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“It’s all so fresh and relevant”: Day 3 highlights from Stronger to Serve

Attendees at the Stronger to Serve conference on Thursday were energized with new ways to think about how their organizations manage their finances, how technology can save them time and money, and how they can bolster internal controls against fraud. 

"The session on aligning finance, talent and technology was validating of the services we started to implement pre-COVID. We're focused on connecting technology tools to our mission and I left the session feeling passionate about using technology to tell our stories," said Raj Samra CEO of Head Start provider E Center of Yuba Calif. “I’ll be walking away with a lot of knowledge we can apply. It’s all so fresh and relevant.”

Her colleague Karen Franks, fiscal services director of E Center, agreed that the insights and recommendations she’s gained hold tremendous value.

“Instead of telling people that they can’t do certain things, I’m learning to tell them ‘why.’ I need to help them understand how the internal controls we have protect the agency from fraud. This should lead to less resistance and more collaboration.”

Attendees can hardly wait to bring  takeaways back to their offices.

“I’ll be better able to explain how we can automate our accounting processes,” said Kenneth Scott, finance director of Family Development Services in Indianapolis. “We still send hard checks to our vendors. And I have to get approvals from people by going down the hall to get signatures. Getting cloud servers will help us with everything from IT upgrades to payroll. Last week, our server went out and we couldn’t process our payroll. I’ll be talking about why cloud-based accounting is important.”

“I’m still learning to be a manager. I’m looking forward to strengthening the relationship between our fiscal and program departments. We’re getting our systems in place and I’m learning ways to implement more efficiencies in the office,” said Janet Gordon, senior grant analyst manager at Kings Community Action Organization in Hanford, Calif.

HR specialist Kathleen Riley with Head Start Child and Family Development in Hastings, Neb., a first-time attendee, appreciated the insights she’s gained to support staff retention, one of the biggest pain points addressed in many sessions. In addition, she realizes that more context in conversations is important. “We need to improve our communication around enrollment and eligibility.”

Patricia Alcorn, budgeting and purchasing specialist with Community Action Council of Lexington, Kentucky is excited to go back to the office and implement knowledge she’s gained in their day-to-day operations. Four of the five attendees from her organization are attending for the first time. “When we talked about compensation and retaining staff, we learned that we should refer to ‘impact award’ rather than bonuses.” She appreciates all the support and insights they can get.

“People are doing double work. We need to improve our incentives. There’s so much relevant information here.”

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