Monday, July 16, 2007

Clients Who Don't Follow Through On Their Grant Writing Plan: Grant Writers, I'm Talking To You

I don't understand it.

We all know that non profit organizations do not have a ton of resources available to them.

So, why do non profit organizations take the time to research grant writers, call them, interview them, collectively formulate a plan to go after grant money - AND THEN FALL OFF THE WAGON?

This has happened twice to me.

Last year I was interviewed by the Executive Director and the board President of one organization, and they each seemed to be very interested in raising grant money. In this particular incident, when they went to their board with the idea to hire me, their board did not share their understanding of fundraising/grantsmanship, nor did they have their level of interest. To this day, this organization raises money primarily through grants, through applications written by their President. She is articulate and bright, of course, but she has many other tasks to do (besides having a business of her own). This board should be concerned that their President (who is the workhorse of all the volunteers for this org) is going to burn out. Who could blame her?

The first time I had a client flee the roost, though....

I was hired by a non profit group that was growing. They were making inroads with other organizations doing similar work and working well with them. They were growing programming and planning on applying for grants to bolster their development plan. I was hired, I began my work, and when it came time for their staff to collaborate with me (and grant writing is always collaborative work) - I waited a day or two, called, and I was told their Executive Director would get right back to me. It became a week. Then, a little over a week I called again. She would get back to me, and she was so sorry that it was taking so long. After two weeks, I respectfully declined the contract. What was I waiting for? I needed her to look over my first draft of the grant proposal case for fact checking, whether I had their organization's history and timeline correct, and the like. How long was the document she was supposed to review, mark up, and return to me? It was less than six pages long. I was waiting for a staff member to do maybe ten minute's work and get back to me.

The commitment to start a grant writing program, as part of a non profit's development plan, is apparently less difficult than to follow through with it. I really find this hard to believe.

As grant writers, we must be certain that the clients that we take on are committed to the process. During the interview with the first client, I made it clear at different times that grant writing is a group effort, that it would require about five hours of their staff time, a week. I would need them to either show me where to find, or give me, financials, official organizational documents, the board list, etc. I would also need their involvement in proof reading. During the conversations, the Executive Director understood, agreed, and was eager to get started.

I now make certain that the potential client understands but also guarantees that they have that time available for the grant writing process.

I do not want to get paid for waiting around. I want to assist organizations to achieve their mission statement goals, by helping them raise grant money. I want to be successful in my work, and help non profits be successful in theirs'.

There is no free ride. If non profit organizations believe that they can hire a grant writer, and that the grant writer will independently all on their own make grant dollars appear - they're wrong. Grant writers work independently. They often need quiet, time, and a little space to be able to absorb information and write out great proposals. BUT grant writers are not, as Tony Poderis (excellent fundraising guru) says of us, "lone wolves". We may be treated that way by our office mates or fundraising colleagues (as Tony describes), but it isn't really how to successfully raise grant money.

When I work with a client I learn about their organization, its work, and its mission. I will write a draft or two, hand it off to a few staff members for feedback, get the mark ups back, and write a next draft. We might go back and forth another draft or two. Different grant donors need different information; so this is ongoing. There has to be team work, give and take, open lines of frequent communication, and a commitment.

Yup. Really. It isn't fundraising in a vacuum. It is grant writing.

[Tony Poderis' great fundraising website is located at ]

1 comment:

Rose said...

Well its very heartening to find another grants-related blog out here!

My blog is Grant Basics 101 and it's at:

I'm responding to your post "clients who don't follow through....."

Unfortunately as someone who researches grants I have to make sure that the work that I do for clients is worthy enough so that I won't have to worry about them saying that the work wasn't worthy enough.

I can understand your frustration at want to do work that is well done but really isn't that the nature of clients - in any field?