It is that time again to provide the research community with an update of activities here at the Research Foundation. The past few months have been very productive and rewarding. However we still have many challenges ahead.
First we would like to share with you some of the recent accomplishments.
SYSTEM IMPLEMENTATION – On September 1st the Research Foundation went live on our new core software system. The full integration of general ledger, human resources, grants administration, purchasing and financial reporting was the culmination of a process that initially began in fall of 2010. The new system is being aligned with existing web-based capabilities to form an effective enterprise resource planning platform. In connection with this system implementation we have provided a series of “RF System Updates” to the research community via the PI list serve to keep abreast of the activities. These updates have covered information on the following:
OUTREACH ACTIVITIES – On September 10th, the Foundation hosted an Information Session and Open Forum where we provided an update on the new system and related enhancements. We used this opportunity to provide a demonstration of the new electronic payroll processing form and a preview of the new monthly financial reports. The event was well attended and the participation by those in attendance was very productive. We continue to stress the importance of feedback from the research community and our commitment to process improvement.
WELCOME TO NEW FACULTY – On September 3rd and 4th members of the Research Foundation staff participated with the Office of Research in a new faculty orientation. The program provided an overview of the structure of the Office of Research and the Research Foundation and an overview of the services provided by each organization in support of sponsored research.
WELCOME TO NEW STAFF – We are excited to have some new staff joining the Research Foundation team:
Maria Delacruz joined us on October 6th bringing over seventeen years extensive work experience in accounting, grants management, budgeting, and financial analysis and reporting. Maria received her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting in the Philippines and holds a Master’s in Business Administration for Cameron University in Oklahoma. Maria’s previous experience in sponsored research administration was at the University of North Florida.
Kimberly Williams joined the Foundation on September 29th coming from Raleigh, North Carolina where she spent the last thirteen years with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Governor’s Crime Commission division. Kimberly received her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Old Dominion University in 1995, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs from Norfolk State University in 2002 and holds a Certified Public Manager designation.
Now we would like to address some of the significant challenges still ahead.
STAFF RETENTION AND ORGANIZATIONAL HEALTH – The Research Foundation remains focused on providing the best customer service possible to support the university and the research community. At our most recent Executive Committee meeting, held in August, we initiated a discussion of the high level of staff turnover that continues here at the Foundation. The turnover rate for FY 2015 was 16.4% and this rate has not been below 10% since FY 2005. The management team proposed a plan to begin addressing this situation identifying key areas of concern including employee satisfaction, work distribution, mentoring / training, compensation analysis and professional development.
Since the August meeting we have committed time and energy to analyze the organizational health of the Research Foundation and to delve deeply into the area of employee satisfaction. We have retained Marshall Advisory Group to conduct a series of confidential interviews with all core staff members to assess our organizational health and identify areas for improvement. This review commenced September 5th and is expected to be completed shortly. Concurrent with this study we are working with Marshall Advisory Group under a pro-bono arrangement, for a study to improve communication among the Foundation management team.
We are committed to this improvement initiative and the Research Foundation board of trustees remains equally committed to taking the necessary steps to resolve the issues with staff turnover as it has a significant impact on our ability to reach our desired level of customer service.
FOUNDATION COST – The cost of operations for the Research Foundation has increased over the past two years and I am keenly aware of the concerns of the research faculty. In FY13 the cost of operations of the Research Foundation received from the indirect cost allocation was 36%. In FY14 this cost increased to 41%. While we did experience staff turnover, for most of fiscal year 2014 we did have a full complement of staff which reflected the financial impact of three new positions that were initially authorized in the FY13 operating budget. These three new positions were all focused in the grant administration functions and collectively amount to 3% of this increase in cost. Coupled with the effect of this increased cost, the total indirect cost recoveries for FY14 decreased by 3% from total FY13 indirect cost recoveries.
FOUNDATION RESERVES – The financing model for the Research Foundation has allowed for the accumulation of investment earnings into its general undesignated reserves. Over a period of many years the Foundation was able to accumulate and maintain an adequate reserve level. However, the significant market downturn that occurred in 2008 coupled with the extremely low investment returns since that time has significantly impacted our reserve level.
The purpose of the general undesignated reserves is to provide funds to meet nonrecurring expenditures that are not normally covered though on-going operations. The past three fiscal years have required the use of these reserves in connection with the investment in new systems as well as significant accounting, consulting and legal services that have benefited both the Foundation and the University. In August 2013 the University approved an additional allocation of indirect cost recoveries to be set-aside until the undesignated general reserves are returned to an adequate level. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2014 this reserve replenishment represented 5% of indirect cost recoveries.
In closing, we would like to say that the past three years have been a time of significant change here at the Research Foundation. We have provided for new staff positions, invested in new systems and are now focused upon our most important asset, our people. We are fully committed to hiring, training and retaining a highly effective work force and providing a professional and collegial work environment.
We are very much look forward to fiscal year 2015 being one that will enable the Research Foundation to make significant enhancements to the services we provide the research community while continuing to be cost-effective and responsive to the needs of the faculty.