A newly introduced technology will not succeed if user adoption is low. Pilot programs offer organizations the ability to rollout new technology in small numbers before attempting large-scale implementation.
In doing so, you can:
- Define best practices when using the new solution
- Identify kinks, challenges and onboarding issues
- Document lessons learned before full implementation
To execute an effective pilot program, consider who in the organization should implement, what projects should be included and feedback parameters. Below are three steps to get started.
1. Define Success
First, define what success of the pilot program looks like. This gives you a benchmark to compare against later, and helps you judge at the program’s completion if the technology is indeed ready for organization-wide rollout.
For many organizations, success is defined as time saved. Look at current daily tasks and administrative time, and define a realistic time-reduction goal. Keep in mind that time spent will spike when staff is first learning to how to use a new tool. Upon gaining comfort and familiarity with the technology, time spent should level off and decrease.
2. Who Should Test The Technology?
Next, identify your testing group. Those involved will vary based on the size of your organization and the type of technology you have set out to implement.
Pick the departments, or groups, that would find the most benefit in the product. For example, if you pilot a grant management software solution, perform a trial of the software first on a few grants or projects. In the case of the Grants Reporting Information Project (GRIP), a federal pilot, nine fund recipients and two agency participants were selected.
Choose participants that are open to the idea of a new tool. Adoption is easier when your testing group has an open mind.
With participants in place, set up an implementation infrastructure comprised of a timetable and resource center. Thoroughly explain the goals of the program to all involved, give detailed instructions, answer questions, and provide technology training and ongoing support.
3. Solicit Feedback
A pilot program holds no value unless lessons are learned and end-user feedback is collected. Establish your desire for input at the beginning of implementation.
Provide an open communication forum so that users feel free to speak about their experience, give recommendations and explain their findings.
How feedback is collected will vary based on the type of pilot project. Consider the scope of the rollout, available budgets and goals to determine which metrics should be evaluated and the best way to gather them. Often, you’ll find a mix of formal and informal feedback methods ideal. This may include:
- Self assessments at the start of the pilot program
- Quantitative data collection, such as time invested in training or resources saved once implemented
- Participant debriefings at the close of the pilot through questionnaires, surveys and/or group discussions
- Open channels for informal feedback throughout rollout
It is important to solicit feedback in a way that allows your staff to feel that their voice and opinions are valued. They could hold the key to imperative information that would make a large scale rollout easier.
At the completion of the pilot, use insight gained as a guide to address and fix challenges, and rally support of other departments or stakeholders.
Nonprofit and public sector organizations can benefit from a number of different technology solutions. The use of pilot programs greatly increases adoption rate and makes for more seamless transitions.
Is your nonprofit ready to execute a grant management technology pilot program? If so, feel free to contact us for support with implementation and getting started.
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Jesse Buggs is the Director, Office of Grant Development and Administration, City of Bowie, Maryland and immediate past President of the Grant Professionals Association, National Capital Area Chapter.
Buggs offered StreamLink Software insight on the evolving role of the grant manager and the impact of federal reporting changes on award-reliant organizations.
Note: Responses have been edited slightly for readability.
StreamLink Software: As the federal government works to centralize and standardize data, what changes should grant recipients expect?
Buggs: “If they get this right, the greatest change will be a simplified process in which agencies—that handle multiple grants across different agencies within the federal government—can use single portal entry for basic information and exponential data. This is opposed to going into multiple portals for every single agency they have a contract or grant from to enter simple data.
That will save considerable time and enable us to do a number of other things with the added resources.
Right now, the reporting process is rather laborious and arduous in that every federal agency has its own systems and requirements. For us to continue that process at the level being requested would be difficult. A number of initiatives—of which the DATA Act is the latest—would certainly help to solve these problems.”
StreamLink Software: Do you expect performance and ROI to become a part of grant application process?
Buggs: “Yes, that is already occurring in some federal agencies. Outputs, outcomes and certain metrics are already being requested. That is the only way you get to know, not only if the money is spent, but also what the money was spent on and the timing of fund disbursements
The issue of performance is already something that has been discussed for a number of years. Many of the initiatives we are talking about that are encapsulated in the DATA Act have been ongoing now for some time.
The DATA Act is attempting to make law what the Obama Administration created through the development of federalreporting.gov. Nothing but a win-win for all of us.”
StreamLink Software: Assuming that the DATA Act is passed, how soon will it impact grant recipients?
Buggs: “It has already begun. It is clear that the DATA Act is expected to be passed sometime soon. A number of different federal agencies have already begun the introductory processes to adapt to the ways we file and request information.
The DATA Act itself will just make law a number of things that were executive order by President Obama. Given the current state of affairs and congressional activity, it could be a period of about five years before it is fully at our door. However, right now, every federal agency is facing issues in anticipation of the Act passing.”
Learn more about the changes in grant reporting in our white paper, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.
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StreamLink Software spoke to Jesse Buggs, Director, Office of Grant Development and Administration, City of Bowie, on how the changing landscape of grant management would impact municipalities and other government agencies.
Below are excerpts from the interview. Note: Responses have been edited slightly for readability.
StreamLink Software: Do new data reporting requirements have the potential to negatively impact smaller municipalities who lack the resources to support proper compliance?
Buggs: “I think new data reporting requirements will have two effects. They will have a positive effect in that they will provide management of entities that receive federal funds—enabling them to have a good handle on projects they are trying to implement with federal dollars.
That will make it possible for them to demonstrate their abilities and capacity to handle these kinds of funds and projects. It will also put them in a better position to request additional funds from other agencies and foundations.
The other side of that coin is that reporting, in and of itself, is always something we anticipate when working with someone else’s money. The question is to what extent.
New reporting requirements will not have a negative effect. Transparency and accountability requirements, as they relate to what is happening with federal funds, are going to mandate that entities have a way of complying. Technology will come up with systems that will make it easy to get that done, rather than the current methods used.”
StreamLink Software: Does greater reporting present unique challenges or opportunities for municipalities as opposed to nonprofit organizations?
Buggs: “No, I think they’re the same. What you will find is that state, county, and city or municipal government in one way or another all give a lot of grants to nonprofits. As a result, our requirements to be compliant—meaning what is happening with all the money we are receiving—will naturally include all sub-recipients.
The majority of nonprofits will see very little money directly from the federal government. Most is passed through state, county and local government, so it’s comparable.”
StreamLink Software: If the Data Act is passed, local citizens will have more thorough insight into municipality spending. Do you think greater transparency could hurt city government from accomplishing its agenda?
Buggs: “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.”
StreamLink Software: What will be expected of those who will need to comply with Data Act reporting requirements?
Buggs: “We don't really know what will be expected yet. The Act has not yet been passed and has been through several iterations and changes in the past year or so.
The standard elements included will help us decide how we proceed. Another big part is that the DATA Act, as it is currently drafted, includes a pilot program that will take three years. This program will test which elements are applicable. That will then determine, more or less, what will be complicated for those who will actually have to report.”
StreamLink Software: What are the added challenges for those managing consortia grants? Will greater reporting help or hurt these relationships?
Buggs: “I think they will help. One of the issues for those of us who see funds and then re-distribute them to sub-recipients is that we always have the upper hand. It’s hard for us to respond fully to all of the federal requirements and regulations.
The reason we get the money and they don't is due to management capacity and knowledge of the federal rules, regulations and stipulations that govern the programs. A lot of these programs have different guidelines incorporated in different entities or departments.
What we do is help those who we give money to first understand why they need to provide timeframes, timelines and thorough reporting. Then, we work with them to get it done. It is my belief that all of us will benefit from a system like this in place.”
Learn more about the changes in grant reporting in our white paper, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.
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As a follow-up to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reformed Final Guidance announced last month, COFAR will be holding an in-depth training session Monday, January 27th, 2014. The webinar will start at 9am EST and will cover several topics in greater detail through until 12:30pm EST.
If you missed the Uniform Guidance January 27, 2014 Training Webcast, the recordings and presentation slides can be found below.
Training Webcast Recordings
COFAR Training Intro
COFAR Training Administrative Requirements
COFAR Training Cost Principles
COFAR Training Audit Requirements
Training Webcast Presentation Slides
COFAR Training Administrative Requirements
COFAR Training Cost Principles
COFAR Training Audit Requirements
To join the webinar, visit this dedicated web page [EXPIRED]
(Must have Flash enabled to view)
Part 200 Uniform Guidance Training Agenda
9:00am – 9:30am: Uniform Guidance Overview
Norman Dong, Office of Management and Budget
9:30am – 10:30am: Administrative Requirements
Kathy Bialas, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Jean Feldman, National Science Foundation
10:30am – 11:30am: Cost Principles
Stephen Daniels, Department of Labor
Laura Watson, Department of Labor
11:30am – 12:30pm: Audit Requirements
Terry Ramsey, Department of Health and Human Services
Gil Tran, Office of Management and Budget
Boards are only as valuable as how well they perform.
Effective boards drive organizational vision, serve as internal and community leaders, and become vehicles of change. But when boards fall into slumps, reinvigorating them can prove difficult without a clear cause for their lack of performance.
Regular monitoring is crucial to achieve results-oriented boards. Progress check-ins and evaluations provide valuable insight, promote effective meetings and encourage engagement. Better manage board talent with these three monitoring strategies:
Individual Member Monitoring
Structured individual assessment exercises serve as checks-and-balances opportunities. Invite your board to share their opinions on pivotal initiatives, direction and organizational goals. Implement feedback sessions as either written forms, one-on-one discussions or via polls and messages on board portals.
One-on-one discussions have the potential for more candid, honest answers, which can be probed deeper. Though still valuable, written performance evaluations limit responses and lack answer context.
Regardless of the collection mechanism, assessments give board members the chance to have their individual voices heard, while helping you align initiatives and goals organization wide. Presidents and Executive Directors should reach out to Trustees periodically to obtain feedback and advice.
Monitor Active Participation
Participation is more than a mark on a grade school report card. It’s an ongoing sign of how committed and engaged you are in a situation. Board participation is no exception.
Evaluate individual members on their attendance and contributions during meetings. To promote participation, consider implementing a board portal. These platforms give members the opportunity to join discussions and formulate ideas prior to meetings, allowing them to feel more prepared and willing to participate in person. They also keep track of attendance data, so you can easily identify those who are slacking.
When board members know that their attendance and participation are being tracked to pinpoint inefficiencies, members often feel valued and motivated to contribute.
Evaluate the Board Director
Don’t forget about yourself! Leadership needs to be evaluated to the same degree as board members. Offer members the opportunity to evaluate board directors for insight into what is and isn’t working in terms of management.
Evaluations can be conducted as reflections of performance versus plans, perceived strengths and weaknesses, or management skills and areas to improve. We recommend combining all three assessment types to gather the most comprehensive feedback.
Encourage anonymity for this process so members feel safe to share truthful answers. Evaluations can often be trying due to their inherent nature—exposing faults. Keep an open mind throughout the entire process for the best results.
Board assessments provide valuable opportunities to identify strengths and gaps in talent to improve overall board performance.
Download our ebook on board engagement to gain more insight and knowledge into managing an effective board.
Have you had success implementing evaluations within your board? Share your experiences below.
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Editor's Note: The 2014 State of Grant Management survey is now closed. Thank you for all who participated! Download The 2014 State of Grant Management Report for an overview of responses.
The grant management landscape continues to change as new legislation is introduced in Washington. The DATA Act and OMB’s newly-release Final Guidance will require stricter reporting and compliance measures. In turn, added pressure will force many organizations to re-evaluate how they find, manage and track grant money.
Organizations who are in-tune with the current progress and strides in Washington on open data, transparency and accountability will have the upper hand when applying for new grants and maintaining compliance.
So, we pose the question: What is the current state of grant management, and how have processes evolved in the midst of reporting updates?
To answer this, we need your help! We invite you to participate in our brief grant management survey. With your insight, we can gather detailed information on:
- Current grant management processes and tools
- Preparedness of organizations for federal funding changes
- Common challenges, frustrations and solutions
- Most popular funding sources
Plus, respondents will be entered for a chance to win a $250 Amazon gift card!
Note: The survey is now closed. Consolidated findings were released in our 2014 State of Grant Management research report. This valuable industry resource provides a benchmark for nonprofits and government agencies to compare their readiness against others, and plot out the improvements necessary for continued success.
What can your organization tell us about the current state of grant management?
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Michael Wood, former executive director of the U.S. Recovery and Accountability Board, spoke with StreamLink Software about the work, success and impact of the Board.
In this Q&A, Wood explains the Board’s mission to prevent waste, fraud and abuse by striving for government transparency. He touches too on how strides made in these areas have influenced federal award reform movements and the future of grant reporting.
Note: Responses have been edited slightly for readability.
StreamLink Software: Why was the Recovery Board created, and what goals did it originally set out to achieve?
Wood: “The Recovery Board was created on the American Recovery and Reinvestment ACT in 2009 to create a stimulus after the economic problems in 2008/2009. Part of the law created the Board to look at two different things.
One was to try and prevent waste, fraud and abuse. The second mission was to provide transparency around spending, and that was my primary area of concentration.
To do that, we did a couple of interesting things. One was we built a data collection system using data standards around the data elements … We took the data from both recipients and sub-recipients. The sub-recipient level was unusual in that the federal government hadn’t collected information on that level before.
We did it. People had to report on a quarterly basis, and it worked. We also built a website, recovery.gov, which disclosed the data and information about the law and projects transparently to the public.
We allowed people to download the data, either pieces of it or the entire data set, which is unusual. We were able to do that because we had it in standard format and [made it] machine-readable.
It worked very, very well. We collected information both on grants, contracts and loans primarily–and it worked.”
StreamLink Software: How does the DATA Act build on, or change, what the Recovery Board has done and is doing?
Wood: “Congress took a look at some of the success the Recovery Board has had, and tried to draft some legislation that would extend what the Recovery Board has done successfully under the stimulus program.
[The DATA Act] uses a series of the techniques [The Recovery Board] used … The difference would be to try and automate a lot of that information, try to make it machine-readable and to try and improve the data quality by imposing data standards.”
StreamLink Software: What obstacles did the Recovery Board face in trying to achieve its mission, and how did you overcome those to make it such a success?
Wood: “What we did was transformational in that we required the recipients to report, not the agencies. We had looked at the agencies’ systems and made an assessment that [they couldn’t efficiently report] because of the lack of standardization of systems and the lack of being able to capture much of the information required by the law. Therefore, we took a very different route; we left it up to the recipients to report.
One of the hurdles was a culture one in that agencies were amazed that they weren’t going to be the hub of the wheel. They were part of the effort but not the centerpiece …
We really relied on the people who got the money to tell us what they were doing with it.
What we showed was we were able to put together a reporting system using standards, modern software and the web to collect data—almost in real time—from hundreds of thousands of recipients.”
StreamLink Software: What challenges have recipients of federal funds historically faced when reporting data to government agencies?
Wood: “I hear a lot from different agencies, and there are a lot of various pieces that require reporting. Contract regulations require reporting. You’ve got to file invoices to get paid and so forth.
The same thing exists under grants. Each agency establishes reporting requirements individually. There are many grant recipients who receive grants from numerous sources. Most of the requirements are from individual programs. So the reporting time frames, the reporting elements—they’re all different and not standardized.
If you look at grant data, it’s almost the Tower of Babel out there. There are a lot of different methods of reporting. There are a lot of different systems in place. Because of that, there are questions about authority, and there are questions about timing.
The federal government has a very difficult time of rolling up this information to report to anyone on what happened with the money. The core recipients have a hard time making sure they’re in compliance because they have numerous reporting dates, formats, etc. It’s very complicated for them.
The lack of standards [in] data and in timing really present significant challenges both for the federal government and for the people that are receiving the grants on the reporting front.
It isn’t efficient and it isn’t very doable as far as being able to present information transparently because it’s difficult to get your hands on the information.”
The push for standardized reporting stems from the need for government spending transparency. Committees and agencies continue to strive toward a more effective system for grant management and fund reporting.
To learn more about how new rules and regulations are changing the face of reporting:
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The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released Final Guidance on Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.
The guidance supports the Administration’s movement toward uniformed requirements to mitigate waste, fraud and abuse of government awards and funding.
It combines eight existing OMB circulars into one. This effort to streamline grant guidance comes with a focus on reducing administrative burden and increasing government transparency.
Here is what you need to know.
1. Compliance and Performance
Adjusted rules and regulations set new standard requirements for financial management of federal awards. Such regulations put greater weight on performance over compliance requirements. However, do not confuse this for a disregard of compliance standards. OMB will continue to seek compliant applicants but “…will waive certain compliance requirements and approve new strategies…”
The objective here is to refocus time and energy spent on being compliant and allocate resources toward programmatic success and objective goals.
2. Leveraging Information Technology
The Final Guidance also makes a case for integrated automated reporting, information technology systems and shared services within grant management processes. This push stems from the Executive Order to make open and machine-readable data the default for government information gathering and collection.
The standardization of data collection and documentation through technology platforms will decrease administrative burden, increase communication between partnering agencies and grantors, and allow for an effective and efficient process.
3. Increased Competition for Awards
The ability to win grant funding is already very competitive due to a recovering economy coupled with the growing need for grants. A strengthened oversight provision in OMB’s Final Guidance will continue the trend in this direction.
New provisions require granting agencies to review associated risk of prospective recipients prior to granting awards. A previous track record of non-compliance has heavy weight in an unfavorable direction when fighting to win such competitive grants; however, the provision shows favor for applicants with “strong remedies to address non-compliance.”
OMB describes the sought proposal for a non-compliance remedy as a clear plan to implement tools to manage and “efficiently closeout federal awards.”
4. Targeting Risk of Waste, Fraud and Abuse
The main focus of this provision is accountability. Responsible parties will be charged with overseeing and implementing metrics and audit follow-ups. Identification and mitigation of waste, fraud and abuse comes from stricter compliance guidelines and in-depth reporting requirements.
OMB has made single audit reports available online so that taxpayers can see where their money is going. This furthers efforts toward transparency and accountability.
Additional provisions call for actions to demystify jargon, improve allocation methods and standardize processes. Read up on other ways grant reporting is changing in The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting whitepaper.
Are you in favor of the new provisions?
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With 2014 just around the corner, many nonprofits and government entities are budgeting for the next fiscal year. While doing so, look ahead at how the changing landscape of grant management can affect projected budgets and resource allocation.
Potential Regulation Changes
On November 19, the DATA Act passed in the House. The legislation, which brings new federal spending regulation, standardization and compliance measures, has a high probability of passing in the Senate.
When it does, the new law will usher in stricter compliance requirements for grant recipients, which will require a more organized reporting system.
While it could be five years until the law is fully realized, changes are “already starting, in anticipation of the bill’s passage,” according to Jesse Buggs, director of the Office of Grant Development & Administration, City Bowie, Maryland.
What Does this Mean for You?
The DATA Act, if passed, will impact the current processes and procedures under which nonprofits and government entities operate. Ninety-seven percent of survey respondents stated that they use ad hoc tools—such as spreadsheets and filing—to manage and maintain important funding documents.
However, the legislation requires advanced reporting and data insight from grant recipients for compliance. Ad hoc tools are not designed to support this level of transparency, which could make future audits extremely time-intensive if processes don’t evolve.
Buggs states, “The increases in automation and breadth of data collection will require recipients of federal funding to systematize their offices.”
Technology solutions can alleviate the new burdens associated with stricter reporting and compliance regulations.
By replacing tedious data collection and reporting tasks with automated solutions, grant managers are given the opportunity to devote saved resources to revenue-generating activities. We found that organizations who adopt grant management software reduce administrative time by an average of 72%.
When projecting your 2014 budget, take into account the benefits technology can provide in terms of capacity. Consider too how this could impact the priorities, tasks and strategies that your grant office will undergo in 2014. Smart technology investments today could reap great financial rewards.
Evolving the Grant Manager’s Role
Grant managers should familiarize themselves with new reporting standards in order to stay ahead of the curve. To prepare for expected compliance changes, base your financial and record keeping systems around audit success.
With early preparation, you can soften the impact that regulation changes could have on your organization.
Has your organization taken the changing roles in grant management into consideration for 2014 planning?
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Board portals have clear benefits for board members and organizations, including streamlined efforts, consolidated documents, universal access and increased communication.
Together, this boosts productivity and influences the overall effectiveness of a board.
So how do you get your board to adopt? It starts with an understanding of the stakeholders.
Understand Your Audience
A board’s demographic influences the projected adoption rate of a board portal and technology innovation as a whole.
Nonprofit boards are comprised mainly of members aged 50-64 (43%) and 40-49 (28%). Generally speaking, each generation reacts differently to technology implementation. Therefore, you must take into account your board membership and how to best manage potential resistance.
Generation X (Born 1965 – 1980)
Generation X, as a whole, is more willing and open to the idea of technology for streamlined efforts and communication purposes. Convenience is the driving force behind the use of technology in their daily lives. To convince them of board portal adoption, focus on the following benefits:
- A consolidated location for important documents, providing increased accessibility.
- Better communication for improved engagement and streamlined projects.
- Increased accountability and transparent agendas through central management of responsibilities and activities.
If any of your board falls into this age group, note that technology is not a threat to them. Most Generation Xers simply want a clear, concise reason why the technology is needed before they will consider adoption.
The Baby Boomer Generation (Born 1946 – 1964)
Generally, Baby Boomers hold face-to-face communication in high regard. For this demographic, increased online communication may not be as highly valued of a feature in a board portal, as it would be for Generation X. However, adoption of technology to improve quality of life is an intriguing benefit to them.
Rob Sinclair, director of Accessibility at Microsoft, explains that Baby Boomers put high value on technology that is “safe, easy to use and flexible enough to adapt to their individual needs.” Therefore, when selling the value to this age group, focus on the functionality that meets those needs, such as:
- SSL encrypted data storage, which allows your documents and communication to be saved on a secure network so that only your board can see it.
- Ease of use; board portal interfaces are comparable to the simplicity of social networking sites—of which 60% of people aged 50 to 64 use.
- Training and onboarding support; best vendors will offer demos and support to ease the transition for your board.
Board portals promote efficiency and engagement. Each member will have a different outlook on the use of technology to achieve these goals. However, with proper guidance and the right partner, boards will realize the benefits of seamless adoption.
Is your board ready to adopt and integrate the benefits of a board portal?
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