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Christine contacted us for some advice.  She is the founder of a very small organization with big plans and a small budget.  She has decided to seek grant funding as a way to turn plans into action but isn't sure how she can pay for the research and writing. 

 

 

There are four primary methods: she can utilize to go about the grant seeking process: research and write the applications herself, hand the project over to a volunteer (this includes board members), pay a grant writer on commission, or pay a grant writer by the hour.  Each method obviously has its pros and cons:

 

 

Doing it herself

Pros Cons
Free                        There is no free lunch. She's giving up time that she could be spending on other aspects of the organization.
She feels that nobody can tell the story better than she can.                         
Maybe she's too close to the story and can't clearly express the need for her program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Power

 

Pros Cons
Free                         They don't really work for her; volunteers can come and go. They may not be reliable at crunch time.
They believe in her organization. They may have limited grant writing skills and although they support her, they might not know how to articulate the reasons.
May be able to form a committee to work on an application to share the workload. A committee working on an application can become a mess (be sure to have one person in charge!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying on Commission

 

Pros Cons
Christine would only pay for the results generated.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
The grant writer may artificially inflate the funding needed in order to boost the commission.  A smart grant review committee will see through this.
May get a more experienced "road-tested" grant writer vs. self or volunteer. That grant writer may be incentivized to create fraudulent applications.  A recent court case in Indio, CA involved a grant writer who was contracted to receive 15% of a $35 million dollar grant.  That's a $5.25 million dollar payday.  What grant writer wouldn't be tempted to do anything possible to get that grant?
Again, she only pays for results - this seems like the logical option. Paying by commission is generally considered unethical and is frowned on by a large percentage of grant makers.  Being honest about the payment arrangements may disqualify the organization from applying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying by the Hour

 

Pros Cons
Paying by this method "should" get the best, most qualified grant writer for her project. Paying by the hour doesn't guarantee results.  Her small nonprofit can't afford to get nothing for something.
The grant writer should be able to focus on Christine's organization and provide a consistent service because they have a dependable income. Again, there is no guarantee that the grant writer will focus on her needs.  It's all about managing that person and Christine might not have the time to do that.

 

 

This really feels like a Catch-22.  No matter which path Christine chooses, there are some definite possibilities for poor outcomes.  There may be other options, like working with college interns seeking practical experience for college credit.  Or maybe her organization can mobilize a volunteer team to look for grant opportunities, and then turn those over to a paid grant writer.  Then that writer can focus purely on the application process rather than paying for research time.

 

 

Has your organization developed a 'hybrid' system for a successful grant program?  Did we overlook some pros and cons?  We'd love to hear what has worked (or hasn't worked) for you!




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Comments

frazzledinva
# frazzledinva
Monday, June 27, 2011 6:18 PM
It is a risky proposition to hire someone, if she can afford it at this point or to rely on a volunteer who may or may not follow through. She may not win the grant and the funds for the grant writer would be lost.

I don't know if this helps but, in the beginning, I took some classes and networked with volunteer grant writers. Eventually, I landed our first major grant. The program drew a lot of help from the community which made it possible to distribute the workload of managing the organization, as well as the day to day work.

I guess it all depends on Christine's time and comfort zone insofar as taking the plunge into grant writing or, perhaps there is someone reliable within the organization who would be willing to acquire this skill.
TheStoryMuse
# TheStoryMuse
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 4:11 PM
I am a freelance commercial writer working with a few clients on grant proposals. With all of the competition amongst nonprofits to win funding, it is next to impossible to guarantee funding as a grant writer. Many clients dictate what and how they want you to feature their program/project, OR if they let you run with your own ideas then submit shoddy financials (budgets), they blow their own chance at receiving funding. Lastly, there are some nonprofits that continually insist on going after grants from foundations that do not support their cause....it's a waste of time and money chasing a tail that doesn't wag. Certainly, the grant writer can not be held accountable in those instances.

It is imperative for the grant writer to get behind the nonprofit's mission and feel passionate about the cause - this, I believe, fuels good grant writing narrative. The client, in turn, needs to provide the basic building blocks for the grant writer to create a winning proposal and should be prepared with this information prior to hiring the grant writer.

It is advisable that nonprofits check references and work samples of the hired gun as well as asking them "what inspired you to become a grant writer?"....my answer is: "I'm passionate about helping people dedicated to improving our world and I excel in my ability to tell their story with passion. I treat your business as if it were my own."

I charge a flat, hourly rate to nonprofits as I would not feel comfortable with a commission based structure because there is simply no guarantee you will be awarded funding no matter how well written the proposal is. Volunteers I would say are hit and miss....depends on the person/cause and their ability to work with no pay.

Julie

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