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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

              U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to Lead DATA Act Pilot Program

              Open Data HHSThe Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has requested the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lead the two-year DATA Act pilot program. Read on for details on the arrangement and implications. 

              The Importance of the DATA Act Pilot

              Policy and technology shifts disrupt processes and workflows. By launching a pilot program, the federal government can effectively test and monitor the effectiveness of DATA Act implementation—particularly consolidated financial reporting for award recipients—amidst one agency. From there, processes can be evaluated and tweaked based on outcome, providing a guide for other agencies to emulate.

              For these reasons, the DATA Act’s timetable mandated a pilot no later than one year after signing, conducted by an agency of OMB’s choosing.

              Why Was HHS Selected to Lead the Charge?

              While the DATA Act was first signed into law May 9, 2014, HHS has been a long-time champion and change agent in the quest for transparent government. In 2010, HHS published its first Open Government Plan and in 2011, it released a report on its progress. Currently, the agency is involved in nine open government initiatives.

              Amy Haseltine, Division of Grants, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary, has led efforts internally. Haseltine is focused on bridging the gap between the desire for standardized data and the tactical ability to get there. Furthermore, she believes that open data is more than making datasets machine readable and available—data must also be quality. 

              Pilot Program Focus and Timeline

              With an unfunded mandate like the DATA Act, it is important to ensure affected parties have the means and ability to comply with new rules and regulations.

              During the two-year pilot, HHS will test the application of data standards to grantee and contractor reporting, and explore the benefits (e.g. standardized reporting, and reduced duplication and compliance costs).

              According to the HHS website, the pilot will be established by May 2015. Upon its closing in August 2017, the agency’s inspector general will publish a report on the completeness, timeliness, quality and accuracy of standardized spending data. Guidance for other agencies will then be published August 2018.

              For more insight on the current state of the DATA Act and for information on how federal agencies can lay the groundwork for compliance, download Forrester Research’s report: The DATA Act: One Small Step For Data, One (Potentially) Giant Step For Accountability.

                 Forrester Report

              Image Source: OpenSource.com via Flickr

              Strategies for Board Recruitment and Retention

              chess piecesBoard recruitment and retention go hand-in-hand. When you recruit the right people, and nurture their talents, retaining them is easy. Read on for ways to recruit and retain the right people to fill your board’s empty seats.

              Recruit the Right Board Member

              1. Clearly Define Roles and Expectations 

              Over promising and under delivering is the easiest way to gain unhappy and unproductive board members. Establish realistic expectations early in the interview process. Clearly define responsibilities, time commitment, role, legal and fiduciary duties and member benefits.

              Then, with the right board portal, keep track of member-specific information, such as meeting attendance, responsibilities and skills. Run reports against this data to better understand member roles and engagement.

              2. Have a Succession Plan

              Don’t let your board fall into a place where it is desperate for a new member. Have a succession plan in place so your board is not left scrambling.

              • Document a contingency plan.
              • Plan for both board member and leadership succession.
              • Establish processes for onboarding and transitioning successors.

              3. Weigh Characteristics

              A resume should only take a candidate so far. After the candidate’s experience and expertise have been vetted, look to their character to determine if they will be a good fit. Desired characteristics will greatly vary by organization; however, many agree members should:

              • Be team players.
              • Be able to listen, analyze and think creatively.
              • Welcome feedback and criticism.
              • Have values that align with the organization’s goals and mission.

              Retain Valuable Board Talent

              Once you have selected the right people to represent your board, you must nurture their talents, and keep them happy and engaged. Members should feel valued, respected and that their contributions make a difference. This starts with onboarding and ends with the exit interview. Boards who do this well: 

              The above strategies to recruit and retain key board members can be more readily implemented if you have the right technology in place. Board portals ensure information, expectations and feedback is organized and easily accessible.  

              Is your board recruiting and retaining key board members? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

              From a survey of almost 200 professionals, we found that sound board management leads to more engaged and effective nonprofit boards. Download our free report to learn more about the state of board engagement.

                 2014 Board Report

              Image Source: Ken Teegardin via Flickr

              What California’s New Open Data Site Teaches Us About Government Transparency

              By the NumbersIn September 2014, California launched a new open data websitehttps://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov/. State Controller, John Chiang, unveiled the site, and its more than 13 million fields of financial data, to increase transparency within the state.

              As of writing this post, there are 38 states, and 46 U.S. cities and counties who have launched similar open data websites. Each portal contributes to the government’s mission of openness and accountability.

              What is an Open Data Portal?

              Open data portals are websites that aggregate and distribute government data that otherwise would be fragmented across institutions, agencies and research partners. Accessible and functional data portals are key to successful open government.

              States like California, who have embraced the need to digitize data sets and make them widely available to the public, have made great strides in the quest for transparency.

              What’s Found on California’s Open Data Site?

              ByTheNumbers is California’s open data portal, specifically hosting government financial reports. The site provides data on tax expenditures, budgeting and spending across state initiatives, federal award money, and other financially driven data. 

              By The Numbers CAThe site boasts an interactive map, created by Socrata, a Seattle-based developer. The map provides a summary of available data and statistics by county and city. Summary statistics include reported revenues, expenditures, liabilities, assets, fund equity, population and area for the most recent available year. (See a screenshot pictured to the right).

              The site also makes data analysis easy. There are a handful of pre-built charts for popular data queries—e.g. city revenues by source or top county expenditures by function. Visitors can also dive into the raw data to slice and dice the information as they see fit. Raw data can easily be sorted, exported, filtered, and published to meet unique research needs.

              California’s open data policies and initiatives can serve as a paradigm for states that have not yet taken the initiative to do the same.

              Where is Spending Transparency Headed?

              As the federal government continues to advocate for open data, we are increasingly seeing a trickle down effect to the state and city level. However, to create these portals requires a standardized approach to data collection and management. This means state and city governments must adopt technology to effectively consolidate, organize, analyze and share data sets with stakeholders and the public.

              Once available, open data empowers local governments to make more informed policy decisions. With actionable data at their fingertips, government leaders are better equipped to react in real time and provide more fluid service delivery. They are also able to pinpoint fraud, and identify trends and patterns—all of which ensure resources are allocated responsibly. 

              For more on the open data movement, read 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: https://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov/

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              Listen Up! Tips to Improve Board Feedback Collection

              Board FeedbackDo you struggle with board engagement? If so, you’re not alone. In the 2014 Board Engagement Report, 17% of board members indicated they are unengaged.

              Low board engagement can materialize for a variety of reasons. Mission misalignment, passively managed expectations, communication silos and unplugged talent often round out the top of the list. 

              However, you can re-engage your board through better feedback collection strategies, closed-loop communication practices and activation of ideas. Read on to learn how.

              Tie Feedback Collection Strategies to Goals

              Feedback takes many forms and serves many purposes. Board leaders must identify the information needed based on their goals. Potential areas to assess include:

              • Board meeting format.
              • Specific agenda items.
              • Management methods.
              • Task execution.
              • Roles and responsibilities.
              • Organization performance.
              • Individual member happiness.

              Use the information type listed above to guide decisions on collection method. For example, if agenda insight is desired, distribute a survey after each meeting. Alternatively, if you’re looking to uncover members’ feelings on board performance, then a more in-depth approach may be necessary.

              Promote Open, Closed-Loop Communication

              Feedback mechanisms are only as effective as the information derived from them. Work to ensure that board members feel free to be open and honest.

              Explain your feedback goals to board members. Outline:

              • Why you are seeking feedback.
              • Why honest responses are important.
              • What you will do with responses.
              • What information you are pursuing.

              Practice closed-loop communication to further express your value of their opinions and thoughts. Closed-loop communication is a technique designed to eliminate misunderstandings. It is achieved by repeating a board member’s response back to them in your own words. This demonstrates that you are listening and internalizing their feedback.

              Activate Ideas Derived from Feedback

              It’s not enough just to listen to board members. You must transform responses into actionable items. A few ideas to get started:

              • Compile responses strategically, and have a plan in place to implement ideas. Do this from the very first feedback session—if you don’t, you may not garner the same honesty and thoughtfulness in the responses of future feedback requests.
              • Form committees. Create a committee specifically designed to gather board feedback, strategize responses and formulate plans. This committee can create sub-committees that will address key feedback responses, if necessary.
              • Ask board members to play a role in finding solutions. If board members cite disorganized agendas and meetings as sore spots, have them brainstorm suggestions to rectify this.

              Unengaged boards can hinder organizational effectiveness. However, there is a clear path to get performance back on track, and it starts with understanding the thoughts, advice and concerns of existing board members.

              For more insight, read our 2014 Board Engagement Report.

                 2014 Board Report

              How do you collect feedback from your board? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

              Image Source: Opensource.com via Flickr

              Grant Management Standardization: Preparation Tips for Community Colleges

              community collegeThe AmpliFund Team recently returned from the Council for Resource Development 2014 Annual Conference. StreamLink Software founder and CEO Adam Roth presented on the conference’s final day along with Daniel Cronrath of Florida Gateway College.

              The presentation, “Grant Management Standardization: What’s to Come From the Federal Government,” gave an overview of recent legislation and what it means for community college campuses, tying in to the conference’s forward-looking theme “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” Below are key takeaways from the event for community college leaders.

              Changes on the Horizon 

              Federal legislation will directly impact federal agencies, but the burden of funding accountability will have a ripple-down effect on recipients of all federal grants, contracts and loans. Among the recent legislation:

              • Treasury “Do Not Pay” Initiative: Prevents improper payments from being made, mitigates fraud, waste and abuse, and creates a central depository to verify program eligibility  
              • OMB Uniform Grant Guidance: Guidance that will supersede requirements from OMB Circulars A-21, A-87, A-110 and A-122; Circulars A-89, A-102 and A-133; and the guidance in Circular A-50 on Single Audit Act follow up.  
              • DATA Act: Creates standardized federal data formats and processes, and sets a realistic implementation timeline.  

              Community college leaders must begin laying the groundwork now in order to effectively compete for funds and comply with impending award requirements.

               

              How Grant Management Will Change

              The above legislation will fundamentally change the way federal grants are managed; namely, how funding and programmatic performance data is tracked, collected and reported. Changes coming down the pike include:

              • Standardized data (and later, machine-readable data).
              • Enhanced funding transparency and accountability.
              • Systemization of processes for both financial and performance reporting data.

              Preparation for Future Compliance

              To lay the groundwork for future awarded funds and compliance with federal grants, community college leaders and grant managers should focus on:

              • Measurable performance and auditable spending accountability.
              • Standard business processes and data.
              • Consistent and transparent treatment of costs.

              Data, reporting and measurable outcomes will be essential to long-term program viability. In order for your grant management system to drive compliance, accountability and trust, it must track and manage programmatic, financial and HR data through the grant ecosystem.

              To learn more about the future of grant management, download our white paper on the topic, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting. 

               Grant Reporting Whitepaper  

              Image Source: Jeff via Flickr Creative Commons

              Key Findings from the GAO Data Transparency Report, and Its Impact on Open Data

              GAO Data TransparencyIn August 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on government transparency titled, Data Transparency: Oversight Needed to Address Underreporting and Inconsistencies on Federal Award Website.

              GAO conducted this study—and released the subsequent report—in an effort to assess the success of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (enacted in 2006), which established USASpending.gov.

              The study set out to determine the extent to which agencies report required award data and the accuracy of the website.

              Here are three key findings from the report.

              1. Gaps Exist Between OMB Guidance and Agency Execution

              The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published Uniform Grants Guidance in January 2014 to simplify agency reporting to USASpending.gov. The guidance addresses high-level reporting requirements, such as collection methods and acceptable data formats.

              However, despite OMB’s efforts to facilitate accurate reporting, the GAO Report found that some agencies are still unclear on processes and procedures. 

              A few agencies claimed reporting exemptions, citing non-appropriated funds; however, gaps in OMB Uniform Grants Guidance make it unclear as to whether this is permissible. One agency cited foreign recipients as a reason for an inability to report; yet OMB provides clear direction on how to report on such awards.

              Takeaway: OMB must take further action to clarify guidance and close gaps that leave reporting up to interpretation. Also, agencies must better acquaint themselves with new reporting requirements—it is on them to comply with new standards.

              2. Reporting is Done in Parts, Not as a Whole.

              The GAO report found that, “…agencies generally reported contracts, but many assistance programs were not reported.” As a result, nearly $619 billion in awards went unreported for fiscal year 2012. Only 64% of the 2,183 federal assistance programs listed reported federal funding or program cost information.

              What’s more, agencies provided partial data. Some reported on at least one award, but did not properly report associated data—leaving incomplete information. In total, 342 programs had not been properly reported on for fiscal year 2012. Agency officials cited four reasons why:

              1. Technical issues
              2. Award aggregation
              3. Unclear understanding of reporting requirements
              4. Lack of internal oversight

              Takeaway: OMB must develop and enforce a process to ensure agencies report required award information, as well as provide assistance in overcoming the four reasons for improperly reported awards.

              3. USASpending.gov Data is Inconsistent

              Information found on USASpending.gov is inconsistent with that contained in agency records or other authoritative sources. Of the awards that the GAO report surveyed, it is estimated that only two-to-seven percent match the information held by their respective agencies. Reasons for inconsistencies include: 

              • Unclear reporting requirements

              • Weakness in OMB guidance on data validation
              • Incomplete oversight of agency reporting processes
              • Display format on USASpending.gov
              • Access to vendor-provided data

              Takeaway: Until data and reporting inconsistences are addressed and fixed, USASpending.gov data will be inaccurate, and not useful to parties looking to utilize it.

              The GAO report sheds light on processes that have worked and those that still need improvement, providing recommendations for agencies and OMB alike.

              Download the full report here: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-476

              How are you affected by the outcomes of this report? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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