By Heather Dimitt-Fletcher
Institutional memory is a big concern in nonprofit succession planning. Many nonprofits have small staffs, especially at the administrative or operations level. Over 66% of nonprofits in the U.S. have an annual budget under $1 million dollars, thousands are grassroots organizations with dramatically smaller budgets. It isn’t uncommon for people in those positions to each be fulfilling three or four vital roles within the agency, similar to what you might see in a micro-sized business. Whereas, businesses look to cross training as an answer, that’s even more difficult for many nonprofits. Take for instance, the bookkeeping and accounting role in an agency. That’s a very specialized skill set. When you only have one or two other people at the administrative and operations level and they are fulfilling the needs for HR, marketing, program development and management, compliance, fundraising, grant writing, etc., there really isn’t anyone else at that level to cross train to do the books. That leaves cross training someone at the program implementation level which may be fine if your nonprofit provides free or low cost accounting services and all of your program staff are accountants. However, when the majority of nonprofits classified as grassroots to large are health and human services organizations, it’s a bit more challenging if your program staff are social workers or counselors. The challenge of who to cross train also applies when it comes to marketing, grant writing, HR or any other specialized area necessary for effective agency functioning. For most nonprofits, the skills to provide actual service to clients is a bit easier to continue either because there is an actual program manual detailing how service should be provided or because new programming staff have degrees, training and/or experience in the field. Even in programming, there can be difficulties when it comes to understanding the history of clients, building trust with clients, and in knowing contacts at other agencies to whom you can or should make referrals for your clients.