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Grants Management Challenges: Staff Changes

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Staff turnover can cause confusion, delays, and other problems that have the potential to jeopardize grant funds and diminish the credibility of your organization. This publication discusses what can go wrong when staff changes happen and provides tips to minimize the negative impacts these changes can have on your grants management system.

Hope for the best, and plan for the worst

When employees leave grant-active organizations, they often take with them vital knowledge about the projects they worked on. Unless an organization has prepared to manage such a situation, it may experience negative consequences, such as having to return grant funds or losing credibility with funders, thus making it harder to secure grant awards in the future.

When personnel involved with managing grant awards leave an organization, it can negatively impact communication with the funding agency. In many organizations, there is often one individual who has maintained communication and established a relationship with the funding agency; if that individual leaves, steps must be taken to maintain the organization’s relationship with the funding agency.  In a story about a rash of politically motivated management turnovers, CBS News Canada quoted Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas: “Municipalities that see a high turnover of managers don't function efficiently, and often lose out on grants from higher levels of government.” Maintaining good communication with your funding agencies, even in the face of staff turnover, is key to preventing such problems.  However, this requires advance planning. Cross-training of the grants management team should begin once an organization receives notice of a grant award. More than one person should know the terms, expectations, and timelines for each grant-funded project. This cross-training ensures that your organization has a backup plan in case any key players in the grants management process leave.

Preparing your organization for staff changes is crucial to successful grants management system and avoiding costly errors. For example, a small Delaware municipality was awarded grants for street and public safety projects, but cited “changes from previous administration and employee turnover” as the reason why required financial records were missing. Funds had been placed in the wrong accounts and bid procedures not followed. Adequate cross-training and better communication could have helped these grant managers avoid the negative consequences of not adhering to major grant conditions. 

An organization’s ability to meet its objectives is impacted when there are changes in staff that implement grant-funded projects. For example, one U.S. General Accounting Office study about social workers concluded that “large caseloads and worker turnover delay the timeliness of investigations and limit the frequency of worker visits with children, hampering agencies’ attainment of some key federal safety and permanency outcomes.” When on-the-job experience is of extreme value, as in the case of social work, grant-funded projects and the services they provide can suffer from any staff turnover. To ensure that your community’s needs are met on an ongoing basis, minimize turnover by understanding and mitigating the reasons why individuals typically leave your organization and practicing sound management practices, such as providing employees with engaging work and a visible career path.

When staff changes do take place, savvy grant managers already have a plan in place to carry out grant-funded projects. With grant-funded programs being so susceptible to a range of problems associated with staff changes, you can strengthen communication by fostering a team approach to grants management.   

In addition, easily accessible recordkeeping systems should be set up, containing important information about your organization’s grant-funded projects. All funding agreements, timelines, ongoing evaluations, and contact lists should be easy to find and should be referenced often during grant funding cycles. Project files can also include copies of emails and notes about telephone conversations with funding agencies and project managers.  Whether maintained in hard copy, with software programs, or through a comprehensive system such as Grants Network, thorough recordkeeping ensures that all project information is captured, centralized, accurate, and able to be easily shared or transferred as necessary.

Having a plan in place well before any staff changes occur will help your organization avoid the loss of any grant funding and maintain its rapport with funding agencies. Proactive steps like cross-training, developing a grant management team, providing incentives to prevent turnover, and creating easy-to-access grant records will help your organization minimize the impact of unforeseeable staff changes.

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