organization’s websites, which can unearth a goldmine of potential funders. Look for funders listed on these sites and zero in on them.

              As an example, Grants Plus recently conducted grant prospect research for an advanced energy initiative. Google searches led us to several exceptional sources, from news articles about funding to other types of projects in this field to an outstanding regional report on business development in advanced energy.

              From this report we uncovered several public funding opportunities and identified the leading companies working in the industry. From there we were able to target our search to each of the company’s corporate giving programs, and we identified several great prospects for the client using this creative approach.

              The Brainstorming Approach

               Brainstorming is a great way to get creative while also staying organized. If you’re at a loss for keywords, try this low-tech approach:

              • Read through your organization’s background materials
              • Highlight keywords and write down additional keywords as they come to mind
              • Try to conceive any variations of words and phrases that could be used when searching

              As you’re working, cross things off that might not apply. Remember to be thorough so that you can be confident that all funding possibilities have been explored.

              To get started finding new prospects, check out GrantFinder today.

               

              About the Author

              Lauren S. 2014 blog pic (GP)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.

              How to Properly Set Board Member Expectations

              Board expectationsLow board engagement and organizational effectiveness are often caused by passively managed expectations.  From interviewing through the lifespan of a sitting member, board directors must properly communicate goals, priorities and performance metrics. Here’s how;

               1.    Start at the Beginning

              The best way to garner good habits is to set a precedent from the get-go. While interviewing prospective members, consider asking them:

              • How much time they can dedicate to the board beyond standard meeting hours
              • What elements and characteristics they are looking for in a board
              • How they will evaluate the successfulness of the board and their involvement
              • What expectations they have

              Smart vetting practices ensure your board is staffed with members who are willing and able to meet set standards and expectations.

               2.    Clearly State Responsibilities

              Don’t assume that expectations are known. You can’t hold board members accountable to expectations that you never set. As you bring on new members, clearly overview board goals and responsibilities with them so that they understand what their role will be. In these discussions, articulate the time and financial commitment, as well as how you will evaluate their performance.

              In addition, kick off the first meeting of every year with a refresher.  Include this information in the meeting materials for easy reference by all members.

               3.    Enforce Expectations

              Expectations will only be met if enforced. Draft a policy to inform members of the repercussions of not meeting set expectations. For example, perhaps they will get a warning first, but be asked to resign from their post after repeat offenses. 

              Utilize a technology solution, such as a board portal, to track board member’s meeting attendance and contributions, then run reports to see who is exceeding (or missing) the mark. Use this information as talking points when enforcing expectations.

               4.    Ask for Feedback

              Are expectations feasible? Ask your board membersNot only will this aid you in formulating appropriate and manageable expectations, but it will also allow members to feel that they have a say over processes. As with any group, members involved in strategy are more likely to put their best foot forward.

              What tactics do you use to manage board expectations? Share your thoughts below.

              Image Source: Opensource.come via Flickr

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