Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What Are The Steps To Hiring A Grant Writer?

Let's say . . .

Your agency has been receiving about thirty percent of its annual income from individual donations. A community agency has been supporting your group for about ten years, annually, thus providing about twenty percent of your org's annual income. Forty percent is raised each year through five different special events, and the remaining ten percent is raised by your board members.

You and your board know that the two new programs that you want to provide require more money in the budget. Besides, your agency has never gone after grant money. It's an untapped resource that you want to begin to tap. Why leave a potential donation stream to your agency untouched? Your board and you agree. It's time. You are facing hiring a grant writer. How does that work?!

To raise money you will have to spend money. Sounds crummy? You have already been doing this. To raise donations from your donor base you send them newsletters complete with donor envelopes, or you mail them annual appeal letters, invite them to special events, and solicit them. The solicitation cost time and money to create, design, print, mail, and manage. These costs are part of the cost of raising money for non-profits. Hiring a grant writer is no different. Lastly, it is unethical to pay a grant writer a percentage of any grants your agency may receive. Why? No grant donor is giving the grant to an agency so that you can pay your fundraising staff. They give grants to connect with successful programs that fulfill a given non profit's mission. They give grants to the program or project that the grant was requesting funds for. That money is expected to be spent on only what the grant proposal asked money for. Your agency could get a reputation for spending grant money less than ethically and that would be the kiss of death for more than just fundraising grant donations. Lastly, a grant is not received based on whether a grant writer writes a good proposal or not. It is received because that foundation wants to be a part of completing your mission. A good grant proposal is just part of the equation. Your agency's track record and reputation are equally as important as to whether a grant is received or not.

So, budget for your grant writer. Don't have room in the budget to hire one? Add a one time, only, fundraiser to the year and raise the money to do so. Expect the grant writer to be paid by the hour (may not be the case) and expect them to want to first, get familiar with what information is already pulled together to write a proposal, to prospect for grant donors to apply to, to get familiar with your agency and history, and to write, submit proposals, and end of grant reports, etc. Keep in mind, too, that foundations typically meet once a quarter or less. It is usually best to mail a proposal for a project at least four months before the project is going to start so that you have time to hear back from the potential funders for that project. When you meet potential grant writers, ask for the time they estimate that is required to do the grant work that your agency needs done. Ask them to include a price quote with that.

An agency may want to begin its grant program internally and recruit from within someone who will take on extra hours and become the agency grant writer. This is a common occurrence, except the extra hours are not usually given to the 'chosen' grant writer, and this person doesn't usually have grant writing experience or know how. This means that this person will have to learn how to write grant proposals and how to find potential grant donors. If your agency can invest the time and money into this staff member AND give him/her the proper extra time more than what they're already doing for their 'real' job at your org; then great - do that. Your staff member will be familiar with your org when sitting down to write, they'll know where to find information necessary for a grant proposal, and they are already invested in your agency's mission.

If an organization would rather pay someone who already has the skills and expertise to write grant proposals sooner than later it's good to hire a consulting grant writer or consulting firm. Firms that specialize in fundraising and non profit organizational management can either provide grant writing services or direct you to colleagues who do. Similarly, look for local grant writing or fundraising (or Development) association in your area; they're likely to have a listing of local consulting grant writers, too.

Get a feel of the average cost of grant writers in your area. Ask colleagues who they use for their grant writing and how much they cost. Ask who they really felt did a good job and why. Arrange for a few grant writers to come in for interviews. Ask for their time and cost estimates based on the scope of work you're hiring for. Pay attention to whom you click with and communicate well with and who you don't. Much of grant writing is back and forth; learning about the agency, understanding the mission and agency's work, going over proposal drafts, etc. It is a close working relationship and you want to hire a grant writer who you can work with. Ask them for references and check them.

I have heard people who are hiring grant writers say that they want to hire a grant writer who gets at least 50% of their proposals that they send out funded. Or, they want to hire someone who has raised $150,000 or more in grants in the previous fiscal year. Also, I've heard of agencies hiring grant writers and telling them that they want the writer to mail at least two proposals a week. When an agency hires a grant writer and focuses only on the money - it's a warning to grant writers applying for the job. These are potential clients, in our eyes, who will not be invested in the process of grant writing, which requires time, quality, and relationship building. It will be high pressure and that pressure will be unrealistic and unfair. Eventually, these potential clients won't be happy with 'enough' and the grant writer will have 'failed' their agency.

Consider understanding the following:
You want to be able to return to a grant donor and receive grants again and again in the future.
(This requires time, relationship building, and ethical accounting and procedures).
You want to receive grants based on your agency's ability to meet its mission and meet it well.
(This requires that foundation staff, when they talk to other foundation staff, speak highly of your agency, staff, and organization's work).

You don't want a high turn over rate in your fundraising department. The time it takes a new employee to get situated and really underway is called a learning curve and it is expensive for an agency to have to keep paying for. (The benefit of a grant writer that stays working for your firm is their knowledge of your agency, their knowledge of your grant program, consistency, and their dedication to the mission).

After you've hired your grant writer work with them and remember that your responses to their questions, or your proof reading, or getting the documents that they need back to them is as necessary to the grant writing process as the grant writer sitting down to write. The grant writer is a part of grant raising but he/she is not responsible for it, alone. Working together is how it's done.

To know what to budget for a grant writer or what is a reasonable fee/wage read Pricing Grant Writers - What Should We Pay for A Grant Writer?


Hire Staff said...

Thanks for sharing this post...

Hire Staff said...

Very well said..

Pamela Nan said...

This was really helpful! Thank you!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Pamela, You are welcome and thank you for reading. Best, Arlene