How Foundations Are Maximizing Their Impact with Fractional Executive Support

Written by vChief

December 4, 2023

A fractional chief of staff can enhance grantee performance and sustainability.

In an effort to bring lasting solutions to monumental challenges, many foundations are looking to enhance the effectiveness of their grantees by pairing their funding with non-monetary support. Recent examples of this trend include foundations funding executive sabbaticals, running programs to prevent staff burnout, and facilitating collaboration between nonprofits in similar fields. In 2022, 45 percent of the Ford Foundation’s grantees benefitted from such support, according to their grantee perception report.

But few foundations have the resources of Ford; many are understaffed and struggle to offer the comprehensive support their grantees need.

Fortunately, a new solution is emerging to help address these capacity challenges. A fractional chief of staff can provide transformative support to both foundations and the grantees they fund.

A chief of staff’s main goal is to expand an executive’s capacity and maximize their effectiveness. They can take urgent projects off a leader’s plate, serve as a thought partner for difficult decisions, and scale up processes to make the whole organization more efficient. And the flexible, month-to-month model of a fractional position minimizes the financial risk. Many fractional chiefs of staff offer support for as few as 20 hours a month, with the option to flex up or down as needed.

Below are three benefits of hiring a fractional chief of staff to support your grantees.

Improve your relationship with your grantees

Building strong relationships with grantees is a major priority for many funders, but when faced with capacity constraints, program officers can find it hard to connect with grantees for anything other than routine grant reporting transactions. When grantees feel like contractors hired to execute a specific scope of work, rather than partners working toward a shared vision, the potential for impactful collaboration decreases. The experience becomes transactional, rather than transformational.

Equipping a grantee with a fractional chief of staff sends a clear message that you believe in them, that you understand the challenges they face, and you want to invest in their organization as a whole — not just the specific program that aligns with your goals as a foundation. That show of support can go a long way toward building trust.

Additionally, as a third party working with both the foundation and the grantee, a chief of staff can serve as a conduit to improve communication and foster stronger partnership.

Improve the sustainability of your grantees

Without dedicated assistance from a far-sighted funder, nonprofits rarely have the capacity or means to invest in their own sustainability. A chief of staff can provide assistance with a wide range of disciplines that can improve a nonprofit’s overall operations.

For example, many nonprofits find themselves caught in a constant chase for funds, diverting crucial attention away from their mission. A chief of staff can design and run effective fundraising campaigns to help grantees diversify their funding sources while remaining true to their mission. They can ensure the executive director is prepared for donor meetings with research, impact reports, and specific funding requests. Additionally, they can serve as a thought partner to the executive, bringing strategic insights about the long-term direction of the organization.

Labor shortages represent another threat to the sustainability of many nonprofits. The great resignation is leaving nonprofits with staffing gaps that can take months to backfill, derailing their progress on grant-funded initiatives. A fractional chief of staff is an efficient option for covering staffing gaps. They can step in, bridge that three-month gap, and keep the grantee moving forward.

Improve your giving strategy with better data

Foundations depend on grantees’ data to assess their giving strategies and demonstrate stewardship to donors. However, many nonprofits, lacking the resources and technology available in the private sector, struggle to provide the detailed and accurate data foundations seek. Introducing a fractional chief of staff can make a substantial difference. They can help nonprofits implement new tracking software, design and scale up processes to streamline data collection, and handle communication of that impact data between the grantee and the funder.

With a chief of staff driving the effort to collect and report on data, grantees can make smarter decisions about critical operations like staffing, programming, and marketing. And good reporting comes with an added bonus. When grantees use data to tell the story of their impact, it can open doors to further investment and support from the public and other foundations.

A fractional chief of staff can provide timely relief for capacity-strained foundations and nonprofits. The role is perfectly suited to the challenges nonprofits face, and the talent pools of many fractional chief of staff agencies are filled with seasoned experts in HR, fundraising, marketing, and more. It’s an underutilized form of non-monetary support that I hope more foundation leaders will embrace in the near future.

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