Do you dread funder check-up calls because you don’t have the information right at your fingertips? The ability to answer inquiries and provide documentation in an instant is a growing expectation of funders.
By automating some manual processes, you can have quicker access to data, along with making your workday more efficient and helping you focus on your organization’s end goal of helping the community.
With origins in lean manufacturing, many of the principles found in system automation have, in recent years, been more widely adopted by other sectors, including the service and human resources industries. In automated systems, operations are performed with a reduced level of human participation compared with corresponding manual processes. This allows organizations to eliminate redundant tasks, streamline processes for simplicity and efficiency, and give employees much-needed time for other job responsibilities.
What does this mean when applied to the grant cycle?
Manufacturers are producing a product, but so are you. Your products are funder reports, constituent updates, annual reports, and the services your organization delivers. In the world of grants, business process automation increases productivity by reducing the time required to perform repetitive tasks. This is compelling for nonprofits because it leads to lower costs, improved program efficacy, and ultimately, direct benefits for constituents. Automation also leads to less waste, which can result in additional cost savings and a more effective production process.
With a Six Sigma lens, let’s take a look at the top ten reasons you should look to process automation to streamline your grant cycle.
- Increase labor productivity.
Technology and automation increase productivity by reducing the time it takes to perform repetitive tasks.
- Reduce labor cost.
Administrative time is the biggest black hole of any grant budget. Many grants don’t fully fund administrative and indirect costs, which means that organizations have to find additional funding to fill the gap. Automation can help to lessen the administrative burden required to manage grants, resulting in time and cost savings for grant recipients.
Grantees can also experience cost savings with the ability to reduce the amount of staff training required. Historically, it may have taken a long time to train staff on how to do manual tasks, especially if a high degree of accuracy was required (e.g. time and effort reporting). However, automated processes require less training, which can lead to lower overhead costs.
- Mitigate the effects of labor shortages.
You may be facing a true labor shortage and not have enough staff members or staff hours to cover all of the work that’s needed. If all of your grant staff left abruptly, where would your projects, training, and reporting stand? Automation helps to ensure greater consistency in processes, lessening the impact of labor shortages or in the event that key staff members leaves.
- Reduce or eliminate routine manual and clerical tasks.
This basically defines grant management: many time-intensive manual and clerical tasks, that really only consist of a small part of the tasks required to effectively manage grants.
- Improve worker safety.
In manufacturing, there are true physical safety concerns. In the grant industry, safety concerns are not generally physical threats but are more fiscal, ethical, and legal risks. Automation of processes means that you have a systematic way to ensure compliance with internal and external requirements, such as statutory requirements and federal code of regulations for federal awards.
- Improve product quality.
Automation will reduce defects. Reducing the risk of human error will save money and enhance the production process. In our world, the biggest indicator of quality is the audit. Automated systems will make auditing an easier process.
- Reduce production lead time.
Think of your product as funder reports, service delivery, constituent updates, annual report, or the 990. An automated system can help you reduce the time it takes to produce these items because they are incredibly flexible, so it’s easy to make changes. This flexibility is important if a requirement means that you have to make changes on short notice, like a new notice of award. Automation that includes a technology system allows for customization so it works for exactly what you need.
- Accomplish processes that cannot be done manually.
In the grant world, we may not have the same level of precision required in manufacturing, but we do have very rigorous reporting and audit requirements to meet. For instance, 2 CFR 200 is a provides extremely detailed standards that we are required to meet.
While many tasks can be completed manually, accuracy standards dictate that they should not be done manually.
- Improve consistency with less effort.
We ensure that each process will run effortlessly and that it will run in the same way every time it is run to ensure consistency in service delivery.
- Improve customer experience.
With more expectations for greater transparency, increased reporting requirements, and a whole host of new—or newly articulated—data fields that are going to be required, updating information for reporting purposes and calculating return on a cost-per-client basis can become daunting. With data entry point of service capabilities tied to program systems and the accounting function, grant reports can become much more manageable. An update can be made once in the system and be carried through to all the reporting functions.
If you were to assign a dollar amount to everything above, how much money would you be wasting?
This equates to opportunity costs, yet it always seems to come down to tangibles vs. intangibles, risk vs. reward, and my least favorite party crashers, “coulda, woulda, and shoulda.”
How can technology help with process automation?
Effectively identifying the activities and processes that you want to automate will allow you to better determine the type of the software you’ll need. There are many ways to automate processes and use software to aid in the improvement of flow and waste reduction: workflow, time reporting, clientele demographic, receivables and payables processing are key areas to look at for grant cycle automation. The key is to know
- Your business processes
- What improvements you want to make
- What software packages are already in place that work for your organization
- What solutions will make the improvements you want and work with your existing software
Do your research and find a solution that meets your goals, then you can begin to implement an automation project.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since it’s original February 2018 publish date.