As COO of the West Side Ecumenical Ministry, Adam Roth often found himself tracking upwards of 40 grants spread across the organization’s seven departments.
There were spreadsheets at the department level and spreadsheets at the agency level and spreadsheets at the grant level.
“There were eight or nine spreadsheets that all linked together,” Roth says. “It was not an efficient way to track grant performance.”
This wasn’t a problem unique to West Side Ecumenical Ministry, either, Roth says. It is a problem all nonprofit organizations that deal with grant and government money have: How do you manage the hundreds of pieces of information that need to be tracked over the course of a grant’s life, and how do you do it on a regular basis?
Roth thinks he has the answer, and it’s taken him from the world of nonprofits to entrepreneurship as the president and CEO of StreamLink Software. His startup makes software that helps organizations and government entities track grant opportunities and spending, and that enables an organization to communicate more efficiently with its board members.
The eight-employee company finished raising about $700,000 in investments, including funds from the Lorain County Community College Foundation and North Coast Angel Fund, at the end of 2009. In July, it rolled out new versions of its two products, AmpliFund and BoardMax.
“Those two products are in the market,” Roth says. “We have our investment in hand. We’re going forward and doing great things.”
Roth sees AmpliFund as a way to banish those Excel spreadsheets once and for all. Some nonprofits are dependent on grant and governmental funding to sustain the
In order to continually receive grant and government money, an organization must show it is using the money according to the funding guidelines.
Where organizations get tripped up is in foundation grants, which typically only require annual reports on grant goals and objectives, Roth says.
“If you’re putting a report together once a year, you don’t necessarily know if you’ve done what you’re supposed to do,” he says. “And if you haven’t, you can’t make adjustments. You get to the end, and you see you could have done more with the money.
“If you miss by 10 percent, you have to cut something,” he adds. “Every drop of revenue is extremely important.”
AmpliFund is designed to, regardless of grant requirements, generate a report every quarter, Roth says. This allows an organization to constantly measure itself against the original plan so adjustments can be made when needed.
When organizations do a better job of efficiently spending grant money and then reporting those efforts, grantors are much more likely to offer funding to the organization in the future, Roth says.
“You need to maximize the investment of the grantor regardless of whether it’s a foundation or a government contract,” Roth says. “It will affect your ability to get a grant the next year if you don’t perform well.”
AmpliFund also tracks
all things related to the grant world. With access to 96,000 grant opportunities from the Foundation Center database, subscribers receive e-mail alerts when important deadlines are approaching.
Nonprofits have always had this need, Roth says. They just didn’t always have the resources to fund it. That’s when he began looking into Software as a Service products, which allow a company to deliver a product through the Internet, eliminating the need for expensive infrastructure.
“For nonprofits, this allows them access to tools and systems that they needed or wanted before but never had the money for,” Roth says.
Although AmpliFund launched earlier this year, most of the organizations that are using StreamLink software right now are using BoardMax, its board management product.
“We find this is a better way to communicate with board members,” Roth says. “It better involves them in the organization.”
Bill Lynerd, chief development officer of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, says his organization launched BoardMax on Oct. 1 and has already received positive feedback from many of the museum’s 45 board members.
The museum originally began looking for a central calendar function that was free, but ultimately decided BoardMax offered far more to the organization’s board members, such as a repository for committee meeting minutes, board member background information and a meeting RSVP function.
“I think it’s going to be a very good tool for us,” Lynerd says.
Chuck Heald, director of community outreach for LifeBanc, says his organization will be launching BoardMax later this year. Previously, LifeBanc’s 20 board members were tracked and managed through a series of spreadsheets and mass e-mail lists.
“We really didn’t have any type of program for maximizing the content of our board members,” Heald says. “Now we’ll have everything contained in one area, from compliance to attending meetings to
Roth, for his part, seems to have made the leap to the for-profit world relatively smoothly. He started doing market research in 2006 and sought help from JumpStart TechLift Advisors. He was hooked up with Charles “Chuck” Birchall, an entrepreneur-in-residence.
At first, Birchall didn’t see value in what Roth was presenting. How was he going to make money when the only customers were groups with severely limited administrative budgets? But Roth continued his hard sell. He was convinced this was a product that nonprofits needed and could afford.
Birchall says it was Roth’s background in nonprofits and his knowledge of how they worked that ultimately sold him on the project. He also saw potential in Roth as a for-profit entrepreneur, not something Birchall says he sees a lot of.
“Most people don’t ever make the jump,” Birchall says. “Or if they do, they go back. As for Adam, I think he may just have the type of personality that can succeed in either world.”
As it is, Birchall counts Roth and StreamLink as a success story already.
StreamLink is now focusing on
building partnerships to help with distribution, finding good companies that offer complimentary products and generating sales in new areas, particularly among government entities.
Roth is part of a national steering committee for streamlining local government reporting and says StreamLink has interest from a couple local government agencies in the suburbs to help manage everything from HUD to stimulus money.
“We’re excited to get more into the public sector,” he says.
StreamLink has had great success in Cleveland, where its software is being used by the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation, University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and, of course, the West Side Ecumenical Ministry, among others.
One of StreamLink’s early adopters was the National Heart Association, Roth says.
Because Cleveland is a Top 10 market for nonprofits in the United States, and is within a one-hour flight to three other cities on that same list, Roth thinks StreamLink is poised to take off in a business sense but stay right at home in downtown Cleveland.
“We’ve been really excited with some of the successes we’ve had,” Roth says. “We’ve had a lot of local success in Cleveland, which is great because that demonstrates the problem-solving that we are offering.”