What can a professional do that I can't do for myself? How do I know that I have selected the right grant writer? If you have considered applying for any large grants lately, you have undoubtedly asked yourself these questions. The truth, of course, is that there is no magic in grant writing. Anyone with good basic writing skills and a clear understanding of both the grant criteria and the proposed plan can be successful. So why would you hire a grant writer? Here are a few of the most important reasons:
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ime. Let's face it: school and non-profit administrators are very busy people. We have known some excellent grant writers, previously successful in acquiring funding for their organizations, but who have become much too busy these days to find the time to write. Although using a grant writer will not completely free you from all time commitments required by the process (at minimum there will still be a vision to develop and signatures and data to gather), hiring a professional can make the difference between submitting a successful proposal and letting a great opportunity slip away. Anyone who has both written their own grants and used a good grant writer can attest to the time savings and other advantages of having the extra help.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]kill. Although we have met many skilled writers out there who are capable of writing their own grants effectively, we have also met even more administrators who struggle with grant writing. Some are exemplary leaders committed to realizing an inspiring vision, but they lack the skill necessary to bring that vision to life on paper within the confines of a grant's scoring criteria. There's no doubt about it – successful grant writing is both an art and a specialized skill. If you don't have the skill, you'll need to find someone who does. Perhaps that someone already works in your agency or school district, but if not, then you might need to seek a qualified consultant.
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]xperience. Professional grant writers usually have experience with many different types of programs and funding sources. That experience enables them to see how your program design might benefit from a few changes. Professionals are also extremely familiar with the scoring criteria for most state and federal grants. In many cases they have also worked as grant readers, so they know exactly what sorts of things most funding sources are looking for. This experience translates into higher funding rates, specialized knowledge about many funding sources that may be unknown to you, and a level of technical assistance and expertise that you might not even know exists. So you've made the decision that you would like to work with a grant writer. What do you look for? How do you make a selection?
Here are some of the things you should ask about when speaking with a prospective grant writer:
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]uccess rate. A professional grant writer who takes her work seriously will be able to quote her success rate. But knowing only the writer's overall funding rate might not be enough to make an informed decision; you'll also want to know her success rate with the specific type of grant you're seeking.
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ee structure. Does the writer charge a flat fee or a contingency fee – or a combination of both? A flat fee means that you pay the writer (usually when the grant is submitted) and the writer keeps that money whether or not you get funded. If this is the arrangement, ask if there is any sort of guarantee. Will the writer revise and resubmit the proposal next year for no additional fee if it doesn't get funded this year? If not, make sure you know up front how much the additional charge will be. Grant writers who work on contingency usually charge a percentage of the amount you receive in funding. If you aren't funded, you don't pay anything. Although it may sound risk-free, there are a couple of things to bear in mind about this option. First, some grants will not allow you to pay for grant writing out of the grant itself, so even if you get the grant, you will still need to find another source of funds to pay the writer. Second, you must know not only the size of the percentage charged, but also whether it applies only to the first year's funding or to all of the funds received over the life of the grant. A contingency fee of 8% might not seem like much, but there's a big difference between, say, 8% of $200,000 received in first-year funding ($16,000) and 8% of $1,000,000 received over the life of a five-year grant. $80,000 would be quite a fee! Such a fee might be entirely justified in some cases, depending on the scope of work performed by the writer, but it could also be excessive.
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ontract. Make sure your contract is very specific about what the grant writer will do. Will she come to your site and participate in vision and planning meetings? How many? Will he allow you to edit a rough draft? How far in advance of the due date will she provide you with a draft to review? What will be required of you throughout the grant writing process? If the grant is not funded, what happens next?
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]hilosophy. This is not as esoteric as it might sound. You need to know if the prospective grant writer is sincerely interested in your vision for education, your cause, or your community. If not, he might be unable to effectively communicate your vision in writing. Also, if you don't seek a writer who shares a genuine interest in the success of your vision, you could end up with someone who will write anything just to make sure you get funded (and he gets paid) and then you get stuck with implementing a program that has little to do with your real plans. You'll also get stuck with explaining the situation to your board, to your staff, and to your community – a position no one would choose to be in.
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]onesty is not only the best policy in life, but it also makes a grant more successful, from planning to funding and all the way through implementation. Does your prospective grant writer understand this? Any reputable and honest grant writer understands this very well – and that understanding enriches both her writing and your chances of success.
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