AAHC Forum: Navigating the Bumps: Coping with Personnel Changes in “Mid-Grant”

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

By Lisa Dodson, Grant Writer and Consultant, The Kansas African American Museum and Executive Director, Kansas Museums Association

Coping with leadership changes became essential for the survival of our grant-funded project.  In 2010, The Kansas African American Museum (TKAAM) staff was pleased to receive the news that IMLS had awarded us a grant for a new museum education department. The grant funded a full-time education director and two internships for college students. These were new museum positions and doubled the size of our staff to six.

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IMLS asked me to share some of the challenges we encountered and what we learned in the process.  For a small non-profit, finding and keeping the right staff is essential and through our experience with the grant we learned quite a bit.

Our first task was to hire an education director.  We were looking for a dynamic individual with experience in education, African American studies and community leadership. We advertised and received more than 100 applications, but we quickly realized that the expertise of the applicant pool did not match the qualifications that we felt we needed.   Finally after a nine month search, we found a qualified candidate.  Meanwhile, our existing staff of three was working hard to establish the administrative functions for educational programming, so the new education director could launch programs immediately. While our committed staff members never complained, they were relieved when the position was ultimately filled

Lesson Learned:
Do market research to better understand salary required to attract the skill set you need.  Many candidates ultimately did not want to relocate or found our salary sufficient for part–time work, but not a full time job.  You can save time and effort with better information at the outset.

Our next task was hiring interns.  With several universities and colleges in the area, we were able to easily find students to fill the internships. Prior to hiring the education director, our student interns were supervised by the administrative assistant and curator. Over the past year and a half, we were fortunate to find interns who were competent and diligent. However, not every intern we hired was ready for the demands of the position.

Lesson Learned

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of training and supervision needed to supervise student interns
  • Develop good screening practices for hiring students.
  • Develop a strong training program for both students and volunteers.

Unexpected Challenges. After a year and a half into the grant, our executive director resigned. Two weeks later the education director resigned. Yikes! This was a major crisis! Our remaining staff rallied to support the museum. I was appointed as the interim director and assisted with the search for the new executive director. The board felt it was important to fill the executive director first and allow the new director to hire the education director.

Lesson Learned:  Call IMLS and notify them of management changes. I received excellent support and advice, as well as understanding that transitions happen!

Fortunately for the museum, within five weeks, the board was able to recruit a former board member and previous museum executive director to fill the position. The new director quickly identified a candidate to serve as the interim education director and get the pilot afterschool program launched. The museum is exploring how to sustain this position and recruit a new candidate for education director in the summer of 2013.

Our grant experience has been rewarding, educational, and challenging. We are grateful for the opportunity and have grown as an organization from receipt of the IMLS funding and the lessons we learned. As we think about future projects, we will carefully consider how to adapt our project plan to change, what the impact of the project will be on existing staff, and the need to always stay focused on our core mission.

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