Most nonprofits want to include grants from foundations or the government in their funding mix. It is a sensible thing to do, but not always easy.
Researching and writing grants is time consuming and requires specialized and finely honed research and writing skills. Experience with grants and grant writing always makes the odds better for landing a grant.
You may be fortunate enough to have an experienced grant writer on staff, especially if your organization has a developed and long standing grants program. But for many nonprofits that is not so, and it might make sense to hire a grant professional or consultant, at least for a limited time.
The Pros of Hiring a Grants Consultant/Writer
- The grant writer will actually sit down and write the proposal.
He or she is not likely to spend time in endless meetings discussing what the proposal should be like. Some organizations assign groups to write a proposal, a strategy that often ends up producing what Jake calls a "franken-proposal," cobbled together from mismatched parts.
- The job will get done on time.
Consultants could not stay in business if they did not meet deadlines. Since the goal of writing proposals is to get the money, that should be of paramount importance, and it's surprising how many would-be grant writers fail to turn in complete and technically correct proposals prior to deadlines. A good hired gun will be super sensitive to the cold wind of the deadline breathing down his or her neck.
- You have control. .
You can hire the person of choice, and fire that person if the process doesn't go well. Jake points out that, "If you make someone an employee and discover six months later that the employee has spent more time playing solitaire, mastering online poker, and eating donuts than preparing proposals, that person can often be hard to fire for reasons of morale and law. If your consultant is no good, you just cancel their retainer or don't hire them for the next job."
- You get the benefit of the consultant's experience.
According to Jake, "The diverse experience many consultants have can be a bonus, as exposure to different ideas, trends, and kinds of work can filter into other proposals. So can knowledge of funding "gotchas." For example, Jake says, "We've figured out how to use Grants.gov, and why it's important to turn in applications before the deadline. You don't want to make a million-dollar mistake because the grant writer doesn't know the ins and outs of the application system."
The Cons of Hiring a Grants Consultant/Writer
- The consultant does not have the institutional memory that an insider might have.
On the other hand, if you have had staff turn over, the lack of memory could work the other way. No one remembers when and how the last proposal was done, or where to start next time. A consultant grant writer is always writing grants and stays up-to-date on how grants are done.
- You might not pick the right person.
It can be tricky finding the consultant who fits with your organization, listens well, and has the sharpest skills. Look for experienced grant writers with a roster of satisfied clients.
- It may cost too much.
This is likely the most frequent reason organizations hesitate to hire a professional grant writer. But that fear itself can trip up a nonprofit when they are reluctant to hire professional help to do the tasks they are not staffed to do.
The cost can be deceiving as well...remember that with a staff member you have all the costs of salary plus benefits. Jake Seliger points out in his article "Tilting at Windmills: Why There is no Free Grant Writing Lunch and You Won't Find Writers for Nothing," that you will pay for grant writing one way or the other.
The bottom line about whether to hire a professional grant writer is that you need to consider what talent you have on staff (and how much time they have to devote to grant writing), your need for grants from a variety of sources, and what outside talent you can find at what cost. Be sure to interview several grant writers before you hire, get estimates of the overall cost, and names of former and current clients.
If you are starting from scratch, you can search these sources for listings of consultants, including grant writers:
- The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) offers a Consultants Directory at its website that can be searched by specialty, name, or by geographic area.
- The American Association of Grant Professionals has a national list of member consultant services.
- Philanthropy News Digest provides a listing of grant writing consultants in its Resource Directory.
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