Three ways counties are driving innovation through SaaS-based grant management
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, county governments have drastically shifted their economic development priorities. Rather than supporting functions like recruitment, expansion and job creation, administrators are focused on helping local businesses stay afloat.
Grant funding has been imperative for this, which means finding and applying for more funding opportunities through federal relief and other economic development programs. Unfortunately many administrators have found that their manual processes and paper-based systems were ill equipped at managing the new volume of grants as well as accommodating remote work environments.
Compounding these challenges is the amount of funding dispersed through direct and subaward grants with federal requirements being especially stringent. Albeit, the Federal government has worked to provide more guidance surrounding Uniform Grant Guidance 2 CFR 200 to ensure accountability, transparency and appropriate governance over CARES Act relief funding as well as funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). At the same time, federal guidance over such funding packages has been intentionally vague in order to accelerate the process of getting funding directly into the hands of those who need it most.
In this case, grant administrators are put in the position of having to make plans for their allocations and spending in a reactive manner. As a result, local governments are forced to walk a fine line of balancing getting money to their communities under extenuating emergency situations while still having to provide a level of accountability and oversight–demonstrating that government units are indeed good stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Tackling these new challenges has accelerated a wave of digital transformation that has empowered governments like Mariposa County, Calif. (home of Yosemite National Park), to provide critical business survival support. Through cloud-based grant management, counties like Mariposa have been able to streamline the grant management process so that jurisdictions in need can access grant dollars in a timelier manner.
How Mariposa County is streamlining relief to local businesses through SaaS-based grants software
Prior to digitizing their grant processes, all grant records in Mariposa County were paper-based, making it especially difficult to manage and keep track of the County’s $20 million grant portfolio. The economic development team had to manage every grant proposal through paper-bound binders, which could be as large as 10 lbs. If a funder needed a copy, this resulted in an extremely tedious and cumbersome process to replicate and mail out those copies.
Once the County moved its grant research process online, however, the County was able to streamline the search and acquisition of any awarded funding, which has been imperative for disaster recovery. Additionally, the team was able to remain socially distanced with the ability to submit all materials online and stay safe. Implementing cloud-based grant software has also helped the County streamline at least $78,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and other reimbursements to help businesses survive. The County was also recently awarded $750,000 in CDBG funding for economic development and was able to simplify the receipt of this funding through their cloud-based grant application portal.
Lastly, by leading the charge in spearheading digital innovation, Mariposa County has strategically placed itself in the driver’s seat when it comes to working with awarding entities that have digital methods of distributing their grant funding, compared to other counties and jurisdictions in the surrounding area that are still using paper-based processes. This has helped the County find and successfully apply for more competitive grant awards. For example, prior to the pandemic, Mariposa County was awarded $6.3 million to renovate aging downtown streets and improve infrastructure in the County’s only commercial district.
Three ways cloud helps counties streamline relief to communities
What the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated for the government workforce is that the work and the business of governing and providing services to constituents—while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used in the most appropriate way—can be done in remote environments in more cost effective and efficient ways.
Here are three ways cloud innovation can place county governments ahead of the game when it comes to grant management:
- Improve collaboration: Now is a more important time than ever for grant officials at the county level to work with elected officials and policy makers to build up a strong line of communication, collaboration, and sense of urgency to meet community needs. Because of its move to digital grant software, Mariposa County was able to take the lead in facilitating this type of critical communication. The County’s economic development leaders were able to make a better case for the grants the County needed with leaders at the state level in order to help expedite relief funding and ensure focus on areas that need funding the most.
- Reduce administrative burden: While a seemingly obvious benefit of any cloud-based process, using an automated process to submit grant applications decreases administrative burden and paperwork. This ultimately allows grant administrators and others in charge of grants to focus on program delivery. As a result, counties can submit their applications and complete requirements and paperwork in a timelier manner, well in advance of publicized deadlines.
- Ensure transparency and accountability: With the sense of urgency and rush to expend funding before tight deadlines, it’s easy for administrators to make mistakes. Managing grants through manual processes can lead to more human error, resulting in compliance issues, audit findings, and even the threat of having to return money to the Federal government. Grant software, however, automates compliance with 2 CFR 200 guidance and reduces that risk of error while improving transparency by showcasing data of where grant dollars are going and how they are being spent.
Ultimately, by bringing digital innovation to grant management, the government workforce at the county level, like Mariposa County, can worry less about paperwork and focus on their primary objectives instead: delivering programs and providing benefits to the communities they serve.
Merril Oliver is the executive vice president and chief customer officer at eCivis, where she leads the company’s key business strategies, product development and growth initiatives. Oliver previously served as the director of the Maryland Governor’s Grants Office, a nationally recognized “best practice” by the National Governors Association, as well as the deputy director of the Puerto Rico Governor’s Office of Management and Budget in charge of the Federal Funds Management Office. Oliver is a past president of the National Grants Management Association (NGMA), having served three consecutive terms (2009-2012).
Tara G. Schiff is the economic development specialist, administration department of Mariposa County, with more than 30 years of economic/business development and project management experience. As the economic development specialist for the “Home of Yosemite,” and the current rural liaison to the California Association of Local Economic Development (CALED) board of directors, Schiff has managed a variety of collaborative projects throughout her career. Prior to her position with Mariposa County, she was the owner/CEO of an independent full-service marketing consulting firm, where she managed accounts on both a local and national level.