Newsletter Summer 2017

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Mind the Gap

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 temporarily or – *gulp* – permanently?

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. Not to do so would risk relationship fumbles and missed deadlines, which can lead to lost grant dollars. By taking key steps before, during, and after a transition, organizations can not only maintain but even propel their grants programs to higher levels in times of staffing change.


Safeguard institutional knowledge

SARAH VENORSKY, who holds an M.A.
in Art History, joined Akron Art Museum as Development Officer – Grants in March 2017.

If your grants person disappeared tomorrow, would you know when proposals and reports were due? What was the last stewardship step with a funder? Your grants program is
vulnerable if the details of deadlines, award history, and relationships live only in someone’s mind or in a spreadsheet
no one can access.

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

Who should temporarily manage the grants program during a staffing gap? Decide this carefully as soon as you know about an impending transition. Don’t forget that there are at least two sides to great grant seeking—including maintaining relationships and also writing reports, proposals, and letters of inquiry. These duties can be shared between several people.

The temporary grants manager, who is managing the calendar of submissions and reports, should not necessarily communicate with funders. Better to designate a recognizable staff or board leader as point person to convey confidence and stability. This will avoid giving funders “relationship whiplash”—the consequence of passing them between too many hands during too short a time.

Having a thoughtful temporary grants management plan also avoids a rushed recruitment process. 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.”

Under pressure? Just pause.


Managing a grants program can be stressful, and too much stress can lead to burnout.

“When we feel under pressure, our impulse can be to push, but it’s important to pause,” says Naomi Worthington, Senior Consultant at Grants Plus and a trained yoga instructor. “A few mindful moments can recharge us and transform our ability to meet challenges.”

Naomi suggests incorporating the healthy poses below into your workday. Click here for more on Workplace Wellness, including a guided video of additional healthy poses.

1) When you're prepping to make a first-time call to a funder

Wonder Woman. Stand with hands on hips, legs wide, and chest lifted. Take five deep breaths, extending the exhales as long as you can.

2) When your brain has turned to mush

Seated Twist. Place your feet flat on the floor and sit up straight with your palms on your thighs.  Leading with your chest, twist your torso to look over your right shoulder. If you want to deepen the stretch, place your left hand on the outside of your right thigh for leverage. Repeat the twist to the left.

3) When you've been sitting at your computer for too long

Chest Opener. Interlace your fingers at your low back, palms face down. Keeping your fingers laced and your palms facing away, slowly raise your arms until they are straight out behind you. Press back through the palms and draw the shoulders back to deepen the stretch in the chest and armpits.

4) When you receive a grant decline letter

Just Breathe. Sit up straight. Breathe in for three counts, filling your belly, then your chest, then your throat. Hold three counts. Exhale for five counts, expelling your breath completely. Repeat three times.

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