On March 27, 2014, eCivis spoke with Hank Griffith, Deputy Director – Grants, for Harris County, TX, about grants management best practices from the third most populous county in the United States. Below is part 2 of the interview (click here for part 1):
What specific milestones are the county and departments pursuing?
Most of our grants are either state or federal grants, so we’d like to go after more foundation grants, especially because we have a lot of specialty courts we think foundation grants might be a good fit for.
We used to have a very manual process of producing large reports of our grant activity. And now, especially since we’ve gotten the bug fixed with eCivis and the iPad – all our county commissioners and department heads have iPads – they can log in and at the blink of an eye see what grants we have. We may still have to create manual reports but they should be more easily created once all of the data is interfaced with eCivis and/or ERP.
Any other best practices you’d like to share?
We try to pay attention to the details and stay on top of tracking to make sure we spend all the funds by the due date so we don’t have to return funds. Several years ago we had issues with that; we haven’t had any issues with that lately. We’ve found that, given the federal deficit, when the agencies come in to do reviews, they tend to be a little more aggressive about trying to find things that maybe would result in funds being returned to them or being disallowed. And so we’re really having to pay attention to the details, making sure all our i’s are dotted and all our t’s are crossed.
How has your experience been with the implementation process with Data Integration? How has that improved grants management?
We’re just as the beginning of implementing Data Integration. Once it’s fully utilized, we should see that it should make it a lot easier. There should be less issue of finding certain files because everything can be directly uploaded there. You run less of a risk of not being able to track something down.
I imagine it gives piece of mind for everyone in the auditing process. No need to hunt through boxes.
The faster you can provide it to them, the better. If it takes three days to find something, that’s not good.
Have you found a change in the grants landscape? You mentioned how the county wasn’t so affected by the economic downturn.
And that is the advantage of being the third largest county and Houston being the fourth largest city—there are some grants that are going to come to us. But yes, the competitive grants are becoming a LOT more competitive. And [funding agencies] are changing how some of them are allocated.
So how did you come to use eCivis? What needs brought you to consider grants management software?
We had a manual database that tracked everything, but it was not really user-friendly as far as if anyone else wanted to use it and as far as reports. So my boss gave me the guidance to find something more automated. We went out and looked and eCivis and a few others made presentations. We sent an RFP out, and eCivis seemed to be a superior product, especially when you look at the relationship with the Research module and because it will work with different financial reporting packages. And we’re a couple years away from changing our financial reporting package. The fact that we could subscribe to eCivis, possibly change our financial system two years from now, and still be able to use eCivis, was a big plus.
Grants can be so particular and financial systems are particular in their own way. And most people who design a really good financial system aren’t going to be able to design a really good grant system.