Poor communication processes are often a leading cause of low board engagement, which can be detrimental to your organization’s goals and mission. Luckily, diagnosing this problem within your organization is simple.
Process mapping is the exercise of documenting current processes to better understand shortcomings and identify improvement areas. It helps pinpoint communication deficiencies, as well as initiatives and technology solutions to overcome them.
Mapping current board communication processes also steers you toward technology that is compatible with your needs, instead of getting distracted by shiny new features.
How Process Mapping Works
Process mapping involves listing all board activities, and then pairing each with associated documents, responsible parties and communication methods. Doing so helps communication holes and inefficiencies become more apparent.
Use our free interactive worksheet to map your board’s processes.
As you map your board’s processes, consider the following:
- How are you scheduling meetings and sending meeting reminders?
- How are board communications and information distributed?
- What do board and committee members use to communicate with one another?
- Where are you housing necessary compliance documents, such as 990s, conflict of interest policies and procedures and independent director requirements?
- How are you tracking board member expectations and performance?
Also, keep an eye out for obvious signs of low board engagement, including low meeting attendance, poor punctuality, high turnover and low productivity. If any of these factors are present, dive into your processes to see if there are ways to improve engagement.
Match communication process weaknesses you’ve identified with suitable board portal features that would remedy them. Keep desired functionality in mind when evaluating vendors to ensure your organization’s needs are met.
Looking for more information on board portal research, decision-making and implementation? Download the Board Portal Software Purchase Evaluation Guide.
When it comes to grant management and administration, data is largely fragmented.
Federal grants are siloed by agency with no systems in place to standardize data and spending information. Whereas, on the recipient side, many organizations lack the processes to truly sync performance data across departments and implementation partners.
The result is inefficiencies, unnecessary expenses, a lack of transparency and a greater chance for error. The DATA Act's passage remedies this, and will lead to a complete overhaul of grant reporting nationwide.
In this post, we discuss how data can be more effectively consolidated, leveraged and managed to help both nonprofits and funders better reach their goals.
Government-Wide Data Standards
Right now, the government lacks consistent data standards for financial, assistance and procurement information. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to compare spending and performance across agencies as each reports metrics differently.
The introduction of data standards, a pivotal piece of the DATA Act, will rectify current challenges by introducing unique award identifiers (UAIDs) and markup languages to be used government-wide.
Standard UAIDs and markup languages would make data searchable, allowing policymakers and citizens to truly track the money, as well as enable big data analytics to better identify cases of fund misuse.
(Note: Machine-generated identifiers for items like agency code, award type and fiscal year would further improve grant-reporting standardization.)
Internal Data Management
A step in the right direction, government-wide grant standards will have a trickle-down effect on grant recipients. An organized approach to internal data management is needed to efficiently pull and report grant performance data in the proper formats.
To simplify compliance, grant managers should plan their internal processes around these required data standards, and maintain consistent naming conventions and filing structures organization-wide.
In doing so, we have found grant management software to be extremely helpful in centralizing all grant management information (i.e. activities, tasks, data and supporting documentation), and automating traditionally manual tasks.
Data Collection and Reporting Automation
Open, standard data makes compliance automation a greater reality. For example, by pulling from USASpending.gov and the System for Award Management (SAM), fields such as agency information, funding amount, project type, award data, and recipient name and address, can be pre-populated into reports.
With the right technology in place, reports such as budget, performance, time and effort, and outcome evaluations can also be automated. This saves the grant manager time when reporting back to funders.
Machine-readable data is that which can be easily read, parsed and understood by computers. Historically, award data has been submitted via a variety of formats, including word processing documents, paper forms, PDFs and spreadsheets. While these files are easy for humans to read, they lack the structural elements needed for computers to easily aggregate, verify and analyze the data.
Presenting data in a machine-readable way using extensible markup language (commonly referred to as “XML”) filing would reduce the amount of human effort required and further automate much of the reporting process.
In the Grants Reporting and Information Pilot (GRIP), our grant management software proved successful at generating bulk or batch XML filings of award data. Information was pulled directly from grant recipients’ existing management systems, and multiple reports were submitted via one XML file transfer.
While legacy systems are the largest hurdle in the race to machine-readable data, the technology exists today to streamline the way data is shared and reported, and some predict widespread implementation in the next five years.
For more on federal reporting changes and their impact on grant data, read our white paper, The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.
How does your organization consolidate, leverage and manage data for maximum effectiveness? Share your experiences below.
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What is the current state of grant management? StreamLink Software posed this question to more than 200 nonprofit and public sector professionals in January 2014.
The infographic below highlights key findings from that study. Download the full results here.
Download a PDF version of the infographic, or use the embed code below to share on your website.
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Key Grant Management Statistics
- 44% of grant-seeking organizations rely on the federal government as their primary grant source. (Click to tweet!)
- 69% of grant-seeking organizations are the lead recipient on a consortia grant. (Click to tweet!)
- 86% of organizations use in-house grant management solutions; 20% use specialized software (Click to tweet!)
- Post-award performance management and measurement is greatest grant frustration. (Click to tweet!)
- Economic conditions and lack of funding top the list of anticipated nonprofit challenges in 2014. (Click to tweet!)
For more insight into the current state of grant management, download the complete 2014 report.
What board portal software features are important to your board?
Once you’ve uncovered that your board could greatly benefit from a technology solution to streamline board management and communication, and improve compliance and engagement, it is then time to evaluate what specific features your board needs.
Board portals differ by sector, organization size, functionality and price. Designed to help simplify the process, the matrix within our Board Portal Software Purchasing Guide allows you to compare platforms and their features—but first, you must decide what features would positively impact your board’s processes.
Align Board Portal Features with Goals
Concentrate your search on the features that align with your goals—not just what’s shiny and new. Every organization differs in what they hope to gain from a technology solution. With this in mind, ensure that the portal you choose makes sense for your board’s specific needs. With the proper feature mix for your organization, you can:
- Promote effective communication
- Create more time-efficient processes
- Enhance overall transparency
- Help board members prepare for meetings
- Access documents and notes anytime, from anywhere
- Keep your board well-informed and active
Board Management and Communication Features
Always assess board portal functionality against your goals as you research vendors. As a starting point, consider the following management and communication features:
- Shared meeting and event calendars
- Task assignment capabilities
- Member expectation and performance tracking
- Ability to create ballots and polls
- Automated email communications
- Centralized board document storage, including 990s, conflict of interest policies and independent director requirements
- Ability to post meeting minutes and notes
Gauge, too, the simplicity of the user interface, product flexibility, and pricing structure.
For an interactive guide to board portal research, decision-making and implementation, download the Board Portal Software Purchase Evaluation Guide.
Image Source: Opensource.com via Flickr
Board portals help organizations streamline communication, centralize institutional memory and evaluate performance.
With the right technology in place, staff members can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to schedule board meetings, track RSVPs and compile meeting materials, and board members can easily access important documentation and resources in one central location.
The challenge lies in finding a solution that fits your organization’s mission, board and budget. We’re here to help! Seamlessly navigate the board portal comparison and selection process with our three-step purchasing guide.
For an in-depth walkthrough, download the complete interactive workbook.
1. Define Your Needs
Start with an assessment of your current board management processes to help you identify redundancies, inefficiencies and/or opportunities for automation. Use this as a jumping off point to document an ideal future state and goals you’d like to accomplish.
During this process, consider too all the stakeholders and systems that will be impacted by a change in process. On the personnel side, this includes both staff and board members, so be sure your future state aligns with their expectations in terms of performance, functionality and integration.
This planning phase is also a great time to set your budget and timeline. Understand the current costs associated with existing processes in both administrative time, and paper, printing, binding and shipping costs of board and committee materials. In doing so, you can better justify initial technology costs and make a strong ROI case.
2. Compare Board Portal Platforms
Once you know what you need, start comparing platforms against your list of necessary and nice-to-have features. As you reach out to vendors for demos, we recommend creating a side-by-side comparison of functionality, so you can quickly see at a glance which solution will provide the most value to your organization.
Also be sure to include notes on the user interface, platform flexibility and pricing structure so that you have a full picture of each option available.
3. Choose the Right Vendor
Just as important as features is the vendor itself. Be sure that the partner you choose is a good, long term fit with financial stability, a solid reputation and industry expertise.
Also consider the provider’s training and maintenance options. Especially if you have a large or complex board, it’s helpful to have support during the installation and onboarding process to make sure that your organization has a smooth transition.
Free Interactive Comparison Guide
Want help? Download our free interactive Board Portal Purchase Evaluation Guide for a detailed breakdown of each step in this process, including worksheets to help you:
- Map your current board management processes.
- Document board member expectations, and identify goals.
- Record stakeholders and ancillary systems that will need to interface with the board portal.
- Create your implementation timeline.
- Map total expenses of current processes, including both labor and paper costs.
- Compare board portal software functionality across vendors.
If you are considering a board portal for your organization, this guide is your first step.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act.
This, in conjunction with the Senate’s unanimous approval on April 10, means the bill will now make its way to President Obama whose signature is expected.
The bill’s signing would be a giant step forward for government transparency, opening up federal spending data that was once locked behind disparate systems and formats. Government agencies, grant managers, congressional appropriators and inspectors general would have the data necessary to do their jobs better, and taxpayers and watchdogs would gain clarity into how funds are used.
In the words of Michael Wood, former executive director of the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board: "The DATA Act is designed to provide the public with greater transparency on spending. Its emphasis on data standards, quality data, and more effective and less duplicative reporting should be positive for the grant community.”
In this post, we outline next steps and implications, as they relate to grant managers.
DATA Act Implementation Timeline
After the president signs the DATA Act into law, the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will begin creating the data standards necessary to regiment grantee and contractor reporting, and enable the online publishing of data. They have one year to review what’s currently being reported, generate consistent formats and identifiers for that information, and solicit public comments.
Once that is complete, agencies have two years to implement the data standards into the information they report to the Treasury, White House, and government-wide grant and contract databases. The standards will apply on a mandatory basis to grantee and contractor reporting requirements only after OMB conducts a pilot program. However, agencies can voluntarily choose to adopt standards before they are mandated.
The Impact on Grant Recipients
So, how does agency adoption of data standards for grant and contract reporting impact grant recipients? According to Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, at first, recipients may see little-to-no change. Agencies may set up processes to take existing PDFs and spreadsheets, and manually translate that information into required data formats, or simply request that information be shared via a web form instead of email.
For those that use grant management software, standards would also allow compliance automation pretty early on. Internal reporting systems will be able to sync directly with those of the agencies who provide funds.
Farther down the road, Hollister explained, there may be a single portal for reporting by grantees and contractors to the U.S. government. The aforementioned pilot program will test the effectiveness of consolidated grant and project reporting.
When this happens, grantees will see big benefits, in that they will submit information to a centralized location, instead of to multiple government agencies. Again, grant management software could automate this process on the recipient end.
Keep in mind: the information collected will remain the same. It will just be gathered in more efficient ways. According to Wood, “The DATA Act’s strong push toward the use of machine readable data and its reporting pilot will provide information to ease the burden for those filing reports for both contracts and grants."
Hollister adds: “Be proactive about this. Processes are going to have change, but that change is good because it will make your existing processes more efficient, and it will simultaneously be better for management and taxpayers.”
The Early Mover Advantage
The technology is already available to employ big data analytics and compliance automation once standards are in place. Therefore, while the DATA Act will take several years to execute, proactive grant recipients can reap the benefits much sooner. By implementing grant management software now, organizations will be able to automate reporting as soon as new data standards are released—much earlier than others.
As Hollister explained, “Any grantee or contractor that invests in systems to connect financial reporting to grant or contract reporting will see that investment repaid once DATA Act standards are in place.”
With improved reporting coming down the pike, it’s never too early to position your organization to efficiently maintain compliance and build capacity.
What steps are you taking in the wake of the DATA Act? What excites or concerns you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
For additional background information on the DATA Act, download our whitepaper.
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Information is power. With the DATA Act recently passing in the Senate, there has been much talk lately about the need for open government spending data that would shed light on where taxpayers’ dollars go, strengthen accountability, and allow for more efficient reporting processes and informed budgeting decisions.
In this post, we take a look at the three main benefits of open data: transparency, management and automation, as they were explained by Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition in an interview with StreamLink Software.
Note: The Coalition is the only private sector organization that lobbies for data standardization and publication, and is a strong advocate of the DATA Act.
As a taxpayer, the DATA Act is appealing because it gives the public better access to information on how money is being spent. Right now, the USASpending.gov website provides a summary of each branch and each contract. However, according to the Sunlight Foundation, that’s accurate only 33% of the time, making it largely unreliable data. The DATA Act will allow different compilations of information to be checked for quality and accuracy.
The DATA Act will also expand that reporting portal more broadly and with more granular management. Instead of a summary of each branch’s contracts, it will detail all associated transactions. It will also add internal spending on items like salary, supplies and facilities.
In addition to transparency, the DATA Act will improve the efficiency of government and make it easier to identify waste, fraud and abuse. We’ve all seen the stories about contracts that go way over budget. To stop this from happening, the government must deploy the same data analytics as the private sector.
Right now, it’s nearly impossible for the government to deploy vendor management software or predictive analytics for fraud because the information to seed those systems isn’t available. The DATA Act will make that information accessible by establishing consistent government-wide standards to be applied to all existing reporting requirements.
In addition, once standardized spending information is in place, congressional appropriators will have more access to what is actually being spent.
Everybody—grant managers, inspectors general and congressional appropriators—will have access to the information they need to do their jobs better.
Finally, if there are consistent data formats for all of the different submissions that grantees and contractors must make to the federal agency, it becomes possible to automate those submissions.
While the DATA Act requires grantees, contractors and agencies to report the same information, today’s processes are manual and inefficient. Typically, staff members pull reports from their financial systems, copy and paste data into spreadsheets, prepare a document and then email that document to someone. The administrative time and associated expenses are high, whereas an automated process would cut costs.
Standardized, open data makes automation possible.
Join Us at the Data Transparency Summit
Interested in learning more about open data, its benefits and implementation? Join StreamLink Software at the Data Transparency Summit on April 29 in Washington, D.C.
Hosted by the Data Transparency Coalition, the event will gather leaders from Congress and the executive branch to explore the DATA Act and federal spending transformation. It features three tracks to coincide with open data’s primary benefits: transparency, management and compliance.
As the sponsor of the compliance track, StreamLink Software’s panel will feature state-level innovators who will share grant reporting automation best practices and how they are preparing for the DATA Act. Register today!
Note that the next challenge after DATA Act passage and signature by the President will be implementation. It will take years for the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the two entities that the DATA Act puts in charge, to take the actions that the bill requires. The Data Transparency Coalition will keep up its advocacy at each step to ensure the work gets done.
To learn about the background of the DATA Act and its potential implications, download our whitepaper.
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Federal funding continues to play a crucial role in the grant-seeking world, making up a larger portion of organizational budgets this year compared to last.
According to the 2014 State of Grant Management report, 33% of total respondents receive more than half of their current grant funds from federal grantors, up from 16% last year. Seventy-seven percent receive at least some federal grant funds, down slightly from 81% last year.
As a result, organizations have become increasingly dependent on federal funding to maintain operations and serve their communities. With government reporting and standardization changes in the works, organizations must be educated on federal spending reforms and the implications for award recipients.
Breakdown of Federal Spending Reforms
A number of different forces are at work in Washington to reform spending, standardize processes and regulate compliance. These changes, both pending and newly enacted, affect all organizations that seek and manage government funds.
The Office of Management and Budget’s Final Guidance
In December 2013, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released Final Guidance on Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for federal awards. Its goal is to improve the financial integrity of taxpayer dollars and strengthen program outcomes through a government wide framework for grant management.
How will this affect grant-seeking organizations?
Through adjusted requirements, OMB’s Final Guidance puts greater weight on performance over compliance. Organizations and public sector agencies are urged to refocus time and energy toward proving programmatic success of objective goals.
It also streamlines reporting by consolidating eight previously separate documents into one (eliminating duplicate and incompatible provisions) and advocates for the collection, transmission and storage of data in open and machine-readable formats when possible. These improvements remove some of the administrative burdens previously associated with compliance, and make information more accessible and transparent across agencies.
OMB’s Final Guidance rewards outcome-focused, high performing recipients; pushes for integrated technology solutions; and targets waste, fraud and abuse through greater transparency and accountability. Read here for the four points you need to know about the Final Guidance.
Digital Accountability and Transparency Act
The DATA Act has been a hot topic for the past year and recently passed in the Senate. If passed by the House and approved by President Obama, this act will standardize spending data, improve reporting and analytics to pinpoint abuse, and help automate compliance.
It would affect all agencies and organizations that handle federal funds in any capacity—even if through consortia grants. Read here to better acquaint yourself with the DATA Act’s potential impact.
The Confidence Factor
Only 22% of respondents to the 2014 State of Grant Management Report are “very confident’ in their organization’s understanding of changing funding requirements.
Clearly, there is room for improvement for the other 78%.
The report found that those organizations using more sophisticated reporting solutions, such as grant management software and accounting tools, are more confident in their abilities to navigate changes than those who rely on in-house, ad hoc ones.
Proper technology use better prepares organizations for changes in compliance, reporting and standardization. This is because, often, these organizations have already implemented the necessary infrastructure to abide by new rules and regulations.
Educate yourself and your organization on the changing landscape of grant reporting and what impact it will have on your current processes. For more insights into the current state of grant management, download our report.
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Is your organization prepared to transition leadership?
Every so often, leadership roles cycle to keep a fresh perspective and approach for the organization. When this happens, having a well thought out succession plan is fundamental to a smooth transition.
Yet, the transition of board leadership and members can be a tricky and cumbersome task. As one person leaves, you must onboard and bring up to speed their successor.
To do this successfully, boards must provide the appropriate guidance, information, relationships and resources upfront and in an organized manner.
Have a Contingency Plan Documented
Don’t scramble at the last minute to develop a succession plan. Have one on the books and ready for when the time arises. Create a matrix of each board member’s expertise and competencies. Use that to identify strong potential leaders and skill gaps to fill relative to organizational requirements.
Board Leadership Succession Planning
It takes advanced planning to pick a board member with the right qualifications to advance to a leadership role. First, document the responsibilities of the position and then compare that to your skills matrix. Pinpoint those individuals that have the necessary qualifications and that are also interested in the role.
Train and develop these individuals early, so that they are well equipped to step up when the moment arrives. To maximize readiness, consider a mentoring or shadowing program, increased involvement in projects or practice in decision-making scenarios.
Board Member Succession Planning
Once a board member is appointed to a leadership position, his or her existing seat on the board will need to be filled. There are various ways for your organization to spread the word and find a qualified individual. However, word of mouth often works best.
Give greater weight to recommendations that come from individuals within the organization or who are strong supporters. These people are more likely to recommend candidates who align with your mission and goals.
Look too to your skills matrix, and be sure that candidates selected bring the necessary capabilities and attributes to the table to meet organizational need. For example, you want a variety of backgrounds represented (i.e. accounting, legal) as well as strengths (i.e. networking, fundraising). Keep necessary criteria in mind as you evaluate nominees.
Onboard and Transition Successors
Taking a leadership or new member role on a board is both exciting and daunting for many. With a succession plan in place, you can facilitate an easy transition for the team’s new additions.
Make sure to have important documents and valuable information organized and readily available. Many organizations utilize portals to consolidate information, documents and resources for easy accessibility. These software bundles enable new and existing members to:
- Access documents.
- Weed through archived conversations.
- Assess ongoing and upcoming activities.
- Review personnel responsibilities.
- Manage documents, meetings, information and personnel.
- Manage skills and demographic reports.
Done manually, this can be a timely and overwhelming process, both for the facilitator and the successor. Software solutions alleviate many of the tasks associated with onboarding and transitioning leadership.
What are some features of your organization’s contingency plan?
For more information on board processes, engagement and onboarding, download our ebook.
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You may have already read much about Heartbleed in the news lately, and the potential vulnerabilities that have been present in most secure websites.
StreamLink Software products, AmpliFund and BoardMax, have been safe, secure, and never vulnerable to potential breaches in data privacy through Heartbleed.
What is Heartbleed?
Heartbleed (CVE-2014-0160) is a bug in OpenSSL, the open source cryptography library commonly used by websites to make it secure. This bug would allow an attacker to read memory from a host computer, whereby allowing them to retrieve potentially privacy-sensitive data. The bug was recently discovered earlier this month by Neel Mehta of Google Security, who reported that it was present in all versions of OpenSSL in the 1.0.1 series released since March 14, 2012. For those websites affected, a patch (or fix) has been released for any vulnerable websites to implement immediately.
If you should have any specific questions pertaining to your AmpliFund or BoardMax data security, please don't hesitate to contact us directly!