Inappropriate Funder Stipulations

Dear Kim:

We have a funder who wants to make it a condition of a grant extension to require that we maintain the same development staff person on the grant until December.   This particular staff person has been promoted to a new position within the development department with greater responsibilities and we hired her replacement 2 ½ months ago. During this past 2 ½ month period, the old staff person has continued to work on this grant and has trained her replacement on all of the grants management responsibilities, introduced her to the program staff, as well as the funder.  The funder was also informed more than 3 months ago that this was our plan and they expressed reservations about a switch and asked that it be a mutual decision.  We did not want to “ruffle their feathers” so we did agree to this.  But now we are at a point that we need this staff person to move into her new position because there are a number of projects that she needs to work on for the good of the entire grants program.  We are beginning to feel that the funder is obstructing our ability to conduct our business.

What would be your advice?

~Held hostage

Dear Held:

While I agree that the funder is being inappropriate, you boxed yourself in by agreeing to their suggestion that moving the staff person they like out of her current position into a new one would be a mutual decision.  Your e-mail seems to indicate that the funder was not then involved in making that decision, so to me it reads that you placated the funder without any intention of actually keeping your word.  I am sure you had no bad motives, but you can see from the funder’s point of view that you have not kept your half of the bargain. There is a saying that applies here:  “when all else fails, try honesty.”  You need to go to the funder, say you are sorry you agreed to have this decision be mutual because you think hiring and promotion decisions should be made internally, and ask how  you both can figure out some way to work together on this grant.  I can’t imagine that the funder will want to obstruct your ability to do the work they are funding you to do.  But you should be prepared to give up the grant if the conditions under which it is given don’t work for you.  And don’t ever again pretend to agree to something just to avoid “ruffling feathers.”

~Kim Klein