As open data polices expand, a change in the way grants are managed becomes necessary. New federal regulations place responsibility on recipients to appropriately adapt reporting processes in order to accurately measure grant performance.
Here are three steps grant managers can take to remain compliant as governmental regulations evolve.
1. Understand Regulations and Requirements
To fully adapt to new policies and requirements, like the Uniform Grant Guidance and DATA Act, your team and sub-recipients must have an in-depth knowledge of new grant management standards.
Consider training options and available resources to educate your team and onboard correctly. Some organizations that you may find helpful are:
While some of the regulatory specifics have yet to be announced, these organizations can keep you on track with the latest updates.
2. Refine Grant Management Strategies
The grant management process is going to continue to change amidst new federal policies, and so your internal management practices should reflect that. Develop strategies to properly manage performance. Your organization should be able to:
- Create internal reports that identify timeframes, milestones and deliverables; link financial expenditures to activities; review cost spent against grant progress; and evaluate results against the overall project plan.
- Manage specific project activities, including contracts, funds and staff.
- Properly tag resources and activities with federal award identifiers, such as award ID, CFDA, program, etc. If internal identifiers are required, link them to required award data for federal reports.
Refining your grant management processes ensures you are actively and appropriately monitoring performance-driven measures.
3. Better Monitor Grant Data
To remain compliant, your organization will need to gather data in a way that effectively links financial and performance results. Reports will also have to include federal identifiers, and meet open data submission and format standards.
Since reports and data will likely need to be pulled more frequently to provide transparency to the public, automation of grant information will help:
- Ensure accuracy.
- Reduce time and resources to mange.
- Structure data for easy report submission.
Is your organization prepared to report on grant performance? Watch our webinar with public sector consultant Sandy Swab on-demand to find out: “Uniform Grant Guidance: How to Connect Performance and Financial Data.”
How will your organization stay compliant with new federal regulations? Let us know in the comments below.
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Editor's note: The survey is now closed. Please check back on the StreamLink Software website in Q4 2015 for key findings.
In our 2014 board engagement survey, 22% of respondents felt their talents were not effectively being utilized, leaving crucial assets to growing and sustaining nonprofits left untapped.
Board members are key for nonprofit success, and solid engagement should be encouraged.
So, how has the state of board engagement shifted over the past year? What are organizations doing to ensure board member motivation does not diminish?
Respond to our survey to help us find out!
With your participation, we can gather valuable insight on:
- Board portal technology adoption
- Alignment of board expectations and responsibilities
- Board management and communication practices
- Common pains and frustrations
- Skillset utilization
- Member engagement, impact and satisfaction levels
Responses will be compiled anonymously to create our 2015 Board Engagement Report, as a resource for developing strategies to improve engagement across the board.
If you take the time out of your busy day to help us, we want to thank you! To express our appreciation, all respondents will be entered for a chance to win a $250 Amazon gift card.
Editor's note: The survey is now closed. Please check back on the StreamLink Software website in Q4 2015 for key findings.
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Board portals are an effective way to reduce costs and build organizational capacity through more strategic and streamlined resource allocation.
A key factor in facilitating board portal adoption is gaining support from key decision makers. Below are steps you should take when seeking executive sponsorship.
Do Your Research
Before pitching a new technology to executives, first do your research. When conducting research and comparing vendors, consider factors such as:
- Alignment of features and functionality with organizational needs.
- Existing board management processes and improvement opportunities.
- How much the platform will cost.
- How much your organization can save in terms of time and printing costs.
- Organization size and capabilities.
- Return on investment.
Find a board portal that’s easy to implement and aligns with your organization’s goals.
Present the many ways your organization can increase ROI and productivity with board portal adoption. Highlight the key benefits discovered during your research phase, so executives can see the big-picture advantages:
- Centralize all valuable information online and streamline efficiency.
- Create and mange board member profiles to increase engagement.
- Enhance meeting management with calendars, automated reminders, and easily accessible agendas and minutes.
- Increase communication across the board.
These benefits enhance board member processes to cut admin time, and help you reach revenue goals by boosting board member satisfaction and productivity, increasing board fundraising participation, and reducing paper and printing costs.
Provide an Implementation Plan
Show executives exactly how the implementation process would work by mapping out a detailed plan. Specifics to include in your plan are:
- Determine potential candidates to test the system, utilizing a pilot program.
- Evaluate how long the implementation period will be from start to finish.
- Gather essential resources needed to train board members.
- Identify necessary requirements needed to begin the process, such as setup capabilities and hosting specifications.
Implementing a new system can be intimidating at first. Paint a picture for executives so they can see how seamless the transition can be if done properly.
Is your organization looking to adopt board portal technology? Download a free copy of our guide to learn more: “Board Portal Purchasing Guide.”
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The transition to grant management software can be a bit intimidating, and sometimes cause unwanted uncertainty throughout your organization.
Although new technology can increase overall grant management quality, it may be difficult to get everyone on board and properly using the system at first. A pilot program allows you to test the software with a sample group before making the big plunge.
Wondering if a technology pilot program is the best fit for your organization? Outlined below are pilot program pros, cons and tips to succeed.
Pilot programs are a great way to experiment with new programs. In doing so, you can identify implementation challenges early, allowing larger-scale adoption to run more smoothly. Overcome future problems by:
- Documenting lessons learned.
- Testing the effectiveness of your planned process.
- Uncovering hiccups that slow down tasks.
This saves time and money. By working out problems on a much smaller spectrum, you can avoid wasting resources in the long run due to inefficiencies.
A pilot program can also help build a network of technology supporters. Employees that participate in the pilot have the chance to see first hand the software’s value. These individuals can then become your internal advocates, helping sell the idea to others, answer end-user questions and more.
Pilot program results and data can also be leveraged to garner support. Gauge overall effectiveness by comparing performance with the technology to more traditional methods, and then share these results with your team.
A pilot program may signal a sense of doubt in the technology to employees. Be careful how the project is branded, and proactively communicate to employees the need and benefits of testing.
To eliminate confusion, you also may have to establish new processes during the pilot program period. Since some employees will be using the new technology while others historical processes, there is the potential for data and information to get mixed up in translation.
Evaluating Your Options
Before diving into a pilot program, make sure this is the best option for your organization. Ask yourself:
- Do my employees understand the value of the software we want to implement? If your employees do not, a pilot program is a good way to show what the technology has to offer.
- Do we have a logical group of employees willing to test the program? For a pilot program to be successful, you must have a dedicated testing group.
- How immediate is the need for change and results? A pilot program will add a minimum of three to six months before organization-wide rollout. Consider your timeframe carefully before making a decision.
- Is my organization large enough to need a pilot program? If your organization is small, a pilot program may not be needed. At larger organizations, however, they allow a portion of employees to test and analyze instead of everyone at once.
- Will a pilot program be more beneficial than time-consuming? Overall, you must consider if a pilot program is going to save resources in the long run. Evaluate the effort that will go into testing against the value those tests could create to make sure you are not wasting unnecessary time.
Tips to Succeed
If you have weighed the pros and cons of a pilot program and find it is the right fit for your organization, follow these steps to ensure ultimate success:
- Define your organization and employee’s specific accomplishments and goals.
- Select individual employees to test the system before implementing the program across the entire organization.
- Provide an open communication forum for employees and participants to provide in-depth feedback.
For more information on how to properly implement a technology pilot program, see our guide, Change Management: Adopt and Implement Grant Management Software.
What are your thoughts on the use of pilot programs? Let us know in the comments below.
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Reduced budget. Limited resources. Potential cutbacks. Heightened funding competition.
Any of these sound familiar?
Funding competition is leading more counties and municipalities to collaborate on shared, and often regional, challenges. Fortunately, consortia grants and open data are making it easier for neighboring communities to work together.
This post touches on several recent examples of counties that have found success with this emerging model.
Arkansas Airport Updates
A $1.8 million federal grant will be shared by five Arkansas airports. The Department of Transportation funding will support equipment installation and infrastructure updates, including runway and taxiway lighting, and taxiway and apron rehabilitation.
According to members of the Arkansas congressional delegation, the infrastructure improvements will boost tourism in the area, which will lead to local business growth, job creation and a strengthened regional economy.
Michigan Community Forest
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced the award of a $1.7 million grant to fund the state’s Community Forest Program (CFP). Federal funds will support two community forests, totaling 1,114 acres. The forests will protect regional wildlife, and provide recreational and educational opportunities.
Iowa Regional Planning Commission
The Area 15 Regional Planning Commission (RPC) was awarded federal funds that will support the organization’s operations. The commission, which represents six counties throughout Iowa, supports regional service delivery coordination, planning and advocacy. The RPC’s primary goal for the funding is to support economic development and regional job creation.
Massachusetts Manufacturing Industry
Eight counties in western Massachusetts will share $3.3 million of a nationwide grant to bolster manufacturing jobs in the region. Funds will be used to work with employers and educators to connect workers to training and job opportunities in the state.
The Rise (and Challenge) of Consortia Grants
These are just a few promising success stories when regional communities band together to share resources. The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) 2014 Summer Conference touched on this as a major theme. Social epidemics, population shifts and demographic changes often affect entire regions, and can give rise to common challenges across neighboring counties. When this is the case, tackling these challenges together can lead to better social service delivery and improved quality of life.
Now, counties can leverage open data to identify overlapping challenges, consolidate service delivery and coordinate program efforts. The National Association of Counties (NACo) used its 2014 conference to unveil County Intelligence Connection (CIC) 2.0. The big-data tool features a color-coded map of demographic and financial information, and other public datasets. CIC 2.0 is designed to help counties make informed policy decisions by better understanding the needs of their own—and neighboring—communities.
Public policy, such as the DATA Act, will give citizens, government agencies and nonprofit organizations greater insight into spending at every level of government. Jesse Buggs, Director, Office of Grant Development and Administration, City of Bowie, believes that greater transparency will help local governments accomplish their goals and provide better citizen services:
“I think it would be nothing but an asset to all of us. The whole concept of data transparency enables us to see the kinds and levels of projects that others are engaged in. This way, we can see to what extent we might be able to collaborate with each other and thus enhance the services we provide to citizens.”
But consortia grants complicate already labor-intensive grant management reporting processes, which grow more complex as federal reforms advance. To successfully execute and comply with federal consortia grants, prime recipients must have adequate processes and systems in place to track dollars through to sub-recipients, and roll information back up for post-award reporting.
Ideally, this information is captured as data, so it can be passed between systems and recipients in a consistent format, and manipulated into needed reports. Grant management software is a proven solution for sophisticated tracking and reporting needs.
To learn more about cities and counties problem-solving beyond borders, the impact of heightened spending accountability, and the trickle-down effect of open data, download our free ebook, The Path to Open Data.
Are you using consortia grants to collaborate with neighboring communities? How can counties better coordinate efforts to solve regional challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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As organizations prepare for Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG) compliance, they will need to demonstrate sound organizational business practices, proper fund management, and oversight. Solid internal reporting is the first step.
Here is an overview of the internal performance and financial reports you should be running to monitor and prepare for compliance.
Performance Measures Report
New Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations focus on performance measurement, requiring nonprofits to link tangible results to goals and expectations.
Running consistent internal reports provides grant mangers the opportunity to catch mistakes, poor performance, cost overruns and delays early, so that organizations remain compliant with award terms and federal requirements.
Internal reports should identify:
- Programmatic goals, indicators and milestones.
- Deliverable timelines.
- Activities undertaken—they can be specific or narrative, depending on the milestone, deliverable or goal.
- Estimate on percentage complete.
- Outputs and outcomes.
Financial Expenditures Report
The importance of carefully monitoring financial data for accurate reporting cannot be stressed enough. To meet OMB standards, performance results must be connected to financial expenditures. Internal financial reports should identify:
- Cost and trend data, when applicable.
- Financial expenditures by project activity.
- Time spent and costs per activity compared to budget.
When compiling reports, create internal identifiers so that your organization can associate resources with individual activities and awards. Use these internal identifiers to link required award data to federal reports.
When analyzing your organization’s internal results, compare reports to your project plan, detailed work plan, and defined milestones. In addition, look at performance progress reports against financial reports to identify total expenditures and activities within your specified timelines. Regular review allows you to accurately produce your finalized award report for submission to the funding agency.
Electronic systems can be used to help standardize reporting processes. With grant management software, digitally track and store data to improve transparency and reporting efficiency. Data is automatically gathered in approved data collection formats and aligned with government standards for easy reporting.
Want to know more on how you can prepare for programmatic performance? Watch our webinar, “Uniform Grant Guidance: How to Connect Performance and Financial Data.”
How is your organization preparing for programmatic performance reporting?
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Finding impeccable board member candidates for your nonprofit can be tricky—but with a strategic plan it doesn’t have to be. Outlined below are five tips to help recruit and retain board member talent.
1. Recruit Like-Minded Individuals
To assure passion, board members should appropriately align with your organization’s beliefs and values. To find like-minded prospects, begin your outreach with your existing inner circle. Consider reaching out to the following for referrals:
- Current and past board members
- Local community foundations
Tapping existing connections allows you to gain deeper insights into whether individuals are a good fit. In our recent report, board member, Kelly Medwick of Nebraska Children and Families Foundation said, “People like to serve on boards with others they like and respect.”
2. Define Roles and Expectations
To eliminate any confusion, establish board member expectations early during the recruitment process. Be honest and transparent with your candidates; clearly explain what their role would be within your organization. Define specific expectations, such as:
- Board member benefits
- Financial commitment
- Job title and role
- Responsibilities and duties
- Time commitment
When onboarding new board members, give them a copy of expectations for reference.
3. Match Cultural Characteristics
In addition to aligning with values and beliefs, board members must also connect with your organization’s culture. According to the Small Business Chronicle, culture alignment is crucial to create:
- Healthy competition
- Self and organizational identity
4. Promote Effective Communication
A clear communication path keeps board members on the same page. Meet frequently with your team, so all board members are up-to-date on the latest projects, events, etc.
An effective way to maintain communication is by utilizing board management technology to stay organized, promote transparency and streamline processes.
5. Encourage Ongoing Involvement
The number-one way to keep your board members engaged and passionate is to encourage organizational involvement. Get your board members excited about fundraising, projects and special events by providing them hands-on experience.
Mark Collins of Cascadia Community College Foundation stated in our report, “Nothing replaces getting into the community and developing connections.”
Find opportunities for each board member to use their skills and expertise by aligning them with roles that allow them to shine. The better they connect with your organization and duties, the more they will want to get involved.
Want to learn more on recruiting and retaining the perfect board members for your organization? Download a free copy of, “Board Management Tips and Tricks: A Community Curated Guide.”
What strategies does your organization use to recruit and retain board members? Share in the comments below.
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Following the second annual DATA Act Summit, we hear from Data Transparency Coalition Founder and Executive Director Hudson Hollister on how far the movement has come, and what's next for the DTC. Read the first post in this two-part series: The Data Transparency Movement: An Interview with Hudson Hollister.
It has been one year since the DATA Act was signed into law. Federal agencies, government contractors and nonprofits have spent the past 12 months trying to better understand what the DATA Act will mean for them.
We spoke with Hudson Hollister, founder and executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, about the progress made thus far, and how to prepare for what’s to come.
In the year since the DATA Act’s passage, the White House has continued the conversation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was named as the pilot program, and OMB and the Treasury Department released the act’s data standards. How do you feel about the progress made over the past 12 months?
Overall, we're really excited about the progress that's been made. The DATA Act was enacted on May 9, 2014, and requires the Treasury and OMB to figure out data standards for all federal spending. This is a huge job. They have to create common data fields to be imposed on the whole thing, along with a schema that explains how these fields relate to one other.
The biggest news on the DATA Act was the recent release of standards by OMB and the Treasury Department, which outlines 57 standard data elements and a common format, or schema, for submitting spending data. These data standards, along with the Treasury’s DATA Act “Playbook,” are written for government agencies. What should grant recipients take from these? Why should they care?
Today, there is not a direct requirement for grantees to use the standard data elements in grant reporting. However, this central data element repository could become the basic lingo of all grant reporting in the near future. And it’s a good thing if it does, because it will create more predictability for everyone.
Not only that, it means that software (like AmpliFund) may be able to automatically communicate with agency systems and the centralized system on grants.gov much more effectively than anyone can do right now. And that means cheaper compliance.
Looking ahead, what should we expect from the federal government in the next 6 – 12 months?
I think we'll see flagship projects go public. We think some agencies are moving faster than others. We also hope to see more announcements out of the HHS pilot program. The Data Transparency Coalition will continue to host large and small events to provide a venue for these conversations to happen.
In addition, we hope that grantees will engage with the Association of Government Accountants, which is the organization probably best placed to bring federal grantors and grantees together.
Agencies, grantees and contractors will all face challenges over the next couple years. For agencies, the challenge is that they have two years to start using these data standards to report finances, budgets, grants and contracts.
For grantees and contractors, everything depends on the pilot program. There is not a direct requirement to use these data standards in grant reporting (at least not yet). Instead, OMB has assigned HHS to complete a pilot program to test whether all this works.
HHS is going to take the defined 57 data elements plus others in the data element repository, and will recruit volunteers. Agencies and grantees that are willing to try to use common elements in their grant reporting will help determine whether it’s possible to use that common list of data elements to automatically report to multiple agencies.
If that is successful, the standards will be rolled out universally. Criteria for the pilot program are spelled out in Section 5 of the DATA Act. That said, OMB has very wide latitude to decide whether the criteria are being met.
What is your top advice for agencies and recipients that are starting to prepare for this transition?
Agencies: Don’t wait two years. Look at the standard data elements, and figure out how they map to existing systems. Figure that out soon.
The Treasury has put out a playbook for agencies that has a lot of good advice. (The playbook is not public, but the Treasury published a one-page summary.) I’d also recommend that they participate in all of the forums that the Treasury and OMB are going to be hosting.
To grantees, I’d recommend that they look at the central data element repository. If you are one of the lucky grantees that has integrated your grant management already using tools like AmpliFund, then talk to them about how your internal grant management might relate to the central data element repository.
Talk to the HHS DATA Act Program Management Office (PMO); they’re happy to hear from you. They want to make life easier for grantees and will be looking for volunteers for the pilot program.
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On May 20, 2015, House representatives, Darrell Issa, Ralph Abraham and Jared Polis introduced the Financial Transparency Act of 2015. The act would standardize the way financial reporting processes are run to make data more accessible and machine-readable.
The Purpose of the Financial Transparency Act
If passed, the bill will require nine financial regulatory agencies to adopt consistent data standards for information gathered under securities, commodities, and banking laws. Agencies affected include:
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
- Federal Housing Finance Agency.
- Federal Reserve.
- National Credit Union Administration.
- Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
- Treasury Department.
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
These regulatory agencies will be required to transform their reporting systems from disconnected documents (for example PDFs and plain-text HTML) to more accessible, machine-readable formats like XML and XBRL. Structured data will allow regulators to consolidate and analyze financial information, and enhance fraud and risk detection. It will also enable compliance automation for banks, firms and public companies.
The Financial Transparency Act provides:
- Adoption of a legal entity identifier (LEI) within reporting systems to help agencies match filings with multiple regulators.
- Data standards for financial regulatory reporting.
- Improvements to reporting at the Security Exchange Commission (SEC).
- Open, searchable data disclosure of public information. Note: Agencies will only be required to share information that they have had to deliver in previous reports. The intent is to make already available information more accessible.
This bill was referred to a congressional committee on the day it was announced. The Financial Transparency Act will be considered by the House Agriculture and House Financial Services to determine if it will be passed onto the House of Representatives and the Senate. No votes have been made at this point.
The Future of Open Data
The Financial Transparency Act would take the nation one step closer to cross-industry implementation of open data reporting processes by transforming the financial regulatory world in the same way that the DATA Act did grants and contracts.
To learn about the reporting precedent set by the DATA Act, download our fact sheet.
With data standardization, reporting can be automated, information made readily available to the public, and risk and fraud avoided early.
How will open data initiatives affect your industry? Share with us in the comments below.
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One of the most crucial board responsibilities is keeping nonprofits financially accountable. And as open data initiatives roll out at the federal level (e.g. the DATA Act and OMB Uniform Grant Guidance), organizational transparency grows in importance.
Board members must understand how new grant-reporting changes will increase their fiduciary responsibilities by calling even more attention to fund oversight and performance.
Board Member Responsibilities
Board members are required to be honest and trustworthy role models for the organizations they represent. To help their nonprofits succeed and avoid unnecessary risks, each board member should be able to:
- Demonstrate knowledge of financials.
- Enforce legal and ethical values.
- Evaluate planning and reporting processes.
- Make strategic decisions.
New Grant Legislation Increases Responsibilities
Core responsibilities remain the same. However, as public and private funders focus more on grant performance, and crack down on waste, fraud and abuse, board members must become even more accountable for their actions and spending.
To be compliant with new grant legislation, boards will be expected to:
- Eliminate wasteful processes and projects.
- Evaluate activities against performance measures.
- Strategically allocate resources based on historical results.
- Increase accountability of financials and activities.
- Pinpoint fraud and abuse within their organizations.
By placing accountability center stage, board members can avoid unnecessary setbacks and ensure organizational compliance. Board members should work closely with their nonprofit’s staff to answer questions, such as:
- How consistent is our strategic plan compared to our financial plan?
- Are we meeting our goals and requirements within pre-established timeframes?
- Do performance reports and activities appropriately match up?
- Are all processes compliant with new regulations?
- Are our expenses appropriately spent and documented?
Checks and balances should be a number-one priority for all board members.
Financial Monitoring and Reporting
Properly organized information allows boards to catch errors and challenges early, so unnecessary mistakes, lost funds and legal liabilities can be avoided.
To create more detailed and accurate reports, internal processes are essential. A structured system must be in place to compile, manage and monitor spend and performance data. All internal reports should include:
- Accurate performance measures.
- Financial activity.
- Internal identifiers.
- Timeframes, milestones and deliverables.
Verify your organization is running both internal management reports and financial expenditure reports on grant money.
Want to learn what your organization can expect to see from new federal grant-reporting initiatives? Download our free fact sheet.
How will you help your nonprofit stay compliant? Share with us in the comments below.
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