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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

Track and Measure Grant Management Performance


Measure PerformanceOnce you’ve purchased a grant management solution, it is important to measure the software’s performance and return on investment over time. Doing so will validate the purchasing decision and provide the opportunity to tweak its use for improved efficiencies.

Create your plan to track and measure performance by following the below steps.

1. Define Success

Before you can track and measure performance, you must first define what success looks like to your organization.

Have clear, defined goals of what you would like the software to accomplish. These goals should be strategic, measurable and attainable.

Key metrics to consider include:

  • Grant proposal success rate
  • Grant funds lost to drawn down dollars
  • Grant funds lost to audits
  • Staff time spent writing grants
  • Staff time spent on administrative tasks
  • Staff time spent on audit preparation

Focus on those that will have the most meaningful impact on your organization. For example, perhaps you’d like to cut grant administrative time in half or ensure all funds are drawn down by the end of the year.

2. Quantitatively Measure and Track

Once goals and key metrics have been determined, you can begin to track and measure the success of your grant management software and processes.

Evaluate incremental performance by comparing key metrics before and after grant management software implementation. (Note: A template can be found on page 12 of the Grant Management Software Implementation Guide.)

Benchmarks and ongoing monitoring will help quantify grant management software ROI and provide you objective feedback on implementation success.

3. Identify Qualitative Performance

Success should be seen not only from a numbers’ perspective, but also from an end user’s point of view. After all, if end users are having a poor experience with the technology, efficiency and long-term adoption will be negatively impacted.

Through strategic feedback mechanisms, your organization can collect data on how the software has affected end user’s jobs. Details collected can then add high-level insight behind the numbers. There are various ways to collect meaningful feedback:

  • Before and after self-assessments
  • Group discussions
  • Individual interviews
  • Voluntary feedback groups

The type of feedback exercises your organization chooses is contingent upon your culture, internal processes, available time and the quality of feedback desired.

A measurement plan must be in place to track success of your new grant management processes. For more on how to adopt and implement grant management software, read our Grant Management Software Implementation Guide.

     Implementation Guide

How does your organization track and measure technology success?

Image Source: HeavyWeightGeek via Flickr

Illinois Grant Reform Act: What It Means for Government Grant Recipients


grant reform lawA new Illinois law aimed at streamlining management of state-awarded funds foreshadows more stringent and data-driven grant management requirements across the country. The Grant Accountability and Transparency Act, known also as the Illinois Grant Reform Act, was signed into law on July 16, following a report presented by the Illinois Single Audit Commission.

In 2013, the bi-partisan commission was tasked with developing a process for effective and efficient grant management, including the selection of award recipients; the implementation of quality and monitoring measures; and the proactive limitation of fraud, waste and abuse.

The reforms heighten financial controls, and are the next step in a national trend of funding transparency, open data and more strict grant requirements.

What the Law Means for Illinois

For Illinois grant recipients, the reform act streamlines state grant management through uniform grant requirements, strengthens conflict of interest disclosure requirements, and creates processes for real-time auditing of all state grants.

The law’s goal is to reduce overall administrative burden, improve funding oversight and eradicate fund misuse.

What the Law Means for Grant Recipients Everywhere

While the Illinois Grant Reform Act directly affects only the recipients of the state’s grant dollars, the new standards underscore three emerging trends in the grant community:

1. Trickle-Down Grant Management

Illinois is the first state in the U.S. to enact a comprehensive set of standards for the management and oversight of state grant funds—but it won’t be the last. The measures are intended to align state grant processes with those recently established by the new OMB Uniform Guidance, released in December 2013.  

As federal funding reforms force compliance downstream, other states will adopt similar standards for those giving and receiving grants.

2. Uniformity Is Key

Echoing the demands of the open data movement, standardization of data and processes are the first step in achieving the financial transparency that can pinpoint and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. The Illinois Single Audit Commission’s report detailed that the state lacked a common application and grant agreement, uniform administration rules and sufficient funding transparency.

Uniformity also has an indirect role in financial responsibility through simplification—today through more straightforward guidelines and processes, and tomorrow through machine-readable data. Reducing the administrative burden allows grant funds and programs to be managed more efficiently, improving outcomes across the system.

    3. Data Will Help Enforce Compliance and Drive Decision-Making

      Also poised to shift the grant ecosystem is the rise of data. As Illinois State Representative Patti Bellock explained, the new standards will help ensure “that state grants are awarded only for legitimate initiatives to improve the quality of life and opportunity for individuals, families, students, entrepreneurs and others in Illinois."

      More thorough and accurate data on public sector grants will enable more comprehensive oversight and more data-driven, performance-based funding distribution.

      To learn more about how federal funding reforms are reshaping the grant community, download “The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.”

       Grant Reporting Whitepaper

      Image Source: umjanedoan via Flickr

      Building a Grant Management Training and Support Program


      Training and SupportAdopting new software can seem like a big undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be.

      After purchasing a grant management solution, prepare end users so that they are knowledgeable and comfortable with new processes.

      Below are considerations for your organization when building a training and implementation plan.

      1. Ease Uncertainties and Frustrations

      Uncertainty and frustration are common to many when new processes are presented. To mitigate these feelings, have a clearly defined communication plan in place. Even with the promise of added value, some may doubt the solution’s benefits.

      Communication should come early and often to keep all affected parties well informed. Encourage open communication among affected staff. This will expose you to uncertainties early on and provide the ability to soothe concerns.

      2. Prepare Staff for Training

      Best grant management software vendors will provide complementary training service to help end users assimilate to their new workflows.

      To prep for such training, ensure real grant data is readily available for use during training. This provides end users with hands-on learning, while highlighting ways to configure the system to your organization’s unique processes.

      Training sessions should review user levels, product functionality and capabilities, and ideal processes. To gain the full value from training sessions:

      • Arrive on time and prepared to each session.
      • Insist on an agreed-upon training schedule with your vendor.
      • Jump right in! Don’t hesitate to get started.

      3. Take Advantage of Ongoing Training

      After initial implementation goals have been achieved, an ongoing support system is helpful to continue proper use of the software.

      As employees work within the tool, it is common for questions to arise and expert support to be required. Designate a point person within your organization to manage inquiries, provide troubleshooting and interface with the vendor as necessary.

      Also, when purchasing a solution, evaluate vendors based on post-purchase support. The best ones will provide troubleshooting and customer support to ensure success implementation and use. If your vendor offers these services, take full advantage.

      Furthermore, annual refresher courses can continue to keep users’ skills sharp and guarantee your organization is getting the full value out of the product.

      With the proper training and support program in place, adoption of your new grant management software system will be a breeze.

      Contact us for more information about how StreamLink Software approaches training for customers. Or, for further reading on grant management solution implementation, download our guide, Change Management: Adopt and Implement Grant Management Software.  

           Implementation Guide

      Image Source: via Flickr

      How To Coordinate Board Committee Communications


      board committee successBoard committees focus on specific functions, programs or projects as assigned by the greater board. Their purpose is to provide expertise and acute attention to areas of assignment.

      When leading a committee, diverse backgrounds, opinions and strengths can be both positive attributes and areas of management concern. Learn how to leverage effective communication to position the committee for success. 

      1. Set Expectations and Goals 

      In initial committee meetings, ensure all members are well informed before the real work begins. Consider holding an open discussion centered on expectations and potential outcomes.

      • What is the committee’s purpose?
      • Are committee members voluntary, elected or nominated?
      • Is everyone aware of the initiative’s end goal?
      • Are responsibilities clearly defined?

      Setting expectations and goals gets committee members on the same page and working together.

      2. Define Roles

      For committee success, members must have clearly defined roles. Inform each member of what they are responsible for, how their success will be measured and what projects or initiatives they own. Clearly defined roles create the hierarchy necessary for strong communication and collaboration. 

      3. Establish Communication Processes

      To ensure activities progress, establish an agreed-upon communication process with committee members. 

      Discuss ideal communication methods including how documents will be sent, where files will be organized, who should be involved in the communication of various scenarios and what the communication chain of command is. 

      4. Leverage Communication Technology 

      Technology, such as a board portal, can promote better communication by streamlining processes, enabling more fluid meetings and facilitating discussion.

      When considering a board portal, seek features that correlate with your organization’s management and communication goals. Consider: 

      • Shared meeting and event calendars
      • Task assignment capabilities
      • Member expectation and performance tracking
      • Ability to create ballots and polls
      • Automated email communications
      • Ability to post meeting minutes and notes 

      Board portals also offer centralized documentation and file storage, perfect for committees of all sizes to keep organized and on task.

      How does your committee promote effective communication?

      For more ways to promote effective communication among your board, download our ebook “Maximizing Board Engagement and Effectiveness.”

      Download Ebook

      Image Source: Sarah Joy via Flickr

      How to Sell Grant Management Software to the C-Suite


      C-suite Grant ManagementThough grant managers and staff will be the ones who ultimately use a grant management technology solution, the final purchasing decision often lies in the hands of the C-Suite—whether it is the CEO, CIO, CTO or other.

      Pitch grant management technology to your c-suite with confidence by following the below tips:

      Know Your Audience

      The features and value that appeal to you as a grant manager may not translate to your c-suite audience as a driving force to purchase the solution.

      Each CXO views the company and its decisions from a different standpoint. The CEO ultimately cares about overall success and organizational impact, the CFO costs and financial savings, and the CIO technology implementation and maintenance. 

      Discern whether your CXOs are very technical or more high-level strategic thinkers, and then tailor your proposal with them in mind.

      Be Mindful of their Time 

      C-suite executives have busy schedules so when you obtain an audience with one, ensure that you do not waste his or her time.

      • Have a pre-defined agenda that you’ve shared ahead of time.
      • Only block off as much time on the calendar as truly needed.
      • Don’t speak in jargon or beat around the bush. Be direct and specific.
      • Don’t speak at them, speak with them. The conversation will move along quicker and more fluidly when approaching it as dialogue rather than a presentation.

      The technology solution you are pitching will help streamline processes, gain organizational efficiencies and save money through enhanced compliance and improved operations. Communicate this in an easy-to-digest, straightforward manner.

      Speak to the Why Not the How

      Many in the c-suite evaluate requests based on their holistic organizational impact. Because of this, don’t get caught up in the nitty-gritty elements of your argument.

      Avoid overloading your c-suite audience with lengthy facts and figures. Instead, have a few key statistics handy that directly speak to the bottom line. To do so, consider highlighting that grant management software:

      As you formulate your pitch, ask yourself if you are making a case that speaks to the bigger picture of the organization.

      CXOs don’t have the time or budget to say “yes” to every idea and solution that comes across their desks. Show that grant management technology can be an asset to not just your department, but the organization as a whole.

      How will you make the case to your CXO?

      For more ways to communicate the return on investment of grant management software, download our free ebook: Finding Your Grant Management Software ROI.

      Image Source: Tax Credits via Flickr

      Federal Funding Insight from NACo’s County Intelligence Connection (CIC) 2.0


      At its 2014 Annual Conference, the National Association of Counties (NACo) unveiled three new research products focused on counties’ needs, challenges and best practices.

      Among them was County Intelligence Connection (CIC) 2.0, a big-data tool designed to help counties make informed policy decisions. CIC 2.0 features an interactive map to view and explore the latest data available for dozens of datasets and more than 500 unique indicators for all 3,069 U.S. counties.

      The color-coded map illustrates demographic information, financial data and more, and makes it, for the most part, open and available to the public. [Note: County Innovation Network (COIN) login required to access all 18 categories and 66 datasets.]

      What NACo’s CIC 2.0 Means for Federal Grant Recipients

      Following on the heels of the DATA Act, CIC 2.0 is the next in a wave of open data initiatives. Below, we outline what CIC 2.0 means for federal grant recipients, both as a standalone tool and as another piece in the government data puzzle.

      Shared Goals and Needs Give Rise to Consortia Grants

      Consortia grants and public-private partnerships have been on the rise, and CIC 2.0 could spur further collaboration. County governments and nonprofits are uniquely aligned in their missions, and can often complement one another in executing local social services.

      CIC 2.0 makes it easy to see where resources are allocated (for example, to initiatives like Housing and Urban Development), giving public and private entities a window into community needs. Data transparency makes it easier to uncover collaboration opportunities to further advance services offered, and allows for new partnerships between neighboring counties, local nonprofits and private contractors. 

      HUD FundingAbove: Screenshot from CIC 2.0 showing federal HUD funding for Cuyahoga County, where StreamLink Software is headquartered. 

      A Big Step Forward for Open Data and Big Data

      CIC 2.0 also lays bare county finance data including administrative revenue and expenditures, intergovernmental revenue, and each county's annual financial report, as aggregated from publicly available government data.

      As the DATA Act makes more spending data available and public, such as internal expenditures, including salary, supplies and facilities, third parties like NACo will be able to further distill federal spending information into usable formats and actionable insights. With such granular federal spending data available, waste, fraud and abuse will be more difficult to achieve, and far easier to expose. 

      Administrative ExpensesAbove: Screenshot from CIC 2.0 showing administration expenditures for Cuyahoga County compared to other counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

      The Advent of Performance-Based Funding Distribution

      The inclusion of county annual financial reports, in particular, demonstrate how open data could eventually lead way to performance-based funding.

      Once federal awards can be tracked downstream to the penny, and service performance relayed back upstream to the original source, dollars will finally be tied to results. Then, federal grant funds can be funneled to the public or private entities that demonstrate the greatest return on investment. This means waste will be reduced, excellence rewarded, and overall citizen services will be improved.

      Try CIC 2.0 to explore the data for yourself. To learn more about open data’s impact on grant recipients, download “The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.”

       Grant Reporting Whitepaper

      Image Source: Screenshots taken from CIC 2.0


      Big Data Challenges and Opportunities for Federal Agencies


      Big DataLeaders from civil society, industry, academia and federal departments and agencies met on June 19 at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy's Massive Data Institute for “Improving Government Performance in the Era of Big Data: Opportunities and Challenges for Federal Agencies.” The workshop focused on the opportunities and challenges ahead for federal agencies in light of the increasing availability of data.

      The conversation stemmed, in part, from President Obama’s agenda to drive innovation and prosperity. The Administration has declared data an “important national resource” that should be used strategically and responsibly, and more specifically, to fuel entrepreneurship, scientific discovery and economic growth.

      In 2013, President Obama gave an executive order to make open and machine-readable data formats required for all new government IT operations. Exactly one year later, the President signed the DATA Act into law—the country’s first open data law. The DATA Act furthers the 2013 executive order by requiring all information to be made publicly available in a standardized, downloadable and machine-readable format. As a result, all spending data, including grant funds, can be tracked to the penny and tied to program outcomes.

      Below we highlight key lessons for federal agencies from the conference panels and the White House's working report on big data, "Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values."

      Lesson 1: The Positive Power of Big Data is Evident.

      “The availability of large data sets and computing power to derive value from them … makes possible valuable data-driven insights that are measurably improving outcomes in areas from education to healthcare,” said Nicole Wong, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the event’s opening remarks.

      Both public and private sectors can maximize the value of big data through its ability to synthesize massive data sets, uncover trends, spot outliers and deploy predictive analytics

      As noted in the White House report, “Big data technologies can derive value from large datasets in ways that were previously impossible—indeed, big data can generate insights that researchers didn’t even think to seek."

      Last fall, the White House Office of Science & Technology policy showcased 28 public-private partnerships using big data to further national priorities, including economic growth and job creation, education, health, energy and sustainability, public safety and national security, and global development. These projects demonstrate the promise of big data, if properly implemented.

      For grant managers within federal agencies, big data will mean grant compliance automation and results-based award distribution.

      Lesson 2: Harnessing Big Data Will Require Greater Technology and Operational Infrastructure.

      The sources and formats of big data are vast and continually growing. Data sources include, but are not limited to, the web, social media, mobile applications, federal, state and local records and databases, commercial databases that aggregate everything from transactions to public records, surveys, geo-location and other information gathered from internet-enabled devices, and much more.

      The ability to compute and aggregate such large amounts of disparate data makes it possible for government agencies to react to data in real time and provide more fluid delivery of services. More comprehensive data paves the way for more clearly mapped trends and patterns, allowing government agencies to allocate resources more responsibly and effectively.

      The potential is promising, but both the technology and the operational infrastructure must be in place in order to support these opportunities. Adequate computing power, data storage and user interface must be established to make massive data sets manageable and actionable for federal agency employees. Furthermore, the operational infrastructure must be in place to support the delivery of citizen services—or, dynamic coordination with grant recipients and sub-recipients to manage program execution.  

      Lesson 3: Data May Be Everywhere, But Agencies Must Still Be Accountable for Its Use.

      As big data use becomes more prevalent, government agencies will need to be wary that data is used and stored responsibly. Efforts like the Cybersecurity Framework, launched in February 2014, are necessary to ensure the security of the critical infrastructure supporting much of the world’s data assets. 

      A greater emphasis is also being put on a “responsible use” framework for big data. As the White House report explains, "Focusing on responsible use also holds data collectors and users accountable for how they manage the data and any harms it causes, rather than narrowly defining their responsibility to whether they properly obtained consent at the time of collection."

      For grant managers, this may impact how federal agencies can leverage data in evaluating grant program performance and ROI, as well as how grant program recipients’ privacy is protected.

      To learn more about what was covered, watch the panel discussions, and download "Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values."

      Or, for more on open data’s impact on grant recipients, download “The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting.”

       Grant Reporting Whitepaper

      Image Source: Bob Mical via Flickr

      How Engaged is Your Board? Respond to Our Survey!


      STLK Survey

      Editor's note: The 2014 board engagement survey is now closed. Survey responses were compiled to generate the 2014 Board Engagement Report. Download the report here.


      Our 2013 board engagement survey found that one in four board members aren’t fully engaged with the mission of their organizations. 

      As the lifeblood of nonprofits, disengaged boards threaten organizational sustainability, minimize fundraising efforts, and endanger compliance and governance.

      Has the state of board engagement improved, or are organizations still struggling to motivate board members and overcome complacency? What are thriving boards doing that others can learn from and emulate? We want to know, but need your help!

      We invite you to participate in our brief board engagement survey. With your insight, we can gather detailed information on:

      • Alignment of board expectations and responsibilities
      • Board management and communication practices
      • Member engagement, impact and satisfaction levels

      Responses will be compiled to form our 2014 report, which can serve as a benchmark for your organization and offer insight into how you can improve engagement.

      Oh, and did we mention—All respondents will be entered for a chance to win a $250 Amazon gift card! That’s pretty awesome, right?

      Take The Survey

      Interested in checking out the 2013 report? Download it here.

      Image Credit: AJ Cann via Flickr

      How To Communicate a Technology Rollout Plan


      AAAAA COMSYour new technology purchase was made to streamline and standardize processes. Now, it is time to integrate it into your team’s daily activities in a way that realizes those goals.

      To see success, the technology rollout must be effectively communicated to all parties involved. Use the tips below to facilitate an easy and enjoyable adoption process:

      1. Explain Why the Technology is Being Implemented

      Before your team can get on board with the new technology, potential software users must understand why their processes are changing. Whether it is board or grant management software, the reasons often boil down to: 

      • Streamlined processes
      • Saved money and time
      • Simplified reporting and compliance
      • Improved organization of important documents
      • Less internal silos

      Communicate the importance of achieving these goals and how technology makes it all possible. It is also helpful to explain that, though the change may seem overwhelming and time-consuming to learn, the end result will make the job easier and add value across daily tasks.

      2. Strategically Plan Your Communications

      Communication should come early and often. Inform affected parties of how you will guide them through every step of the adoption and rollout process.

      To do so, create an internal communication plan and structure when, how and from whom communications will be relayed. Messaging should be strategic and reassure employees that the change will not just be thrown on them. 

      Include the following in your rollout communication plan: 

      • Who: Identify key stakeholders, users and others affected by the new software.
      • What: Document key messages, tasks, milestones and deadlines that need to be communicated.
      • When: Map communications around key milestones such as training sessions, internal due dates and grant reporting deadlines.
      • Where: Decide the best channel(s) to communicate with users.
      • Why: Always weave the reason behind the transition into all communications.

      3. Address Concerns

      Change does not come easy for everyone, even with the promise of added value. Some may doubt its benefits or argue that the status quo works fine. Common concerns include: 

      • Not having time
      • Fear of someone watching over them as they work
      • Not adhering to change

      Address concerns head on by soliciting an honest discussion about apprehensions, insecurities and doubt. Awareness of these feelings will help you better formulate a way to soothe concerns.

      Technology will only bring expected value if your team is on board. Mitigate fear, manage concerns and promote adoption of your new technology purchase.

      For more ways to facilitate an effective technology rollout, download "Change Management: Adopt and Implement Grant Management Software."

           Implementation Guide

      Image Source: Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr

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