Effective federal grant writing is a skill which can be learned over time. But when finding and securing grant funding is crucial to the ongoing operations for your nonprofit, it may be better and ultimately more cost effective for you to hire an experienced grant writer.
Many nonprofits fall into the trap of thinking they are saving money by having the administrator or CEO write the grants for the agency. Or they ask staff who wants to "be involved" in writing the next grant. This is short-sighted thinking as they will be taking the individuals away from work in which they are experienced and putting them into a position in which they may not be as effective. To pay an administrator to write grants is ultimately more costly than hiring an outside grant writer.
Finding a Grant Writer
The best way to find a good grant writer is by word of mouth. Is another agency using a grant writer who has successfully written grants for them? Ask them about their experience and how much the grant writer charged. Ask to see a copy of the grants written if possible. How easy was the grant writer to work with? Was there anything specific they did not like about the job the grant writer did?
If you cannot find a grant writer by word of mouth, then you can advertise locally for one. Grant writers are rare commodities and it may not be easy for you to find one this way, but it could be worth a try. If you are in an urban area it may be easier to locate a grant writer; if you are in a rural area it won't be as easy.
One option which has become more commonly used is to seek out a grant writer online. The benefit of this search method is the Worldwide Web is an immense marketplace. The downfall is it may be trickier to communicate with someone living 2,500 miles away, not to mention transmitting an understanding of what your agency does, the needs evident in your community, and your agency's capabilities to fulfil grant requirements can take some time. Nevertheless, this remains a valid option for many agencies looking to hire a grant writer.
There are websites catering to freelance writers and grant writing professionals. Two of these are Elance.com and Guru.com. Agencies can describe and post their grant writing projects, set a deadline date for bids to be submitted to you, and evaluate the bids once they come in. Websites such as these have paid memberships for professional grant writers, and the writers bid for the chance to find writing work. Writers have a wide range of skill levels and each writer describes their own work history and can post a portfolio of past projects they have done. Agencies can post their grant writing projects at no charge.
You can also go to websites for professional membership organizations that grant writers often join. One of them is the website of the American Association of Grant Professionals at go-aagp.org. At this website you get free access to a directory of professional grant writers who have posted their profiles online.
Evaluating a Grant Writer
A grant writer is only as good as the successful grants they have written. Someone may be a great writer, but if their grant submissions have not obtained grant money for the agency they have written the grants for, they are not an effective grant writer. Grant writing is a two-part success process; a well-written grant and succeeding in getting grant funding.
When trying to decide whether to hire a grant writer you have found online, consider the following:
- How many years have they written grants?
- Who have they written grants for? Is this verifiable?
- What is their success rate? Out of their last 10 written grants, how many were funded? A good grant writer will have secured funding in at least 3 out of their last 10 grants. A great grant writer will have a 50% success rate. No grant writer will be 100% successful simply because of the competition in grants submitted or because your agency may not be the best agency compared to others who can do the job required in the grant.
- A good grant writer will match your agency effectively with the open grants available in your field, and will not waste your time or money writing grants you are unlikely to be successful with.
- How organized and responsive are they? Did the grant writer respond to your original email soon after receiving it? Are they willing to talk to you on the phone? You want a grant writer who will respond to you within an hour or so while they are actively writing a grant for you.
- Does the grant writer have experience writing in your field or for your industry? A grant writer who has written successful grants in the healthcare industry may not know as much or be as good when writing for an education or an agricultural grant.
- Will they let you see a copy of a previous grant they have written? Some will, but not all can. Due to confidentiality, many grant writers do not have the authority to release any portion of grants they have submitted.
- How do they want to be paid? While some grant writers will quote an hourly rate, most will quote a single rate for completing the entire project. If paying by the hour, ask for an upper cap on the price of the project. You shouldn't have to go into an agreement not knowing what the maximum price you will pay is. Typical hourly rates are $25 to $60 with prices as high as $100 an hour for highly technical or scientific grant writing. Many grant writers who quote a project price will ask for 1/3 at the start of the project, another 1/3 when they give you the grant for your draft review, and the final 1/3 when they have finalized all writing and given you the finished grant for you to submit.
Hiring a Grant Writer
There are two ways to hire a grant writer.
- You can make the grant writer an employee of your agency. The
benefit to this is the grant writer is committed to seeking out and writing
grants for your agency only. He will become an expert at writing in your
field or industry because he will do it often. He will become familiar
with all the right people to talk to at your funding agencies, and after
a while, he may even be able to get additional grant monies for you
without a grant application being submitted. (This happens often when
funding agencies have extra money they need to award before their fiscal
years end). Having an inside person on your staff can be a valuable
asset. On the other hand, it can be expensive when you consider hourly
wage or salary, staff benefits and payroll taxes. Staff grant writers
usually make sense for larger organizations; they usually do not make
sense for small agencies just starting out. If you decide to hire a
staff grant writer, be sure to put a non-compete clause into their
hiring agreement. You probably can't legally stop a grant writer from
moonlighting and writing grants on their off-time, but you don't want
them writing grants for competing agencies who are providing the same
service you are.
- You can contract with an independent grant writer. This usually makes the most sense for the majority of agencies. Be sure to have a written agreement. An independent grant writer will probably have their own agreement, but be sure your agency is served well in that agreement. If not, draft up your own and have them sign it. Be sure to be clear on deadlines, payment rates and when payment is due. Have a confidentiality clause in the agreement so the grant writer cannot reveal information on your agency to anyone else. Many agencies also include a clause to have the grant writer turn over all copies of the written grant at the conclusion of the project so confidential financial statistics on your organization are not sitting on someone else's personal computer. Be sure to get the grant writer's social security number or federal I.D. number so you can issue a Form 1099 at tax time next year.