Client Spotlight: Akron Art Museum

Maintaining your grants program during staffing transitions

A solid grants program is built on consistent attention to opportunities and relationships. So what happens when the staff person responsible for managing your grants program leaves? Would you know when proposals and reports were due? What was the last stewardship step with a funder? Whether replacing an outgoing staff member or filling in for someone on sabbatical or parental leave, it’s vital to properly manage a staffing transition. By taking key steps before, during, and after a transition, Akron Art Museum was able to not only maintain its grants program but propel it to a higher level.


Safeguard institutional knowledge

When Sarah Venorsky was hired to oversee the Akron Art Museum’s busy grants program, she inherited a complete record of information. “Everything was clear,” she says, “which helped make my first months on the job manageable and productive.” Fortunately Sarah’s predecessor had tracked grant proposal and report deadlines in a centrally accessible Excel spreadsheet that also included several years’ worth of historical information on awards and declines. Corresponding documents were consistently filed in the shared drive, sortable by funder or fiscal year, making materials easy to access and retrieve. Sarah has maintained these systems and started logging submission dates and award notes in the museum’s donor database. Put together, these practices help ensure nothing falls through the cracks for Sarah or whomever might succeed her.


Prioritize the right fit

Don’t rush the process of hiring a new grants staff member to replace your outgoing grants staff member. At Akron Art Museum, Director of Advancement Bryan de Boer spent five months searching before he met Sarah. Sarah underwent a highly selective process that included a one-on-one interview with Bryan, a hands-on grant writing exercise, and finally, a meeting with a panel of key museum staff before she was offered the position. During these months, Bryan communicated with funders himself and hired Grants Plus to handle the day-to-day grant writing. When Sarah came on board, Bryan was able to bring her into a grant seeking program that hadn’t missed a beat. He immediately started making warm hand-offs to introduce Sarah to funders as their new, permanent direct contact.


Invest in a period of onboarding

Ideally, some overlap time will allow the former or temporary grants manager to share information with the new staff member, especially about relationship nuances and historical information that spreadsheets and files can’t adequately explain. When Sarah joined Akron Art Museum, she benefited from several weeks of mentoring and information transfer provided by Grants Plus Senior Consultant Kari Elsila, who filled in as manager of the grants program during the full length of the transition. Even after this period of onboarding, Sarah has continued to benefit from access to her colleagues and to Bryan as her supervisor. “It is refreshing to come to an organization with such an open-door culture,” she says. “I am learning more every day.”


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