Giving Compass' Take:

• Writing for Fund The People, Marianne Philbin, executive director of the Pierce Family Foundation, lists ways that funders can better support their grantee staff, including sharing salary data from surveys and providing unrestricted operating support.

• Do most funders follow these practices, and what are the outcomes for those that do? Philbin is drawing on her own experience, but much of the advice is practical and — as advertised — cost-effective.

• For those who want to take a deeper dive into the funder-grantee dynamic and how to manage it responsibly, click here.

Nonprofits tend to sink or swim based not on mission and funding alone, but on the talents of employees. Keeping good employees and equipping them for the work is one of the critical challenges frequently cited by nonprofit leaders, yet funders tend to invest much less in the “people” aspects of nonprofit organizations than they do in other areas. Businesses spend four times as much per person on leadership development as nonprofits, and according to Foundation Center grant data from 1992-2011, less than one percent of foundation grant dollars are invested in developing the nonprofit workforce.

There are many reasons for this, from fear of getting into personnel issues, to foundation guidelines that focus on funding programs rather than operations. However, as Fund the People emphasizes, nonprofit people are nonprofit programs, and even modest investments in staff development can have significant impact.

We believe investing in staff and staff development is essential to achieving the outcomes that any organization’s mission may seek to deliver.

Below, we share nine strategic and inexpensive ways we’ve invested in nonprofit staffing, and that we believe other funders interested in providing similar support can easily adapt for their own grantee communities.

  1. Provide unrestricted general operating support. Capacity begins with staffing; do not underestimate the importance of supporting basic staffing costs by providing unrestricted general operating support.
  2. Offer an outside advisor for HR projects. Outside advisors can provide an objective review of a grantee’s staff organizational chart, job descriptions, salary scale, compensation levels, and personnel policies.
  3. Share salary data from national and regional surveys. We subscribe to the six or seven major nonprofit salary surveys because we know our grantees can’t afford the subscriptions and/or would not likely bother.
  4. Look at how you can support the staff. If you fund in a program area, that means you tend to work with a particular set of organizations across an entire field.
  5. Invest in peer support for your grantees. This could be an occasional roundtable for IT staff or an ongoing program like Peer Skill Share, which we created to match grantees with their counterparts at other organizations for one-to-one problem solving and professional development sessions.

The strategies outlined above do not require enormous investments of dollars or foundation time, but rather, a willingness to see nonprofit staff — their numbers, their effectiveness, their costs — as key to building the effective organizations we all want to see achieving goals we share.

Read the full article about strategic ways to support grantee staff by Marianne Philbin, executive director at the Pierce Family Foundation, via Fund the People.