Improving Nonprofit Board Effectiveness

By | Nonprofit | No Comments

Nonprofit boards provide several important services. Boards must ensure the staff and volunteers act legally and ethically. They oversee the finances and guide the organization with a “duty of care” that extends to planning and decision making. The board must, at the end of the day, confirm that the nonprofit acts in a responsible way and manages its business affairs accordingly.

That’s a tall order for even the most dedicated nonprofit board members. Good nonprofits choose their board members wisely, but great nonprofits take additional steps to support their board members and improve their effectiveness.

Where Boards Fall Short

Boards often fall short in several common areas. For example, in a study from the Stanford School of Business, only 23% say their communication with fellow board members is excellent. Other areas that could be improved include technical knowledge, especially on cybersecurity matters and diversity.

Improving Effectiveness, Supporting the Organization

Providing support, resources, and professional development for board members isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a crucial way to support the overall organization. Given that the board provides guidance for the direction of the organization as well as oversight over many areas, the better the board members’ skills and experience, the better they can support the organization.

Three ways in which organizations can improve the effectiveness of their boards include:

  1. Survey the board: Ask each board member individually for their opinion on aspects of board governance and communications. For example, do they feel the current board processes are effective? How would they rate their communications level with fellow board members? These and other questions can be asked of each member and the responses collected anonymously. The collected responses can be shared in a report with action steps to follow up on areas of need.
  2. Conduct a gap analysis: Survey the board and assess their skills. Then, working with the board, make a list of skills they have and skills they believe they need. This gap analysis can be used to fill future board positions. For example, if knowledge and expertise in technology and cyber security is lacking, this critical need can be filled when a board seat becomes vacant. Knowing these skills are needed can be helpful to direct the search for a new director. This information can also be used to provide professional development to the current board to close skills and knowledge gaps.
  3. Gather frequent feedback: Feedback should be gathered not just through surveys, but through frequent feedback gathered after every meeting. For example, ask the board after the conclusion of each meeting to rate their ability to follow the agenda, communicate clearly, and resolve issues. Use a scale of 1 to 5 or similar to gather data to help directors identify areas of focus for future meetings. If they feel they didn’t follow the agenda, ask them to determine why. Perhaps a new issue cropped up that was unforeseen but urgent. If so, they may need to leave more space in the agenda to handle urgent needs as they arise.

Develop a Succession Plan

In addition to these suggestions, it is helpful to develop a succession plan for the board. As members resign or their term of service expires, it is helpful to have a plan ready to guide the search for new directors. This is where the skills and gap analysis is helpful. If you know what skills the board currently lacks, you can search for members who have the desired attributes.

Your board of directors provides a valuable service, guiding and supporting your organization as it works to achieve its mission. By giving them the support they need, you’ll be able to boost their effectiveness, and in turn, build your organization.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

5 Tips to Improve Efficiency of the Grant Review Process

By | Grant Management, Nonprofit | No Comments

If your organization awards grants, you know how time consuming it can be to review all the applications. Then, there’s the process of narrowing the submissions to the most promising, and finally, choosing the best candidates for the grant. It can be quite labor intensive.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to improve the efficiency of the grant review process. With these 5 tips, you’ll not only become more efficient at the process, but you’ll have an easier time finding and selecting the best match for the grant.

The Review Process Should Be Fair and Unbiased

As an organization that awards grants, it is in your best interest to make sure the grant review process is fair and unbiased. Organizations that submit their grant applications have spent considerable time and effort preparing their application. Writing a single federal grant application, for example, takes between 80 and 200 hours. For many, the hopes for their organization rest on their ability to win you over to their cause, mission, and activities.

Making sure the grant review process is both fair and unbiased is the best way to honor both the effort that goes into grant applications and the spirit of your organization’s charitable grant policy. Follow these steps to ensure a thorough process so all the grants receive the time and attention they deserve in order to choose the worthiest among them for awards.

5 Tips to Create a Fair and Efficient Grant Review Process

  1. Create a detailed evaluation guideline. These guidelines, or rubric, should provide detailed criteria for reviewers to analyze incoming grant applications. Choose between a holistic and analytic rubric. As the name suggests, a holistic approach looks at the application as a whole and assigns the entire application a numerical value. An analytics rubric assigns a numerical value to each section of the rubric and asks reviewers to give each section a number. No matter which method you choose, apply a consistent and fair process to all applications. Do not use a holistic method for one half and an analytic approach to the other half of the applicant pool.
  2. Share the assessment criteria beforehand with applicants. Don’t ask applicants to work in the dark. Instead, give them the criteria ahead of time. This respects both their time and effort and guarantees they can provide you with complete information.
  3. Build a diverse review team. Your review team should be as diverse as the people you serve. Make sure the team reviewing the grant applications holds diverse opinions to ensure opportunities are considered from all sides.
  4. Insist on multiple reviewers. If there are only one or two awards, insist that multiple people review the chosen grant applications. This guarantees the fairest possible process for all. It also ensures that fatigued reviewers don’t just rubberstamp the application everyone likes. Bring in people who haven’t read the grant application to review it before the final choice is made.
  5. Hide the applicant’s information. Lastly, to safeguard a totally fair and unbiased choice, make sure all visibly identifiable information is hidden on the grant applications. This includes name, birthdate, location, and any other identifying information that could strike at a hidden bias among the reviewers.

Build Consensus

Lastly, aim for consensus when it comes to choosing the finalists. Use the rubric or guidelines as the touchstone for agreement. Ask open-ended questions and designate a facilitator for the ensuing discussion so everyone has a chance to voice their opinions. Discussion is both healthy and encouraged but should aim for consensus-building rather than capitulation among those who disagree.

Encouraging both fairness and transparency will help your nonprofit award grants to the most deserving among the applicants. Enacting a process like this one will go a long way to improve the overall grant process.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

5 Tips to Prevent Cybercrimes

By | cyber security, Nonprofit | No Comments

Cybercrimes are on the rise, and nonprofits aren’t immune to attack. Overall, cybercrime is expected to grow by 15% over the next year, with experts predicting the cost to businesses will exceed $6 trillion by 2021. Few nonprofits have adequate security policies in place, let alone the resources to address the damages from hacking or other cyber-attacks.

Criminals are getting more sophisticated, too, in how they hack into systems. Cybercrimes aren’t limited to computer-based theft. Software is now being used to mimic executive’s voices so criminals can fool assistants into divulging email passwords over the phone.

With so many tricks up the criminals’ sleeves, how can a nonprofit protect itself? Fortunately, we have five tips your organization can use to greatly improve its defenses. And, although no defense against cyberattacks is foolproof, criminals are more likely to go elsewhere if they experience resistance. Just like a sturdy door with a good lock prevents a robber from breaking in, so too will these defenses protect your systems.

5 Tips for Nonprofits to Improve Cybersecurity

  1. Increase cybersecurity awareness training
  2. Improve passwords
  3. Add two-factor authentication
  4. Update antivirus protection
  5. Switch to cloud software

1. Increase training and awareness: You can’t prevent crimes if you don’t recognize them when they are taking place. Cybersecurity training and awareness is a critical step to helping you prevent cybercrimes from affecting your nonprofit organization.

Criminals change their tactics all the time. As we mentioned at the start of this article, some are now using voice software to mimic an executive so they can trick unsuspecting employees into divulging sensitive information. This is just one example of a new tactic, but if more people were aware of it, it would become less effective.

To improve awareness and training, assign someone in your organization the responsibility of getting up to speed on the various possible cyberattacks. Then, organize different training opportunities. Lunch and learns, recorded trainings that employees can complete on their own, even demonstrations are all powerful ways in which to show the many possible types of cybercrime affecting nonprofits and how to spot potential activities.

2. Improve passwords: Passwords continue to be a point of entry for many cybercrimes. Many passwords are weak and easy to guess. Brute force attacks that can crack passwords are all too common. In a brute force attack, computers are used to generate thousands of random passwords per minute, and eventually many succeed because so many passwords are easy to guess.

Make your passwords as strong as they can be. Experts recommend that passwords be at least 10 characters long, contain upper- and lower-case letters, and at least one number, and at least one character. A unique password should be used for every account.

Consider having your IT experts force employees to change their passwords frequently. Many companies have enacted this to improve cybersecurity. While you may hear a lot of complaints, in the end, it will improve your cyber defenses.

3. Add multi-factor authentication: You’re probably familiar with this technology already—banks and credit card companies use it as an added layer of security. After inputting a password, a text message may be sent to the account owner’s smartphone with a code that must be entered into the site. Other two-factor methods include automated calls with codes, additional emails, and so on.

Multi-factor authentication improves security by adding another layer of protection between someone wishing to access a system and the system itself. Even if the password is cracked, two-factor authentication may stop entry into the account by insisting on verification.

4. Update anti-virus protection: If you’re still running the same antivirus software that came with your computer, it’s time for an update. Antivirus software must be updated frequently to keep up with the new and emerging threats.

Make sure that when your software prompts you to download an update, you do so. It is also important to keep all your software (not just your antivirus software) updated.

5. Switch to cloud-based software: By now you’ve probably heard all about cloud computing and cloud-based software. Cloud software enables your team to log on from any internet-connected device to your company’s systems. Most cloud hosts have additional security measures and protection in place, more so than your organization can add on its own. They also back up systems so if anything should happen to your data, it can be restored without much of an interruption.

Moving from site-based software to the cloud may be easier than you thought. Speak with a software consultant well-versed in nonprofits and your organization’s unique accounting needs before choosing a cloud provider to ensure the transition goes smoothly.

Cybercrime may be a constant threat, but there’s much you can do to prevent it. These tips, along with the right technology, can go a long way to protecting your organization.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

Three Potential Fraud Risks–And How to Prevent Them

By | Fraud, Nonprofit | No Comments

When many nonprofits were forced to adjust to the new business climate created by the global pandemic, few considered that with the abrupt changes came an increased risk of fraud. As nonprofits worked hard to keep their doors open and find new ways to serve their constituents, raise funds, and conduct business, new areas of risk also opened for many nonprofits.

According to Accounting Today, the risk of fraud greatly increased during the pandemic. In May of 2020, 68% of investigators said they were seeing a rise in fraud. By August, that number had increased to 77%.

The types of fraud varied. Some saw a rise in insurance fraud, while others noted employee embezzlement or intentional fraud connected to financial statements.

Here, we’ll cover three areas of business that, with the changes created by the pandemic, may have opened your organization to additional risk. If you take steps now, you may be able to prevent problems before they arise.

Internal Risk

Many nonprofits relaxed their internal controls as their employees shifted to telecommuting. Employees who wouldn’t dream of stealing from the organization while they were at work may be tempted by an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude by working from home. Sadly, employees may be struggling with financial strain if a family member lost their job or bills are mounting. These circumstances can tempt even the most honest person to conduct fraud.

Circumstances may also have opened the door for employee theft. What used to require a physical signature may now be approved via the computer. Limits on how much an employee could sign checks for may have been changed.

To prevent employee theft and fraud, now is a great time to revisit your organization’s internal controls. Review your policies and decide which controls may be returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Check in with your employees. It helps prevent the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude if employees feel connected to their managers and colleagues. It also lets them know you care and, if they are struggling, they may feel comfortable enough to share it with you. Then, you can choose to help them if possible.

Procurement Fraud

If your nonprofit purchases supplies of any type, you should consider the potential risk of procurement fraud. Procurement fraud can occur in many situations. A new vendor may request payment in advance or partial payment in cash, then skip town without delivering the order. Or they may shortchange an order, pocket the difference between what was ordered and what was delivered, and count on the fact you have fewer than normal people working on site to catch the difference.

To combat procurement fraud, it’s important to continue performing due diligence with any new vendors. Be sure to physically review all supply orders and compare purchase orders with invoices to make sure everything that was ordered was delivered on time.

Cyber Fraud

Lastly, with the changes created by the pandemic, the risk of cyber fraud may be increased. Many nonprofits had to make do with existing technology to enable employees to work from home. This led to employees using their own devices and potentially using unsecured WiFi. Both can open the door for trojans, viruses, malware, and ransomware.

If your organization rushed into telecommuting, now is the time to take a step back and look at the technology you’re using. Does it support secure remote access? Cloud-based systems offer enhanced security features as well as easy remote access and may be an ideal solution for nonprofits who wish to continue to allow telecommuting.

Some cybercrimes can be prevented through increased awareness and vigilance. Consider adding additional training for your staff so they can recognize phishing emails and similar schemes to gain access to your organization’s systems.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.