I recently wrote about the phrase funders say that terrifies grantees: “We’re about to start a strategic planning process.” Although there are many things I listed that you can do to help mitigate grantee angst during a strategic planning process, the work doesn’t stop when the final plan is approved.
It’s likely that many grantees who relied on your funding in the past may not be part of your future plan, or will constitute a much smaller percentage of your grantmaking budget. If that’s the case, don’t make hearing the news like ripping off a Bandaid. Instead, make sure your new strategic plan rollout includes short-term strategies to help your grantees navigate the transition. For example:
Communicate your new priorities clearly. Before sharing your new strategic plan with anyone outside your foundation, be sure to develop a set of clear consistent messages that explain:
- why you’ve settled on a new direction (you’ve determined you’ll deliver more value for community by sharpening/broadening your focus),
- how you got there (by including input from multiple stakeholders),
- when the change in direction will take effect (you’ll honor current multi-year commitments), and
- who is affected (although you may no longer fund some organizations, they still deliver value and are worth of support).
Break the news in person. Yes, looking a former grantee in the eye and explaining why his organization is no longer a fit for your foundation is uncomfortable, but you are both members of the philanthropic community and you own him that courtesy and respect. This is not a job for email. Plus, if you’ve take the step above and created clear messages, your grantee will understand.
Spend down gradually. There’s no rule that says you have to pull the plug all at once. Consider reducing a grantee’s allocation incrementally over time as you simultaneously work to increase investments elsewhere. This gives outgoing grantees time to plan and prepare, and your new grantees and program staff a chance to grow more intentionally.
Provide bridge grants. When I was consulting to the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, we used bridge grants to help grantees transition to new sources of funding. This helped them prepare for change mentally and fiscally, and ensure that they did not feel that the rug was pulled out from under them by the shift in focus.
Consider capacity building. If your foundation supported a particular aspect of nonprofit operations, such as leadership development or technology training, consider offering a short-term (one year) grants to help nonprofit staff amp up that capacity internally. Even if you don’t have this kind of grant history to build on, consider capacity building support for fund development functions – especially since grantees will need the skills to replace the funds they’ll no longer receive from you. This has the added bonus of building on your previous investment, and turning the nonprofit staff in question from laymen to experts.
Offer general operating support. Although not as targeted as some of the other strategies for easing away from grantees, general operating support is always welcome, and can allow grantees to adjust as they see fit to this new change in their operating environment. Plus, providing operating support with no strings or expectations attached sends the message that, “even though your work and our strategy no longer align, we still think you’re valuable and trust your judgment.”
Like the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. Ending a professional relationship with a grantee can be just as emotionally trying as ending more personal one. But using the strategies above can help make for a smoother transition for all, and smooth ruffled feathers to boot!
Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, is an award-winning consultant and philanthropy advisor. Learn more about what her clients have to say, and how she helps philanthropists give confidently for dramatic return. You can also read more strategy tips for grantmakers, including “Clarity Trumps Strategy,” “Special Ops: 5 Situations for Deploying a Red Team,” and “We Need Strategy and Judgment, Not Tools and Tactics.
© 2015 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.