Every nonprofit will seek grant funding at one point or another. Some wait years (or even decades) to begin this process. Others think that this is the way to start their nonprofit. It isn’t a simple as this. There are many factors at play when seeking grant funding. The writer is only one aspect.
Foundations rarely support new nonprofits with no fundraising history. I have frequently likened it to handing a brand new car to a teenager who hasn’t even taken driver’s ed yet. Foundations are going to expect certain things before even considering providing funding support for a nonprofit entity.
Having a great idea or meeting a social need is only a small percentage of what they look for. They want to see action, evaluation, strategic planning, a strong board, fundraising activity, local donors, and success from previous effort. They also don’t like being the first to provide funding on big projects.
Many will prefer to provide the last leg of the funding needed than the first drop in the bucket. Large organizations have failed to receive major funding because they thought the grant would cover the full cost, so they did no other fundraising effort. Million dollar nonprofits will be denied for this type of behavior. Size of organization is not what matters. Action does.
So, when selecting your grant writing strategy, it is also important to consider the time and effort required in crafting a solid proposal, provide timely and effective reporting, as well as appropriate grant management. Grant management and grant writing are two separate things. One requires constant monitoring of spending within the nonprofit, documenting it, and providing timely reporting to the grant writer. The other is the person who communicates with the foundation to request funding and report how it was spent. Any segment of this process that goes missing can result in revocation of grant funding or cancellation of repeat funding. It also puts a smear on the organization’s grant management record, so future foundations may not be so eager to provide support.
Frequently, nonprofits will try to cut costs and use what staff they already have in-house to provide these services. Most of the time, the people chosen may have business or secretarial skills. They do not have nonprofit management or foundation relationship skills. Hiring a qualified grant writer can make a difference between receiving funding and never receiving funding. Additionally, this daunting task takes a lot of time away from the executive leadership’s already full plate or the volunteer staff who may or may not truly be dedicated for the long haul to ensure proper follow-up occurs. A dedicated grant writer is the best solution, however it isn’t always financially feasible.
Full-time grant writers can earn between $40,000 – $95,00 per year in the United States. The national average is over $60,000. Organizations typically apply to numerous foundations, ranging from 12 – 50 grant applications per year. This has much to do with the grant writer salary range.
Another aspect to consider is myopic focus. Some nonprofits consider this intense focus to be a strength. Knowing the organization well is important to any grant writer. However, the myopic focus can also make them blind to the way that a foundation may look at their organization. They think they are amazing and are selling your organization like the best thing next to sliced bread.
Foundations don’t care about that. They want to know how responsible you are and your impact. Cheerleaders are nice, but they aren’t necessarily responsible enough to direct the entire game. You need a coach, not a cheerleader. Someone who will hold all parties in the organization accountable to the funding. This frequently falls under grant manager, but the writer also needs details. Tossing half-suggestions at them and lazily created budgets will make their efforts pointless. If the writer doesn’t know enough about what a foundation is looking for, they will blindly send off applications, be rejected, and you blame the writer. It wouldn’t even matter what writer you hire if this is the pattern.
Grant writing consultants can vary in cost, but the average is $50-$70 per hour nationally. Some may charge as much as $3,000 per application, and others charge up to $10,000 or more for federal grant applications. There is a reason for this. The amount of time and effort that goes into a carefully crafted proposal takes far more time than sitting down and writing. They will spend a lot of time researching your organization, gathering information from key personnel or board members, research your focus area, and research the foundation’s funding history. Grant writers that are worth their salt, even as employees, will do the same.
An effective grant writing consultant will behave in a manner that holds your organization accountable before submitting any grant proposals. They also have the added edge of working with multiple nonprofits and foundations. What this provides is a much keener sense of what the foundations are looking for and the types of organizations they frequently see for review.
Someone who is an employee may only have 2-3 employers of experience to refer to. My organization has worked with more than 300 nonprofits, schools, colleges, filmmakers, artists, and hospitals worldwide. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I understand how the foundations feel when they are presented with grant applications by nonprofits who are clearly disorganized and are obviously not ready for funding. As such, I do expect a lot from my clients. I want you to succeed, but without improving your game, no writer on the planet will save you.
Pay and Benefits
Hiring a grant writing consultant is likened to that of hiring an attorney by the hour or by retainer. Self-contained jobs can be easily managed by flat rates. It is often more cost effective to the nonprofit to select this option as the consultant provides a plethora of advice that your volunteers or secretarial staff just won’t have. Expertise is paramount.
Most importantly, hiring a solid grant writing consultant guarantees that the job will be done. They are not coasting on company time. They were hired for a job. They know the deadline. They will hound your organization for the key information in order to meet the deadline, and they will provide you with drafts before submission to ensure you are satisfied with what is being presented. They do not want to misrepresent your organization on ethical grounds and for legal purposes. Their standards are higher than that of an employee.
Consultants also have a streamlined system in place to ensure solid formatting, timeline, and submission take place. They can also help you to create master documents that can help save you money in your organization’s younger years. My company offers a New Nonprofit Package that offers a full master proposal, a grant research report, and even organizational and project budgets if needed. By having the outside guidance creating the best proposal and research for you, you can get your feet wet in the application process and learn first hand what foundations are looking for. This will also help you to improve your efforts as a nonprofit. In all honesty, the high standards of foundations are really benchmarks to help you succeed. You really should heed them. They keep your organization at the top of your game, while also keeping your overhead low.
The most important ingredient that is offered by an outside consultant that is impossible to have with an employee is the separation of church and state. What this means is that their independence from your organization prevents abuse of power being passed onto the grant writer. There are occasions where ill-advised power players will try to manhandle a grant writer to write something that no foundation will ever fund. No consultant would allow this and they do not fear being fired for saying so. If you want to get funded, go outside of your organization to protect the process.
For those in areas where finding a grant writer proves difficult, our remote consultancy option can be a life-saver. You get the benefits of a world class grant writer, within industry rates, and without having to provide full-time benefits or salary (let alone relocation costs).
Other things to note are that it is unethical to ask anyone to write grants for free or for a commission. Foundations will deny your application if they find out you paid your writer a commission. They often ask in the application itself. Your administrative costs must be clear in your budgets when you submit the application. Your writer is an expert and deserves the respect afforded them of this station. Frequently, your grant writer knows more than your management about how to run a nonprofit. At least a grant writer worth your time would. If they can’t do that, you are gambling.