Want to know what’s going on behind the scenes for federal grant recipients?
I recently finished my second interview with Adam Roth, founder, and CEO of StreamLink Software, the maker of grant management software AmpliFund, for some insights Grant Leader Spotlight.
We had a wide-ranging conversation in this second interview about the recent ‘‘2017 State of Grant Management Report” and the implications of new open data initiatives Grant Leader Spotlight and greater transparency for grant recipients.
Click here to listen to Part II of the interview.
Why Open Data Is So Important
Open data is more than a bi-partisan mandate out of the federal government. It is an initiative to bring transparency of federal spending to taxpayers.
Leadership within various parts of the government has been driving this change along with demands by the citizenry who what to know how their tax dollars are spent in all areas of the federal government including grants.
More and more information will be accessible, and with that will come new methods of analyzing the data in innovative and different ways.
Understanding what open data will mean to you and your organization is important because it will dictate what practices and policies related to grant management you will need to have in place.
And while this will create more work initially, it will ultimately create bigger efficiencies than the traditional methods of collecting information on paper and converting that into the format you need for reporting.
#1 Speedbump on the Open Data Highway
One of the biggest “speedbumps” you may encounter with the shift to open data is a culture change because this concept is a different way to do things and look at information. When making changes, one of the biggest roadblocks is not that the old way is great or the new way is bad; it’s that people don’t want to change what they are doing.
The challenge of a culture change means that organizations need to prepare for some good strategic conversations within their organizations about how to implement and stimulate change in their organizations.
Adam predicts the availability of data is ultimately going to make everybody’s job easier, in the long run. Open data has the power to support better decision-making and more transparency, and help organizations better serve and meet their missions.
7 Tips for Driving Change
When you want to implement a successful strategic change within your organization, here are some tips:
- Get leadership buy-in
- Include access to leaders when creating an implementation committee
- Understand your current process
- Determine what’s good about the current process
- Decide what doesn’t work with the existing system
- Create a roadmap for where you are to where you are going
- Communicate with others in the organization
But look before you leap!
The change process has to start with leadership.
There are so many pieces and parts of organizations tied into grants such as finance groups, HR groups, and program groups. The only way you’re going to bring all of these groups together to a successful conclusion is through leadership involvement.
Invest in a More Systematic Approach
There is no doubt the new requirements for grant recipients are going to create an increase in compliance time at least initially. In the past auditors have focused on testing the results to ensure they are sufficient for reporting. Now auditors want you to define how you monitor and ensure compliance throughout the life of the grant. It’s now more about testing the systems in addition to testing the results. That’s the source of some of the additional burden we’ve been discussing.
For example, in time and effort reporting, they don’t define a process in the Uniform Guidance, but they say that however you do it, you have to do it in a standardized way that’s consistent across the organization.
In other words, you need to have a policy in place and a system to support it.
There’s more work setting up those systemic structures in the beginning. Adam says there are two ways to look at that. One is a cost, and one is an investment.
Investment in creating the correct system structures and policies to collect, monitor and move data, will dramatically decrease the amount of effort going forward for reporting. Especially if you get tools in place that allow you to automate a lot of the collection processes along with those data streams that you’re building today.
Let’s say you’ve been doing time and effort reporting across twenty different departments within an organization. Now the CFO writes one policy. And yes, you have to put a system in place to ensure that it happens, but that is better than doing time and effort twenty different ways across your organization and trying to monitor and report the results on the backend.
Systemization demands some work up front but will ultimately create better information in a timelier reporting structure and a more efficient reporting structure.
Two Top Challenges for Grant Professionals
The survey looked at a lot of the common challenges and frustrations of grant recipients.
Challenge #1: The number one challenge of grant recipients was communication cited by 24% of respondents.
Challenge #2: The second biggest challenge is managing the grant writing and submission process. That was the next biggest challenge with 17% of the respondents.
It was surprising that post-award performance and measurement wasn’t the leading grant management frustration as it had been the last three years.
It also seems that the DATA Act and the concept of open data are not on most people’s radar yet. This lack of pain tells us that federal agencies aren’t widely communicating to grant recipients about how they want to see the DATA Act reporting done by recipients.
That’s a bit scary as this could come into play in less than a year. Stay tuned to see if the DATA Act shows up in next year’s survey.
Communication Requirements Are Evolving
Think about how grant reporting from federal agencies to foundations has changed over the years.
At one point the communication to a foundation was simply sending out that note at the end of the year saying, ”Our organization benefited greatly from your grant, and we’re all set.”
Then it changed to “The program served 400 kids and those kids all got, great tutoring after school.” And that was sufficient in the communication department for a while.
Then it became, ”We served 400 kids. Each kid received this, and this was their output, this was their outcome, this is how many test scores improved.”
As you get into more granular data as it relates to communication, we have to shift that soft skill into that harder skill of how do we capture and move data, and then how do we communicate and report on it?
Communication, as it relates to grants in the future, will be about the movement and the information sharing of data.
The DATA Act and the Uniform Guidance put this open data era in the federal government into fast-forward mode. In many cases, the federal government is several steps ahead of the private sector regarding standardizing the types of data collection, the types of systems and the data movements required for compliance with managing the federal money.
Building Efficiency in a Time of Transformation
There has been a distinct shift in grants to more performance-based reporting. Whether you are looking at the Uniform Guidance, open government initiatives or the DATA Act, all are structured to make information more accessible so we can manage change more efficiently.
The shift to performance measurements in grants will also drive greater accountability. And if the federal government wants to do a better job managing what’s happening with taxpayer dollars, they will want to know how grants fit into that.
The federal grant-making each year is between $600 billion and $700 billion. The amount of grant dollars that go just to cities, counties, and states represents 5% of the country’s gross domestic product. It is a massive part of the economy.
If we can understand how that piece of the economy is performing and if we can gain efficiencies, it can have a huge impact. So, it’s not only about transforming an individual grant program, but it’s also about transforming the economy and ensuring a significant amount of taxpayer dollars create real value.
First Steps to Prepare for Open Data
Now is the time to prepare for the impact of open data on your grant management.
Here are some specific actions you can take to prepare your organization.
First Step: Regardless of the dollar amount of grants you receive, you need to get some system in place to capture and share information.
Next Step: If you have anything beyond a few small grants, you should be looking at some form of a technology system that would allow you to configure the type of data that you can capture and map that data to specific federal funding requirements.
It should also give you the ability to map your internal organizational systems and not necessarily have the technology dictate the systems you use as an organization.
In other words, you want a tool that’s configurable and creates the structure in a systematic way that focuses on data collection, not a collection of paper reports. You want something that captures data elements, not just documents so that you can easily meet the new reporting requirements Grant Leader Spotlight.
Conclusion: Implement Today for Less Work Tomorrow
Yes, it will take work to implement a solid system, but once it’s in place, the level of work and effort should go down dramatically.
For example, at one of the colleges StreamLink Software worked with, took a process that used to take them ten days to complete regarding the internal review, and it now takes them three days to complete. They systematized it and standardized it through technology Grant Leader Spotlight.
The result is not only a lower level of effort but also a process that increases their likelihood of success on grants.
Now there is more time to write and respond Grant Leader Spotlight to requests for proposals. So that investment created value for the organization Grant Leader Spotlight.
Want some additional resources about these topics?
Read Part I of the Grant Leader Series: Adam Roth and AmpliFund
Read Part III of the Grant Leader Series: Adam Roth and AmpliFund
Click here to receive the ”2017 State of Grant Management Report”
And check out the AmpliFund blog for additional resources.
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Lucy Morgan CPA, MBA
CEO, Compliance Warrior
Author of “Decoding Grant Management-The Ultimate Success Guide to the Federal Grant Regulations in 2 CFR Part 200” The 2nd Edition is now available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle versions.