This article was submitted by Sue Racanelli of the San Diego
Foundation's Resource Library. To visit this terrific resource
center, call 619.235.2300.
Positioning Grant Writers for Success
Some of the most heated discussions in the nonprofit world centers on
grant writing. Why? Because so much is riding on it. It is the rare
organization that could continue to carry out its mission anywhere
near as effectively if its grants dried up, and for many, such an
occurrence would sound the death knell.
By: Tony Poderis
Of the three basic sources of money for non-profits -- earned income,
donations from individuals, and grants -- the process of getting a
grant is the most puzzling. All but the smallest organizations are
likely to have people on staff or use outside counsel who specialize
in grant writing. The demand for skilled grant writers, coupled with
the mystery that seems to surround successful grant writing, leads to
some troubled areas for development professionals and non-profit
Two questions are central: How do you evaluate the performance of
grant writers and what can you do to aid the grant writing process?
How Do You Evaluate The Performance Of Grant Writers?
I have seen many resumes with statements like the following, "The
grants I write are awarded funds 80% of the time." A recent query to
an Internet newsgroup by an executive director asked, "My grant
writer has a grant success rate of 41%. How does that compare with
the standard of other organizations?"
Grant writers touting a high percentage of grant attainment to
impress potential employers are in danger of setting themselves up
for failure. How many of us would want to go into a new work
environment with the expectation that 80% of the grant applications
we submit would be approved? Not me!
Executive directors who see the success or failure of grant-getting
as residing in the hands of the grant writer are failing to take into
account something even more important than the grant application --
the purpose of the funding. Poorly delineated projects, "soft"
budgets, and a host of other weaknesses cannot be overcome by a well-
crafted grant proposal. The awarding of grants has more to do with
function than form, and grant writers are not usually the ones who
make the policy and practice recommendations that lead to a search
When it comes to measuring performance, I believe grant writers
should be evaluated on the quality of their work. What I expect of a
grant writer as written into a job description might read something
like the following.
The grant writer will:
Through interviews and other means, gather information that will
easily allow him/her to grasp the concept of a project or program for
which funding is sought as defined by the person responsible for
carrying it out.
Acquire and maintain sound knowledge and understanding of the
organization, and use that knowledge and understanding to better
comprehend all projects and programs for which grants will be sought
and to recommend the seeking of grants.
Research grant-making organizations and analyze them to identify
likely funding sources for specific projects and programs.
Compile, write, and edit all grant applications exhibiting strong
expository writing skills and a high-level command of grammar and
Review the budget of a project or program for which funding is sought
and make recommendations to better present it to grant-making
Develop individual grant proposals in accordance with each grant-
making organization's preferences and follow exactly each grant-
making organization's guidelines.
Keep in contact with grant-making organizations during their review
of a submitted grant application in order to be able to supply
additional supportive material.
Manage the process of supplying progress reports when required by a
grant-making organization that has funded a project or program.
Any grant writer I hired was expected to carry out the above duties
well. Doing so left me satisfied with his or her performance. Grant
award or no grant award, the grant writer was successful. It was
never my grant writer's job to get the grant; rather the job was to
make the best case possible to appropriate funding organizations.
What Should You Do Before Engaging An Outside Grant Writer?
Accomplished, experienced grant writing consultants are in demand and
they are not cheap. Therefore, you should do as much of the
preparation work as possible yourself. This will allow you to spend
your consulting dollars where they are really needed -- the actual
grant writing. Also, the better prepared you are, the more likely you
will be to attract the best grant writers. Before you engage a grant
writer, you should already have:
Defined the project or program you want to get funded.
Developed the essence of your "Case for Support."
Identified prospective grant sources for the project or program.
Determined who will actually solicit the funds and how they will do
Begin the definition process by first setting your grant-seeking
priorities as they fit within your organization's long-range
strategic plan and mission. The three basic areas for which you are
likely to be seeking grants are:
To create new programs and services.
To support ongoing programs and services.
To provide annual operating funds.
Then clearly and precisely define each project or program for which
you will seek grants in terms that grant-making organizations will
recognize and respond to. Make sure that while you're doing this you
also plan for life after the grant. How will you support the project
or program in the future if it is to last longer than the timeframe
covered by the grant? It's a question every grant making organization
will want answered.
Be certain that you have reasonably determined in advance the scope,
intent, and "case" value to the community of the project or program
you wish to have funded before you engage a grant writer. If you ask
the grant writer to do this, he or she will have to learn your
organization's capabilities and community's needs in the specific
areas. It makes no sense to pay someone on the outside to do this.
Identifying the sources most likely to make a grant to an
organization such as yours for the purpose you have defined is
crucial to the process of grant application. The public library, the
Foundation Center, your trustees, and others in your community are
excellent sources of this information. Check your state Attorney
General's office to see if it publishes a list of foundations. Go
through other non-profit organizations' annual reports to look for
funders. Then be sure to contact as many foundations and other grant
making organizations as possible to get their grant seekers'
guidelines and grant awarding calendar.
While most experienced grant writers, particularly if they operate in
your geographic and "services" areas will know such information,
doing your own research will let you better direct the grant writer's
efforts. It is not hard to do and will establish a process and
routine you can follow in future grant- seeking opportunities. Plus
the information and expertise stays in your organization.
Never ask a grant writer to be the actual solicitor of funds. You and
others within your organization are the best people to present your
case. Why would you want a grant writer with whom you have a
temporary relationship to represent you to grant makers? Why let the
outside grant writer build a personal relationship you or your
trustees could be nurturing? Besides, foundations want to meet the
people who operate and are committed to an organization --- not an
outsider on a temporary hire.
Prepare well before you engage a grant writing consultant and you
will save money while putting your organization in a better position
to attain the grants for which you apply.
Tony Poderis is a seasoned development professional, having served as
Director of Development for the Cleveland Orchestra from 1972 1992.
He now works as a consultant, author, and speaker. Mr. Poderis is the
author of "It's A Great Day To Fundraise!"
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