Employee churn can always be minimized, but it’s a fact of life at any organization. Employees will naturally come and go over time, but that should never slow down your work towards your mission. To prevent undue disruption during staff transitions, understanding why and how to handle them ahead of time will be essential.
This is especially important for leadership roles and those that directly generate revenue for your mission, like your grants manager.
Depending on the scope of your grant-seeking program, this individual’s responsibilities may solely revolve around seeking grants, managing their execution, and building relationships with funders. Or they may be a member of your development or fundraising staff who’s come to take on various grant-seeking tasks over time.
Either way, grants managers play a very important role in generating support for your nonprofit and growing your impact. Neglecting their responsibilities, allowing your grants program to fall into disarray, missing deadlines, or harming funder relationships should be avoided at all costs.
Let’s say your grants manager just let you know that they’ll be retiring next year. Or perhaps you’re working on a shorter two-weeks-notice timeframe. What steps should you take before, during, and immediately after this transition?
Step 1: Preserve their institutional knowledge and current projects.
A smooth transition starts with preserving all of the valuable knowledge that the outgoing grants manager has about funders, in-progress or potential grant opportunities, and grant seeking in general. Seeking and managing grants has a lot of moving parts, so this first step is especially critical to avoid important information falling through the cracks.
Use this checklist to cover your bases:
- Track all ongoing grant deadlines in a central location.
- Create and save copies of all grant documents (including proposals, reports, attachments, and award letters) for all grants that your organization has applied for or received.
- Store documents in a shared drive and organized them by funder and/or fiscal year.
- Ensure that key correspondences with funders have been logged in a central location so that the conversations can be easily picked back up by someone else.
The points listed above should be thought of as continuous best practices for effective grant seeking and management. If you didn’t already have these resources and protocols in place, now is the time to implement them so that you can capture the outgoing team member’s knowledge in a way that is easily understood and accessible to others.
Shared online drives, complete database platforms, well-organized file cabinets, or a combination of methods can all work. The key is to be consistent and set clear organization/labeling/reporting protocols for everyone who’s involved in your grants program.
Step 2: Transition key funder relationships and review deadlines.
An effective grants program will have an extensive network of relationships that is actively built over time through individual interactions between funder points of contact and your grants manager. Your nonprofit’s relationships with funders are among your grants manager’s most important responsibilities.
During a staff transition, the risk comes from the fact that the relationships are siloed in your departing team member. It can be easy to inadvertently lose touch with funders if no one else is personally familiar with that point of contact or the history of the relationship.
Consistent documentation of all touchpoints and conversations with funders helps mitigate this risk over the long run (and gives you some interesting new data points to study). But there are other short-term steps we recommend checking off:
- Appoint an interim grants manager to handle funder communications and relationships, preferably a senior leader at your organization to instill confidence in funders.
- Review all deadlines and details of ongoing grants projects that are in both the proposal and execution stages.
- Notify all active funders about the staff transition, and outline your plans/timelines to continue meeting their deadlines and expectations.
- Ensure someone on your team will own maintaining your grants calendar. A staff member familiar with your grants program or a grants consultant are good choices.
Handle this step with plenty of care before and during the grants manager’s departure. Funder relationships are extremely valuable assets for your nonprofit—they increase your likelihood of receiving funding, open up new grant opportunities, and help you organically grow your network over time. Take any and all steps you can to ensure that the funders’ experience of the staff transition is as smooth as possible.
Step 3: Equip the new grants manager with the right tools and resources.
At this point, the previous grants manager has departed. The interim manager has been handling day-to-day communication with funders, and you’ve identified the new permanent grants manager among your existing staff or by recruiting outside the organization.
The final steps to a smooth transition will involve getting the new grants manager up and running with everything they need to do their job well. Here’s another checklist of essentials:
- Schedule a period of overlap so that the interim grants manager can orient the new manager to your nonprofit’s processes and the status of funder relationships.
- Personally introduce the grants manager to funders as their new primary point of contact.
- Encourage the new grants manager to begin creating and improving systems, processes, and routines to support the grants process at any stage.
- Communicate to the rest of your staff the new grants manager’s responsibilities and the roles that other teams will need to play in preparing proposals, submitting reports, and engaging with funders.
Ideally, your new grants manager will be off to a smooth start. Of course, some bumps in the road may occur, but by following the steps outlined above, you’ll drastically minimize the chances that those hiccups do serious damage to ongoing grants or funder relationships. Regularly check in with the new grants manager to check their progress, troubleshoot recurring logistical or internal problems, and collaborate on any improvement ideas they’ve had.
Seeking Outside Support
Nonprofit consultants specialized in grant seeking can also be invaluable resources before, during, and after staff transitions.
These experts can provide project-based or ongoing grant writing services to take the bulk of the work off your team’s plate during transition periods. If your nonprofit is new to grant seeking, a consultant can also show you the ropes—how to craft a winning proposal, build an organized grant-seeking process, and cultivate relationships with funders.
Look for providers who offer more comprehensive support than just outsourced proposal writing. A true partner for the grant-seeking process can give your program added capacity and stability to prevent disruptions and derailings during staff transitions (or any time).
Remember, any activities that generate revenue and support for your mission, like grant seeking and fundraising, are critically important and should be safeguarded. The right preparation, resources, and partners can keep your nonprofit running smoothly for the long run.