By: Kristi Howard-Shultz
Over the last 18 months many nonprofits have seen increased expenses. Material costs have risen, demand for services have grown, changing operations to comply with evolving health and safety needs during the pandemic, and many more factors have contributed to these increases.
At the same time, many agencies have cut staff in response to the dramatic changes in the way they conduct business. Lastly, many organizations have seen a decrease in event revenue, individual giving, and more. Your organization has likely experienced some combination of these challenges. You may be considering contracting with a professional grant writer to create more diverse and sustainable revenue.
You, your mission, and your grant writer can be successful using this guide.
- Know what kind of help you are truly looking for. Do you want to establish a relationship with a grant writer that will help you start to finish—prospecting, budgeting, applying, reporting, and every step in between? Are you looking for more of an a la carte option where an expert prepares just a portion of any of these things? This will help you determine how and where to place your ad.
- Invest the time needed to make this endeavor successful. While hiring a grant writer will save time in the long run, there is a significant investment of time from your organization, particularly at the start. You will need designated and ample time to prepare the ad, interview candidates, prepare collateral, manage the relationship and meet with the grant writer on a regular basis.
- Designate a staff member to manage the relationship. No matter the scope of your relationship with the grant writer, you will need a point person to regularly check in, provide outputs and outcomes, budgets, and other collateral for them to prepare your submissions. It is often a member of your program staff that is best suited for this role. They are in tune with the needs—material and staff wise—as well as the outcomes that your writer will be updating regularly.
- Trust their expertise and take their advice. You are partners in resource development, but it is just that, a partnership. A good grant writer will rely on you in your area of expertise and, likewise, you will be most successful when you honor theirs. You know your mission and program. They know the opportunities and caveats.
- Prepare your collateral. Funders frequently ask for the same set of documents with each application. Be sure your organization has up-to-date financial documents, annual report, board of directors list, case statements, etc.
Are THEY qualified?
A qualified grant writer will ask you just as many questions, if not more, as what you ask them. It is curiosity, in part, that makes them a good candidate.
It’s helpful to ask:
- Do they have direct experience in your sector—animal welfare, education, etc.?
- What’s their process?
- Is it clearly outlined—discovery sessions, monthly meetings, calendar of proposals, etc.?
- What can you expect in terms of communication, updates, etc.?
- How long have they been writing grants?
- How many clients are they currently working with?
- Can they provide a sample of a grant application they have submitted and references?
The proposal and interview process itself shows you the answer to many of the questions you have explored above. Once you receive written proposals, don’t select a grant writer based on their fees alone. Services are often apples to oranges. Some writers charge by the hour, others by the project, others on retainer or with a flat fee.
This can make it hard to compare and choose. You may have sticker shock to see rates of $150 an hour or $500 for a four-page proposal. No matter how they charge, it’s important to understand what the fees include.
Also, you get what you pay for, so if you go for the cheapest fees, you’ll get cheap grant proposals. Instead, to the best of your ability within your budget, prioritize who has experience in your sector and who you have confidence in.
Never counter a proposal with an offer to pay them a percentage of what you receive. This is unethical and any qualified grant writer will not agree to this arrangement.
Lastly, consider the lead time for the writer. Like any other contractor you hire, some are booking months out. At a minimum most contractors need four to six weeks from the time you reach an agreement to conduct discovery and spin up. From there, they can start submitting proposals.
Use your and the writer’s time effectively. Don’t delay in getting information to your grant writer. It will waste time, money, and potentially jeopardize your proposal if your delays mean missing a funder’s deadline.
Don’t expect 100 percent approval. You won’t receive every grant you apply for. Foundations have a limited amount of funds to give away, and those funds will be distributed as the grantor sees fit. This is why an organized, clear, and expertly prepared grant proposal is so important.
Grants take time. They are not a way to raise money quickly. The application and approval process takes months. In most cases, funds aren’t sent out until nearly six months after approval. Be sure this is something you and your writer are tracking in your project management calendar.
The process to hire a grant writer is time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort! Once you find the right writer, it’s likely that you’ll collaborate on grant proposals for years to come.
Hiring an expert is a wise investment because you will have better success rates with them than by piling proposal writing onto an overworked staff member as an “other duty as assigned.”
The materials you produce with your writer will be a work product you can continue to use and repurpose in appeals, newsletters, stewardship activities, and more. It’s a collaborative process where you have the opportunity to learn together and benefit your mission with sustainable and diversified revenue.
Kristi Howard Shultz, founder of Kristi Howard-Shultz Consulting, is a nonprofit executive that leads with head and heart. With 20+ years of experience working for nonprofits including nationally-known, time-tested institutions like The Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Boys & Girls Clubs, she has worked in nearly every capacity of fundraising throughout her career. She has a proven track record of success in board and fund development, campaign management, and capacity building. She has built a strong reputation within the community and is sought after for her industry expertise and thought leadership. Kristi is a natural relationship builder who loves to put plans into action. Championing “firsts” for organizations is her specialty.