Want to know what’s going on behind the scenes for federal grant recipients? I recently interviewed Adam Roth, founder, and CEO of StreamLink Software, the maker of grant management software AmpliFund for some insights into some of the latest challenges.
We had a wide-ranging conversation about the recent “2017 State of Grant Management Report” and the DATA Act implications for grant recipients.
Listen to the Part I of the interview by clicking on the audio player below:
7 Insights from Grant Manager to Grant Management Software
Adam was a grant manager, managing over 35 federal grants when his life took the uncommon career pivot to starting a software company. His insights about working with grant recipients show his deep understanding of the challenges that grant professionals face every day.
Insight #1: Grants Require Creativity and Communication
Nonprofits must have an entrepreneurial mindset about funding their programs. No, this doesn’t mean risking capital to fund the latest great idea, but instead, it involves being able to think creatively about solutions and communicate with a wide variety of audiences.
For example, nonprofits are constantly:
- Reinventing programs
- Redefining how they do things
- Reimagining ways to approach problems
An important part of grant writing and ongoing grant management involves communicating innovative solutions to potential funders and sharing the real-world implications when implementing solutions.
Grant recipients are also marketing their solutions both to funders who pay for the services and the public who use the services. Each constituency has different goals and aspirations for the benefits of the program. To be successful, both grant writers and grant managers must have inventive ways of solving problems and be skilled at communicating with a wide variety of people.
Insight #2: Always Search for Program Sustainability
Funding streams often dictate the types of programs that you can use to support your mission as an organization. Many times, foundations and even the federal government may fund a program for a specific period. But then, the expectation is that the organization will find a way to sustain the work after that time period is done.
And the federal government realizes that they need to partner with nonprofits and others in local communities for the best outcomes. If you think about it, the tax code gives breaks to nonprofits in exchange for the anticipated help that nonprofits offer in solving social issues.
Behind those subsidies in the taxes is a belief that nonprofit organizations stand a better chance of solving problems in their communities efficiently and cost-effectively than the federal government.
But to continue supporting your mission, you should always be thinking about ways to make the program sustainable beyond the initial funding stream.
Insight #3: Grantees Share Common Struggles
In the ”2017 State of Grant Management Report” the most common issues for all grant recipients are communication and management of information across complex organizations.
These dual challenges are especially relevant when it comes to reporting on grants. You may have monthly or quarterly reports due to some funders that are not required by other funding streams.
You may also be reporting on performance on a monthly basis, and of course, if you are subject to the Uniform Guidance for federal grants, you may also be subject to the Single Audit Act (formerly A-133) and have that enhanced audit to plan for as well.
All of these additional requirements for grants require a deeper involvement from:
- HR functions
- Financial functions
- Leadership functions
- Program functions
- Development functions
I think we can all agree.
The ability to incorporate and manage information so you can understand where you are at any point in time on a grant creates both communication and information management challenges.
And it’s not just about whether you receive the grants, it’s also about:
- How much have you drawn down?
- How much revenue have you earned?
- How did you perform against those dollars that you received?
- How did you have to get reimbursed based on performance?
All of the various communication and information management components create risk in the ability to be compliant with the requirements of your grants, and the capacity to earn and draw down the full value of the grants that you’ve received.
Finally, that risk is made worse by inconsistencies in communication between finance and development staff that may look at the same grant and the same dollars in different ways.
Bringing together a system that allows you to connect and communicate the data and information while respecting the differing thoughts and perspectives of various stakeholders was a core goal of AmpliFund software when it started in 2011.
We all share common struggles with communicating and managing information; grant software can help organizations centralize data for improved collaboration.
Insight #4: Accessibility Improves Communication
Working with grants, we all have different perspectives on the world. Development people are inherently optimistic and love to talk about wins and the good news in the money that they’ve raised. Finance tends to have a more narrow view. They want to know what is earned and what can we claim?
But historically, the technology systems are either in the donor space or the financial accounting space. Both of these systems are typically storage and retrieval systems where a very small subset of an organization puts information into the system. That information is stored and then retrieved to use in a report or mail merge set of documents. In other words, those systems are restrictive regarding who has access, and each area looks at money in its own specific way.
A good grant system needs to bring the information related to the grant together in a consolidated format. That way you can share and move information between divisions and departments. You can collect additional data from the programs, and others, such as the HR group, so that you’re looking at a system that cuts across the different perspectives.
When information accessibility improves, communication does too!
Insight #5: For Better Solutions, Understand Common Challenges
The ”2017 State of Grant Management Report” talks about common challenges for grant recipients. But to understand those challenges, it’s helpful to know who participated in the survey and how the data will be used.
Here are the details:
StreamLink Software, the maker of AmpliFund, has been surveying stakeholders for the last five years about grant management to gain a better understanding of what is going on across the grant market and the nonprofit industry. The survey includes AmpliFund customers and non-customers alike so that the best view of problems and challenges in the current environment can be better understood.
This year’s survey included 195 responses from grant professionals. About half of the respondents identified as grant writers or managers, while about twenty percent were executives and ten percent were development directors. It was a mix of grant staff members and executives participating in the survey.
Surveying common challenges helps StreamLink Software to yield better solutions for grants. This information is used to develop future enhancements and components for AmpliFund, ensuring that the product is the most impactful to grant recipients and incorporates the best tools for the future to a wide group of people.
Insight #6: Most Organizations Missing Grant-Ready Software
Only about 23% of survey respondents use software intended for grant management. While that is an increase from only 10% five years ago, it is still a very small percentage of grant recipients.
What is even more surprising is that the pressures for federal grant recipients from the Uniform Grant Guidance, the DATA Act and other expectations of business process standardization have not driven more people into solutions specifically designed for grant recipients.
The good news is that there’s still time to get these things going. Compliance requirements will continue to increase from the federal government, and there will be more pressure to move away from traditional paper and non-standardized processes.
Insight #7: The DATA Act Is Still a Mystery for Most
Most grant managers do not understand the impact the DATA Act will have in the future on federal grant recipients. There are many reasons for this. One is that the changes are primarily driven and managed at the federal level so far and haven’t filtered down to recipients.
The final report to Congress was submitted by OMB this year after they ran the pilot projects for data collection for a year. The recommendations centered on creating more standardized, technology-driven innovation around data collection, and integrating federally defined standard data sets into data collection and reporting.
In other words, after a ton of work looking at things from a form-centric perspective, the recommendations from OMB took a data-centric approach. This shift in perspective means the ability to collect and manage data is the paramount value creation that’s going to come out of the DATA Act—not just the standardization of forms.
For grant recipients, this means the federal systems will be more dependent on submitting data elements, and those elements could apply to multiple forms so you won’t be duplicating as much data entry over time.
It is clear that the federal agencies aren’t looking to continue the same old, same old, standard process of how they collect information. Moving to data-centric, machine-readable formats for information collection is where things are heading. The data will need to be standardized and tied to federal reporting structures, and that’s going to create a huge challenge.
In fact, it’s going to be an even bigger trial given the survey results that only around 23% of organizations are using the kind of data system structure that would be capable of doing this advanced kind of grant reporting today.
Conclusion: The DATA Act is the Tip of the Iceberg
The DATA Act launch required 57 data elements in the pilot project. It’s now more than 100, and it will continue to grow! And that launch was just the tip of the iceberg. For example, one of the outputs of The DATA Act was to catalog all the grant data elements on record. The CDER Library created to catalog the elements now contains over 25,000 data elements!
Grant recipients need to be aware that flexibility in collecting and managing the grant-related data will be required to meet the number of standardized data elements required, and the total universe of data elements. No longer will hard coding a specific system to collect a defined data structure be a manageable solution in the future.
Want some additional resources about these topics?
Click the link to receive a copy of the ‘‘2017 State of Grant Management Report”
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