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5 Tips to Make Board Meetings Meaningful


watchAre your meetings stuck in a status-quo rut? Take back the reigns of your board meetings, and make the time spent together productive with these five tips.

1. Have an Agenda

As a rule of thumb, never start a board meeting without a shared, agreed-upon agenda.

Agendas establish a plan of action and keep meetings focused. When sent in advance, they also allow members to review relevant materials and prepare for discussions.

According to our 2014 State of Board Engagement Report, 86% of board members were engaged or very engaged when meeting materials were delivered in a timely manner. This number drops to 64% when they are not.

Go one step further, and solicit feedback on the agenda prior to the meeting. With a board portal, members can easily request agenda additions or express concerns.

2. Keep Meetings Balanced

When board meetings center solely on presentations, you risk board member engagement. Conversely, when comprised of only group discussions and debate, objective items suffer. Create a healthy balance for your meetings to keep them interesting, yet productive.

Share planned discussion points at least one week in advance so members can start to formulate thoughts and ideas before they arrive.

3. Ask Smart Questions

One question could change the entire course of a meeting.

Often, during board meetings, someone tends to ask a vague, open-ended question such as, “What could we be doing better?” This then results in tangents and off-topic debates, subsequently derailing the agreed-upon agenda.

Instead, pose metrics geared questions related to the specific topics at hand such as “How much money did we raise at our last event? How can we improve those numbers for future ones?” These types of questions tend to elicit more strategic discussions, resulting in actionable outcomes. 

4. Set Strict Start and End Times

Board members often have other obligations. Setting strict start and end times for both board meetings and individual agenda items shows that you respect their time and value their commitment.

Furthermore, hard start and stop times set a precedent and expectation of punctuality.

5. Share Meeting Minutes

Following board meetings, post minutes, notes and action items in a central location for easy access by all members. This keeps those that couldn’t attend up-to-speed, while also ensuring that the whole board is on the same page moving forward.

According to our report, 90% of board members were engaged or very engaged when archived meeting minutes, organizational data and other resources were accessible to board members, logically organized and easy to use. This number drops to 68% when they are not.

For further ways to solicit meaningful board meetings, see our report, The 2014 State of Board Engagement.

   2014 Board Report  

How do you execute meaningful board meetings? Share your thoughts below.

Image Source: Alexander Kaiser via Flickr

Grant Research: Only One Piece of the Puzzle


puzzleThe role of grant manager is far more than researching applicable awards. Grant research is only part of a much larger puzzle—one where data, reporting and measurable performance outcomes are essential to long-term program viability.

Grantees are responsible for planning, budgeting, fund distribution, compliance reporting and performance.

Pre-Award Planning

The planning stage is comprised of finding, winning and readying the organization for the award. At this stage, grant managers:

  • Identify funding goals and applicable grants to support them.
  • Review fund requirements and deadlines.
  • Gather proposal resources and draft their pitches.
  • Establish communication lines to facilitate compliance.
  • Distribute internal policies regarding the fund.

Pro tip: It is important to research the right grants. Online databases, like GrantFinder, can help narrow and organize searches for a more efficient workflow.

Grant Distribution and Administration

From award through reporting, grant managers serve as single points of contact—ensuring compliance is upheld and budgets align with goals. Grant managers:

  • Facilitate communication between internal parties, sub-recipients and funders.
  • Collect objective and subjective data on grant programs.
  • Monitor grant performance against goals.
  • Periodically advise the organization on funding allocation.

Such activities are vital to the overall grant program success. The key is to find a streamlined workflow that promotes efficiency and cuts administrative time. Many organizations turn to a full-cycle grant management software to aid in this area.

Post-Award Evaluation

Evaluation is critical to determining grant performance. Grant managers: 

  • Pull financial data to provide an overview of revenue and expenditures.
  • Share performance findings with funders,
  • Ensure compliance with grant-reporting requirements.
  • Evaluate overall program effectiveness.
  • Use historical success to fuel new funding opportunities and proposal win-rates.

Strong reporting systems help organizations prove funders’ return on investment and drive additional grants.

What part of the grant process does your organization struggle with most? Grant management software could be the solution. Schedule a demo to learn more about Grant

Image Source: Horia Varlan via Flickr

The DATA Act: One Small Step for Data, One (Potentially) Giant Step for Accountability [Free Forrester Report]


Forrester ResearchA September 2014 report from Forrester Research, “The DATA Act: One Small Step for Data, One (Potentially) Giant Step for Accountability” overviews the current state of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) and how federal agencies can lay the groundwork for compliance.

The law opens up federal spending data to be consolidated, aggregated and published. This way, it can used as a resource by government entities, grant recipients and the public, as well as help funders and watchdogs pinpoint fraud and misuse.

DATA Act implementation, however, will also have a trickle-down effect on federal grant reporting, requiring more organized and automated methods to track spending and fund allocation. There is an imminent need for grantors and recipients to adjust the way they manage and report on grants to comply with new regulations.

What’s In the Report?

To compile the in-depth report, Forrester Research interviewed six vendor and user organizations—one of which was StreamLink Software.

The report sheds light on DATA Act mandates, lays out the four-year implementation plan, explores the funding and resource impact, and provides actionable recommendations for organizations and agencies to ready themselves. It aims to help maximize the lead-time between DATA Act signage and full implementation.

Best-advised organizations will address skills, process and funding gaps before regulation and compliance measures take full effect.

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • A realistic DATA Act implementation timeline has been set. It is the responsibility of organizations and agencies to learn and understand what is expected of them.
  • The timeline may seem long, but acting now will save organizations and agencies trouble later. Prepare for success by addressing skills, process and funding gaps.
  • While the mandate is unfunded, and will bring upfront costs, improvements to data management and reporting will save money over time.
  • Organizations must be proactive and develop a thorough DATA Act readiness plan that includes active involvement in the standardization process, CIO/CFO collaboration, creation of an implementation point person and team, and identification of existing data gaps within your organization.

For more on how you can prepare for DATA Act implementation, download a free copy of Forrester Research’s report.

   Forrester Report

Technology's Role in Improved Board Communications


Board CommunicationsTechnology—social media, big data, cloud computing—is playing a direct role in how people communicate. However, organizations are struggling to keep pace. 

A 2013 survey conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting found that while 78% of respondents said achieving digital transformation will become critical to their organizations within the next two years, 63% felt the pace of technology change in their organization is too slow.

Nonprofit boards should take full advantage of new technology to improve communication with members and external stakeholders.

Identify Communication Improvement Areas

Nonprofits tend to be lackadaisical when it comes to researching and investing in technology. Resources are limited and the thought that, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, often prevails. Because of this, they often miss opportunities for process improvement.

So, how do you know if opportunities exist? Simple. Map out your current communication processes. Look for:

  • Communication deficiencies
  • Overlapping tasks
  • Process inefficiencies
  • Circuitous communication channels

When you understand where current communication processes fall short, you’ll be better able to pinpoint action items for improvement.

Improve Communication with a Board Portal

In many cases, boards can greatly benefit from a communication management system, specifically a board portal.

Board portals consolidate important documents, store relevant information in a centralized location and encourage ongoing discussion. This allows your board to sync ideas, collaborate and be informed.

Also with a cloud-hosted solution, members have any-where access to board materials, so that they can retrieve important information on the go. This caters to today’s board members who are accustomed to having information at their fingertips.

Those that invest in board portals tend to have more productive meetings, streamlined communications, organized action items and cohesive messaging. According to our 2014 Board Engagement Report:

  • Ninety-three percent of board portal-using members reported feeling satisfied or very satisfied with their contributions as a board member.
  • Eighty-nine percent of respondents that use a board portal believe the board has a major or moderate impact on the strategic direction of the organization.
  • Ninety-two percent of respondents that use a board portal agree that meeting materials are usually delivered in a timely manner.
  • When asked, “Are the majority of meetings focused, productive and adhered to an agenda?” 99% of respondents that use a board portal agreed.

Allow technology to have a role in your board’s communication process. Contact us to further discuss how you can make that a possibility, or download our 2014 Board Engagement Report for insight on technology’s impact on overall board engagement.

   2014 Board Report

How would you rate your board’s current communication process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Source: via Flickr

AmpliFund and BoardMax Not Vulnerable to Shellshock


shellshock iconAnother serious software bug has been making headlines over the past week. Shellshock (CVE-2014-6271) takes advantage of a vulnerability in some versions of the Bash shell, commonly used on Unix-based web servers and operating systems, to gain access to unauthorized areas and execute malicious code.

As was the case with Heartbleed, StreamLink Software products are unaffected by this latest vulnerability. AmpliFund and BoardMax run in a Windows-based .NET web server environment, not a Unix environment that could have been impacted by Shellshock.

The security of our customers’ data and private information is our utmost concern. We encourage any and all feedback, so should you have any questions or concerns regarding the security of your AmpliFund or BoardMax accounts, please don’t hesitate to contact us directly!

How City Leaders Can Create an Open Data Policy


Last week, our AmpliFund Public Sector team attended ICMA’s 100th Annual Conference. ICMA, or the International City/County Management Association, works to advance professional local government in order to build better communities.

Among the sessions was one presented by Alisha Green, policy associate at the Sunlight Foundation. The Sunlight Foundation is a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for open government globally and uses technology to make government more accountable. 

Open Data Policies to Promote Transparency, Efficiency and Engagement” unpacked the motivations behind the open data movement, and presented actionable steps city leaders can take to make their government data more transparent.

Create City Open Data Policy Guidelines

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 40% of internet users went online for government data or information in 2009. Of these government internet users, 23% were looking at how federal stimulus funds were being spent, and 16% visited a site that provides access to government data.

online government data

What does this mean? That citizens want to hold their government accountable, and are turning to the internet for information.

Green argued that open data has the potential to advance transparency, accountability and efficiency in local governments, while improving service quality and increasing public participation. She presented step-by-step how local governments can formulate policies and implement open-data programs in their communities. Below, we highlight some of the key points made.

1. Understand What Data Should Be Made Public   

When approaching the problem of open data, all government information should be considered. The more data that can be aggregated and made public, the better. However, city leaders should take precautions to safeguard sensitive information.

Green recommended creating a data inventory and prioritizing the rollout of data releases.

2. How to Make Data Public

The “how” of open data is arguably the most challenging piece of this movement. Currently, federal data (and particularly spending data) is fragmented across disparate systems and formats.

First, data must be centralized and standardized. Decide on a standardized data format  (Green recommends the use of open formats and varied formats), and designate a centralized location. By mandating electronic filing, city administration can avoid tedious data entry and aggregate data instantaneously as it is submitted.

When deciding on data formats, cities should keep an eye on federal spending reforms. Thanks to the passage of the DATA Act earlier this year, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Treasury Department will determine the standardized formats and processes for all federal spending data.

Cities that receive federal grants should develop data formats that mirror or are compatible with federal data to simplify compliance and reporting.

3. How to Implement Policy

Once data infrastructure is in place, city leaders must manage the human element of open data. Establish guidance and oversight, with actionable instructions and clear timelines for open data policy implementation.

It’s also important to customize open data policies for your community, even including the public in the process. After all, they are primary stakeholders.

Finally, plan for the future. Any city open data policy should be a long-term strategy designed for the future of government data.

To receive updates on the DATA Act and federal spending reforms, sign up for the StreamLink Software newsletter

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Is your community working on an open data policy?

Image source: Pew Research Internet Project

The 2014 Board Engagement Report [Free Download]


Board Engagement ReportHow can nonprofit and board leaders improve board engagement and fully leverage the board’s potential in their organizations?

To answer this question, we surveyed active board members across the country to create The 2014 Board Engagement Report.

The report sheds light on the state of America’s boards, the expectations organizations have for their boards, and how board management affects member engagement. Below, we highlight a few key findings.

Boards Are Engaged

Overall, America’s board members are engaged. More than half of respondents stated that they are engaged (52%), and 31% described themselves as very engaged.

Engagement may stem in part from satisfaction with board membership expectations. Most believe that expectations and role responsibilities are clearly defined (84%), that they “understand expectations very well” (74%), and that the number of board meetings they’re expected to attend is reasonable (86%).

Nonprofits Overlook Available Capacity

Professionals often join boards to further their skills, contribute to a worthy cause and impact the strategic direction of an organization. Unfortunately, too many board members do not feel that the organization is fully benefitting from their abilities.

Survey results found that 22% of board members do not feel that their talents are being effectively utilized by the organization. This means that nonprofit and board leaders are leaving valuable skillsets on the table, shortchanging themselves and their board members.  

Technology Catalyzes Engagement

Nonprofit technology is a burgeoning space. Board portals and board management software have gained in popularity in recent years as a means for organizations to more effectively communicate with the board. Most organizations we surveyed do not use this technology, with only 36% citing use of a board portal.

But perhaps more nonprofit boards should. Comparing board management and board engagement, organizations that use a board portal cited more favorable responses from board members in satisfaction, productivity, access to information, impact on the organization’s strategic direction, and more.

Learn more about the state of America’s boards and the factors influencing board member engagement by downloading our free report, The 2014 Board Engagement Report.

How does your organization stack up?

   2014 Board Report

Municipalities: Uniquely Positioned to Shape the Future


Early this month, our AmpliFund Public Sector team attended the League of California Cities Annual Conference and Expo in Los Angeles. The league is an association of California city officials working together to exchange information and combine resources to influence policy decisions that affect cities.

California federal fundingIn addition to being the home to one-eighth of the U.S. population, California was also the recipient of $48.8 billion in federal grants in 2014, or 9% of all federal grant dollars awarded this year. This makes the League of California Cities highly influential in the administration and management of municipality resources.

Why Mayors Can Change the World

A variety of themes emerged, but the conference can be largely summarized by its keynote address, delivered by political theorist, TED Talk speaker and recent author of “If Mayors Ruled the World,” Dr. Benjamin R. Barber.

His keynote, named after his 2013 book, argued that mayors and municipalities are uniquely poised to shape the future of their constituents and overcome the challenges nation-states face. Below we highlight key themes that emerged from his keynote and other sessions throughout the three-day event.

1. Municipal leaders are locals.

Municipal leaders experience day-to-day life within their jurisdiction. This helps them keep a finger on the pulse of their area and stay in tune with the frustrations and challenges of the people.

As a result, they more effectively address local problems and enact change. They also experience a more real-time feedback loop with the local population, creating stronger accountability between governmental leaders and citizens.  

2. Mayors must be pragmatic.

Running a city leaves no time for ideologies, theory or lengthy debate. As Barber noted, potholes must be filled and sewers must be mended. Mayors are pragmatists and problem-solvers. Positioned at the smallest level of government, municipalities are doers—creating, fixing and advancing public policy.

Many sessions were tactical and actionable in focus. “Beverly Hills Customer Service Initiative” and “Panhandling & Prayer: Regulating Conduct Under Recent Case Law” are two examples of sessions focused on the real-life examples and applications of municipality governance.

3. Civic challenges extend beyond borders.

Barber asserted that public problems often extend beyond the borders of cities, states and countries. A number of sessions throughout the conference reinforced this “21st century interdependence.”

“Government to Governance: Forming Successful Public-Private Partnerships,” “Cooperative Agreements Between Public Agencies – Risks and Rewards” and “Shared Resources to Attract, Retain and Grow Talented Employees” are some of the sessions at the conference that addressed the importance of partnership, resource-sharing and coordinated approaches to solving broader civic issues.

There was standing room only at Thursday’s “Fire Department EMS Cost Recovery” session, which focused on why it can be advantageous for local governments to provide emergency medical services through their fire departments, taking into consideration current and upcoming cost recovery opportunities as a result of federal legislation.

This theme echoed the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) 2014 Summer Conference. As disparate cities, counties and public and private organizations work together, they must consider the operational infrastructure necessary to coordinate efforts; secure and distribute funds; and aggregate performance data.

To learn more about how municipality resources are being influenced by forces at the federal level, download our free whitepaper “The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.”

 Grant Reporting Whitepaper

What unique opportunities or challenges do municipalities face? How can they better effect change in their communities?

Image source:

How To Achieve Your Future Grant Management State


Future State Grant ManagementBy better understanding current grant management shortcomings and desired improvements, organizations can take specific steps to refine their processes for maximum performance.

Part of this assessment is defining your future state, or what your grant management process will look like once tangible changes have been made to it. To achieve this, clear and measurable goals must first be defined.

In this post, we'll overview how to establish these goals and supercharge your grant management processes. 

Step One: Map Current Processes 

Before you can accurately assess and define goals for your future grant management state, you must first map out current processes. Process mapping is the exercise of documenting current procedures in order to better understand inefficiencies, shortcomings and desired improvements.

Pro Tip: To map current processes, write each step of the process on a separate line. Detail tasks, associated documents, responsible parties and communication methods. (Use our free interactive form on page two of The Grant Management Software Evaluation Guide to get started.)

Step Two: Define Goals

As you review your current processes, you may notice some red flags—inefficiencies, circuitous procedures, redundancies or scattered resources/documents, to name a few. Recognizing these shortcomings will help focus your efforts when evaluating goals.

Based on these shortcomings, identify what you would like to accomplish in your future state. Focus on a goal rather than a technology or software functionality.

For example, if your current process involves paper records, disjointed files and roundabout communication processes, a goal for your future state may involve streamlined communications and consolidated documents.

Or, perhaps you’ve noticed a loss of drawn down grant dollars due to missed deadlines. To counter this, your goal should be to establish and standardize compliance and accountability procedures.

Step Three: Map Future Processes, and Find Your Solution

Now that you’ve defined your goals, you’re ready to map out your future processes. 

Based on your current processes map, outline future grant management processes—placing an asterisk next to new practices stemmed from defined goals. (Use our free interactive form on page five of The Grant Management Software Evaluation Guide to get started.)

Then, keep your future state in mind as you begin researching and comparing various grant management software solutions. The key here is to find solution features that will achieve your grant management goals.

Adding a technology to your grant management process is a big decision. Make it easier with our interactive guide: Grant Management Software Purchase Evaluation Guide. It’ll walk you through the steps necessary to assess your organization’s grant management technology needs.

Evaluation Guide

Image Source: via Flickr

The 2014 MACo Conference: Key Themes for Counties and Municipalities


MACoNearly 2,000 local, state and federal government officials, commercial representatives and legislators gathered in Ocean City, Maryland last week for the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) 2014 Summer Conference.

Throughout the four-day event, several themes emerged related to the way Maryland government entities, nonprofits and private organizations manage funds and resources. These themes provide a glimpse into the shifting public-private dynamic across the country, and offer lessons to policymakers, grant managers and program directors nationwide.

County Funding and Resource Distribution

1. Collaboration among communities. From opioid abuse to missing persons responsiveness, cooperation across jurisdictions was a recurring topic.

In “Creative and Collaborative Transportation Solutions to Meet Citizen Needs,” panelists discussed how to achieve efficiency within and across boundaries. “Mutual Aid: County-State-Nation Partnerships in Public Safety Technology” covered a statewide program to bring more capable technology to local dispatchers, law enforcement officers, administrators and command staff. The program allows them to better share data and improve collaboration.

When counties face similar problems, such as regional social epidemics, population shifts or demographic changes, it is both prudent and more effective to tackle these challenges together. The result is improved quality of life and social service delivery for all. 

2. Creative and efficient use of scarce resources. Counties face fewer resources at their disposal. “Doubling Your Dollars and Outcomes – Innovative Approaches to Funding and Financing Projects” took a pragmatic approach to outlining the funding and financing options available to help counties stretch available dollars. 

“Federal Funding for County Causes: Working with Congress” presented the funding opportunities to meeting community needs, such as improvements to county infrastructure. The Partnership to Build America Act of 2013, HR2084/S1957, a bi-partisan bill currently in Congress, is one example. The legislation would create an infrastructure fund that would make loans to state and local governments and non-profit infrastructure providers for transportation, energy, water, communications and education infrastructure projects.

3. Results-based accountability. The conference included several sessions with keynote speaker Mark Friedman, founder of the Fiscal Policy Studies Institute (FPSI) and author of “Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough: How to Produce Measurable Improvements for Customers and Communities.” Friedman’s approach focuses on taking ideals—such as higher quality of life, less crime or better schools—and realizing them through program performance evaluation and organizational accountability.

Accountability is a topic emerging in other conversations throughout the grant community, particularly that of performance-based funding. An increase in programmatic accountability and funding scarcity is likely to heighten the need for data-based outcomes reporting.

4. Data transparency through technology. As “Clean Up That Mess Using GIS: Emerging Trends for Geographic Information System Technology” presented, technology is creating new avenues for greater transparency, more effective program management and better service delivery.

Through aggregation, analysis and visualization of mass data sets—in this case, geospacial mapping, population data and more—relationships, patterns and trends emerge. As exemplified by GIS, insights gained through open data can be used to allocate resources more effectively, and coordinate efforts between partners.

To learn more about how federal legislation, the open data movement and technology are reshaping the way counties manage funding, download “The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.”

 Grant Reporting Whitepaper

Image Source: Maryland Association of CountiesMaryland Association of Counties

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