Sunday, February 10, 2008

Planning Your Organization's Grant Writing Expenses

Let's say that you and I work at The United States Star Fish Society (TUSSFS). Let's say that our nonprofit has it's 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation, the board is proactive and seeking out the 'how to's' and basics, learning nonprofit oversight, management, operations, and fundraising. Let's say, too, that since its inception TUSSFS has solicited board contacts, previous individual donors, local businesses, and volunteers four times a year. We have a donor base that is growing.

Let's say that our board, during its training, learned how critical planning is for mission success. In TUSSFS' second year the board conducted four strategic planning sessions that resulted in a strategic plan. The strategic plan clearly defines what the organization's mission is, it's current work, the work it envisions itself doing in the future, and details action items, a list of who is responsible for what, deadlines, goals, and how and when outcomes review will occur.

Let's say, too, that during the second year TUSSFS' fundraising committee created a Development (or fundraising) Plan. The Development Plan lists the current fundraising work, the work it will do in the future BASED ON THE STRATEGIC PLAN'S GOALS FOR THE ORGANIZATION (e.g. new programs, hiring more staff, growing the organization's public relations and marketing, etc.), and details action items, a list of who is responsible for what, deadlines, goals, and how and when outcomes review will occur. Based on the Development Plan, TUSSFS began, during its second year, a new fundraising event, the annual Star Fish Gala Ball. We knew when we started the event that it would take a minimum of three consecutive years before this event would begin to gross revenue. The event was conceived, organized, and conducted each year (and will be in the future) to set money aside to pay for grant writing services.

We're in our fifth year, at TUSSFS. We've saved $10,000 from our Star Fish Gala Ball revenue, over the past three years, to be used for grant writing expenses. Now that we've implemented a method to raise money for our grant writing expense, and we have money in the bank - we need to know what we will expect to pay for, how much, and when.

A professional grant writer provides your organization with expertise, a developed skill, success, and leadership. Like when your organization consults with a CPA or a lawyer, you are receiving skilled services (raising grant donations), and your organization is paying a fee for those services. There are many reasons to hire a grant writer. Some nonprofits only need an expert grant writer to review a grant proposal that they've written for corrections, suggestions, and direction. Others need a grant writer to search for potential grant donors (prospecting). Most nonprofits hire grant writers to do all of the grant seeking work; research, prospecting, writing a proposal case, putting the applications together for each potential donor, managing potential grant donor interviews/visits, writing thank you letters, writing grant progress reports, and writing end of grant reports.

Here is a typical (and there are variations) consulting fee schedule for the entire grant writing process:

1. Initial free consultation to meet the grant writer, discuss the organization, determine if it's in a good position to raise grant money, discuss the organization's needs and goals, and discuss how the grant writer works and what the grant writing process is.

2. The grant writer provides the potential client with their resume', a copy of an actual proposal that they wrote and its budget (or a writing sample), letters of recommendation (or a list of professional references), and a clear and thorough proposal.

3. To begin work, many consulting grant writers will request a retainer be paid in order for them to begin work. The retainer can be 1/3 to 1/2 of the proposed total cost of the grant writing contract (in the proposal).

4. When the grant writer begins work, as billing begins, they post the retainer against their billing to your organization. You should receive regular detailed billing and you should also receive regular detailed project and schedule updates.

5. If you are hiring a grant writer to write a grant proposal (case) and you plan on them using the case for many different projects that your organization knows will require grant money - most of the total grant writing cost to your organization will be up front. For each program that your organization is going to raise grants for - the grant writer will have to prospect for potential donors, and the reporting, thank yous, and the grant program maintenance will be ongoing. The greatest amount of time will be spent writing the grant proposal. After it is written, it can be edited for each different need that your organization has for grants (and for each potential grant donor that your organization will apply to). In other words, after your grant proposal is done, most of your agency's grant program will be ongoing prospecting, filing potential donors' info, editing the grant proposal case and mailing out applications, reporting to donors, and managing what grant work is completed and what is on the horizon.

The grant writing expense is larger, upfront, usually. Maintenance is just as important, but usually does not require as much time as the initial work required to form a strong grant program.


Anonymous said...

Great article. I wish you could post it in Spanish too!! I am actually working in grant writing in Argentina.We are one step back here,trying to make NGOs conscious about the value of counting on grant writers.Thanks!!

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Dear Mon.,
Thank you and thank you for Commenting. I believe that Blogger offers the option to publish in at least one other language. I will look into whether I can offer readers my blog posts in Spanish. Good luck in your efforts! Best, Arlene