Sunday, December 20, 2009

Federal Funding for Non-profit Jobs

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF), states can provide millions in additional support for jobs. These funds can be used for private, public, and non-profit organizations.

This program varies state by state, as states have some control on the use of these funds. As an example, here is the notice from Florida. Our non-profit customers may want to pursue this as a potential resources for certain types of hires in their organizations. Again, this is a sample from one state only:

Florida Back To Work

Program Overview for Public and Not-for-Profit Employers

Source and Amount of Funding

Funding of the Florida Back to Work will come from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF). The state can provide up to $200 million in additional one-time, non- recurring federal funds for jobs for Florida's neediest citizens.

Eligible Persons

Workforce will screen applicants for eligibility and skills. Employees will be managed through Mary K. Thomas Employment Agency. Parents with a child younger than 18 whose family income is less than 200% of federal poverty level in the last 30 days are eligible. Applicants must be enrolled in EmployFlorida.com.

Program Length

Funding is available through September 30, 2010.

Eligible Projects/Positions

Private, public and not-for-profit entities can participate. This fact sheet is written for public and not-for- project entities.

Not-for-profit employment projects must result in measurable, visible outcomes that are approved by their governing board and are consistent with their organization's mission.

Not-for-profit and public entities are not required to create permanent positions.

No position whose normal salary is above $40,000 per year qualifies for the subsidy program.

Positions that have been involved in a recent layoff may not be eligible.

Employers must provide direct paid project supervision. Supervision that is federally-funded is not eligible for matching.

Employers must demonstrate financial stability.

The subsidy will cover up to 100% of the wages of the participants in the projects. The agency must provide local cash match to cover 20% of the grant management fee to Workforce Connection, 20% of the staffing service costs and 20% of the basic benefits provided by the staffing firm.

Hope this is useful.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink, Inc.

Friday, December 18, 2009

AHAR for HMIS

We are releasing a new Annual Homeless Assessment Report, aligned with the new Homeless Management requirements from HUD.

More than 800 calculated fields show what technology can do--it's a tremendous time saver. More than the numbers of fields and pre-formatted tables, it is also designed to help data quality managers when it matters most--when these annual reports have to run and run well, by offering data editing from withing the report itself.

VisionLink's AHAR report includes the ability for (properly authorized) report specialists to edit and correct individual data records that make up the report and its many tables. Each data point allows the user to click down into the records that sum up into the report, and if data errors become appear the correction is literally a click away.

We consider the AHAR, focused obviously on HMIS reporting, one of a series of specialized report among more than seven levels of reporting tools in VisionLink's Community Operating System (CommunityOS).

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Member: National Breakthrough Network

The National Breakthrough Network is proud to welcome as its newest member, Jon McKenzie of Sarasota and Manatee Counties' IDEAS (Integrated Data Exchange Alliance of the Suncoast).

IDEAS is a collaborative funded by Sarasota and Manatee County Governments, and its primary sponsor is the Sarasota COAD, whose leadership is emphasizing data sharing and collaboration in "blue" skies, not just when disaster strikes.

IDEAS is launching five partnership portals on their VisionLink CommunityOS system representing 2-1-1, Disaster Preparedness, Childhood Mental Health, Elder Care, and Social Services Case Management. Welcome Jon!!

The National Breakthrough Network is sponsored and supported by VisionLink. NBN members are community leaders working to reach new levels of collaboration and effective and efficient service. Much more than a "users group" this national network selects its own members and takes on some of the most forward thinking and pressing strategic and tactical issues in the field of community resource and client management.

If you would like to know more about the National Breakthrough Network, please contact our our Vice President for Strategic Advantage, Lois Ann Porter. Her email is porter@visionlink.org. It's an amazing group, and VisionLink would not hold the leadership position it does without this group and its individual members.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

No Harm Upgrades

Some features are simple upgrades in functionality, but some are fundamental. When our customers make take on a large scale change, we implement a "no harm" support package. Obviously, we mean by this that no harm will come to their data during the transfer process.

Tonight we are moving one of our larger 2-1-1 information and referral customers from an older feature set for tracking incoming calls and provided referrals, to a much more powerful and flexible feature set.

This move brings all manner of customization and controls to the table, including conditional fields, controllable formatting, multiple form sets for different call center contracts, sophisticated mapping tools and dashboard reports. A large number of our customers moved to this new system some time ago.

Behind the scenes, however, this also means that we will be moving their data and reconfiguring it in the new world. And--this has to happen for a 24 hour call center operation that can't go down unexpectedly.

To help with situations like this, we build automatic scripts to move the data, special tools to configure and check the new environment, and most importantly, a special transfer or training environment where the customer can activate and use their new tools before they are actually put into production. This way, there are no surprises.

Sure it takes a lot more time to build new enhancements with these kinds of transfer support mechanisms built in, but it helps to keep the technology in the background, and lets our customers focus on the people they serve, and the partnerships they build.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Monday, December 7, 2009

Geographic Redundancy

Going the extra mile: offering geographic redundancy for our customers and their data.

No one expects a catastrophic failure, but if that should happen we provide that extra level of support to our customers with geographically separated server facilities. Thus, should something happen to our primary facility that causes a system-wide failure, we can fall back to our secondary facility.

It would take a lot for our primary facility to fail, as it is equipment with redundant equipment at all levels of network and server operations, and with power and cooling redundancy as well. Heck, there are solar panels on the roof in addition to everything else.

Further, we own and operate the equipment in both locations, so we'll not be blaming some other vendor if our operation is not humming along, and we are not relying on some other vendor to be as careful with our customer's data as we are.

We do this at no small expense. It takes a sophisticated staff and well designed operation to offer this level of support at price points that our non profit and charitable customers can afford.

If you are looking for mission critical services, ask your providers about their preparations for catastrophic failure, and to what degree they rely on other vendors to support your work. It's important to know before you need it.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Sunday, December 6, 2009

National Breakthrough Network

Membership by application, and approved by the members themselves (not by us here at VisionLink), the National Breakthrough Network is an extraordinary group of thought leaders improving practice across the nation.

The National Breakthrough Network, launched in 2007, is built on the straightforward premise that results are more powerful when stakeholders commit time and resources to work together.

The goal of the National Breakthrough Network is to increase the capacity of service delivery through collaborative data exchange across the country, one community at a time. The measures of success for the Breakthrough Network are:

* Engaged partners
* Coordinated data and services
* Maximized resources
* Measurable impacts
* Clients well-served

The objectives of this initiative are to work from both ends of the spectrum, on the ground at the local level, and as the convener of a national network of leaders.

The National Breakthrough Network is convened and facilitated by VisionLink where practitioners learn from and teach one another. The result: more effective practices of service delivery within each participating partnership, and, a national voice of service providers working on common issues..

Network members define the agenda, the content, and the voice. VisionLink provides the intersection of thought and practice through virtual and face-to-face meetings.

The Breakthrough communities benefit by deepening their knowledge and expertise, interacting with peers from across the country to learn strategies and effective practices, helping each other solve problems, and gaining a place to feel connected rather than isolated in silos where the wheels are constantly re-invented.

If you are a VisionLink customer and want to join, please contact us and we'll send an application to you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Client Records Management on Steroids

As promised a few weeks back, tonight we released our Client by Portal management module. Paired with our Users by Portal module released recently, it's a game changer, it's powerful, and it's well--common sense. Manage portals for specific purposes, permissions for specific users, and client records with appropriate levels of privacy and collaboration.

We are still trying to figure out how to explain this, but our customers have certainly been asking for this. Perhaps they are simply ahead of their time.

Let's say you have a 2-1-1 Information & Referral service in your community, and for your staff and call operators you have released a CommunityOS Portal with information, documents, training calendars, reports and of course the client and call records you use to track client needs and provide referrals. This portal is specific to this purpose and to these clients served.

Now, in this same community, you have a counseling program of some type, and perhaps an employment program for at risk youth. For both of these programs you also have web Portals with specific documents, content, and client records.

But lo and behold! (sorry, couldn't resist), it turns out that some of the staff that work for one organization also work for one of the others, and in fact, some of the clients that are served by one organization are also served by one or more of the others.

With CommunityOS, you can control which staff members have access to which Portal(s), and which client records they can access when they get there. Each staff member has access to all the web modules they are supposed to have access to, and each client is served coherently by each organization with which they work.

There is nothing like this in the market place. Particularly when you layer on the reporting and data management features that are included. The point? Technology is getting close to common sense, to the way real people in real communities work every day. Gotta love that. Let's go build a partnership!

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Government Access: Privacy Meets Resources

While our customers work to support those who need help, protecting their client records becomes critical. This gets interesting at the intersection of charitable or nonprofit support, and government sponsored support. This is how we solve the privacy issue:
Across communities, clients seek support from a wide range of organizations; and in turn charitable, nonprofit, for profit and government organizations and agencies all provide a wide range of assistance to those in need. To gain access to these resources, clients need to provide at least basic information about themselves. This helps measure need and response, and mitigates fraud.

The problem comes when a client needs to give more information than they are comfortable releasing to gain help, and particularly when that information is expected by governmental agencies. Again, it's the intersection: if a client works with a nonprofit organization and also needs support from governmental agencies, should the nonprofit agency share client information with the governmental agency?

Complex statutes and policies govern privacy rights and the competing claims for the public's health and safety. Indeed, how information can or should be shared with governmental agencies varies across jurisdiction. As one example: an un-documented person may not seek assistance from a charity, if that charity is sharing information with governmental agencies.

Because there is no one way to solve this dilemma, VisionLink's approach is provide a special government sharing permission structure within our software. CommunityOS allows system managers to identify client records that can, and cannot be shared with various government agencies.

The technical solution is actually quite complex, but from a user's perspective, client records can be marked as authorized for government sharing or not, and these permissions can vary across different portals and data forms for either simple or highly sophisticated collaboration or strict privacy.

The end result is that the client is in control. They can decide who can see their data, and to what extent--and--for what purpose. It's a solution that allows community builders to bring together the best of a community's resources, regardless of their origin or control.

Douglas Zimmerman
President & CEO
VisionLink