Grant Development Suffers from Brain-Drain

December 20, 2016       Barbara Floersch      

Nonprofit employees frequently struggle with insecure jobs, high stress, long workdays, and compassion fatigue. It’s no wonder turnover is high. High staff turnover is a debilitating drain on accumulated institutional knowledge. It’s a sector-wide problem that definitely affects the ability to secure grant support.

Developing competitive, well-reasoned proposals requires a wide range of skills and most organizations use a team approach to accomplish the work. The tasks involved are multifaceted. You’ve got to connect with beneficiaries, plan programs, develop relationships with funders, pull together community partnerships, develop budgets, and lots more. When staff involved in the work are continually changing, effectiveness suffers.

Balls get dropped. Relationships suffer. Wheels get recreated and it’s extremely difficult to produce high-level work. It takes a deep, consistent level of institutional knowledge to keep grantseeking soundly positioned in the sweet-spot where community needs, organizational mission, and funder interests intersect.

So long as high staff turn-over remains a reality, nonprofits are well-advised to proactively sand-bag against the myriad problems staff turnover presents in grantseeking.

  • Notes are key. The more thoroughly you document processes and activities, the more likely it is that a new staff member picking up the work will avoid costly mistakes. Embrace the discipline of keeping detailed notes on meetings, budget preparation, partnership agreements — all facets of the work.
  • Redundancy is good. When only one staff member knows the ropes, your organization is especially vulnerable. As standard operating procedure, be sure that two or more people are skilled in each aspect of program planning and grant proposal development.
  • Shelter relationships. Ensure that top-level administrators know about the relationships staff members have developed with funders, clients, and other community organizations. By working together to broaden the relationships beyond a strictly person-to-person interaction, they’ll be more likely to continue if the primary staff contact leaves.

Pull together your organization’s grant development team and make a plan for dealing with staff turn-over. Think of it as insurance. When you need it you’ll be glad you took the time to put the plan together.

© Copyright 2016, The Grantsmanship Center. Barbara Floersch is executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif.