5 Reasons You Should Never Hire a Grant Writer on a Contingency Basis

When a nonprofit leader asks me about writing grants for their organization, this is how the conversation ends:
“Can you work on a contingency basis?” We can pay you when we get the grant.”
“Can we pay you out of the grant funds? We don’t have the money to pay you right now.”
“We’ll pay you a percentage of the grant when it is awarded.”

The answer is “NO!” and here’s why:

 1.  It’s unethical to pay a grant writer on a contingency basis or to pay her a percentage of the grant.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association both define the practice of working on a contingency basis as unethical for the grant writer and the nonprofit that hires her.

2.  Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do.
I’ve spent years learning to be a good grant writer. I’ve spent thousands of dollars paying for conferences and advanced training. An organization is not only paying me for a completed proposal, they are paying me for my expertise in guiding them through the process.

I work long and hard to put a grant together. I usually meet with the nonprofit several times to gather information, collect the required attachments, and help them organize their ideas into fundable projects.

I also have to read and re-read the grant guidelines and translate them into laymen’s terms for the nonprofit. I do all this before I ever start writing the proposal. I expect to be paid for my work.

3.  Using grant funds to pay the grant writer for work already done is often grounds for revoking the grant.
Paying a grant writer out of the grant is almost always against the policies of the granting agency. Unless specifically stated in the guidelines, the granting agency will not pay for work that occurred before the grant was awarded. The funds from the grant should be used for activities promised by the grant proposal.

4.  A winning grant is not contingent on good writing alone.
There are many factors that bear upon whether an organization receives a grant. Many of these are out of the control of the grant writer. The most well-written proposal may not always be the winning one.

Other factors grantmakers consider are:

  • Do they need to place a grant in a specific geographic area?
  • Were there selection criteria that they did not disclose in the RFP?
  • Do the board members prefer one type of charity or project to another?
  • Does the funding agency see a need for this project?
  • Did other applicants have a greater need than yours?
  • Did the funder decide that your organization was not grant-ready or grant-worthy?

An experienced grant writer will be able to steer your around some of the factors listed above, but neither she nor your organization can control them all.

5.  Paying a grant writer a percentage of the award may work against your organization.
Suppose a grant writer completes your grant and charges you $1,000, based on hours worked or on a project fee basis. If you receive the grant for $250,000, and you had agreed to pay 10% of the grant funds to the writer, her pay would be $25,000. You’re better off agreeing on a price up front that’s fair to both sides.

But, you ask, what if we can’t afford to pay a grant writer up front?
If this is the case, your organization may not be ready to handle grants at this time. Look for other means of raising funds to pay the grant writer. Consider grassroots fundraising ideas like pancake breakfasts, silent auctions or other special events, start a membership organization or use your local connections to get donations or sponsorships.

These are great ways to build relationships in the community, raise awareness and acquire additional funds. With funds raised from these activities, you can hire a grant writer to bring in additional money.

Just remember, it is unethical and often illegal to pay a grant writer out of funds received from a grant.
As a grant writer, I ask to be paid for the work I provide. I never guarantee that an organization will receive a grant. I do, however, guarantee that they will be satisfied with my work before we submit the proposal. That’s about as much as any grant writer can honestly do.

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You’re Our New Grant Writer

Someone recently asked me how long it took to get where I am today with my grant writing career. That’s a hard question to answer. The simple answer is that I’ve been writing grants for over 25 years. But, how long did it take me to know what I was doing? That’s an entirely different answer. If you know my story, you know that I was not a “grant writer.” My job at my school district was eliminated but the new superintendent offered me a new job. Suddenly I was the new grant writer.

With no prior experience, it took me months of taking courses, attending seminars, and experimenting to find my way in my new profession. Looking back, I realize I needed a mentor – someone to give me the basics and end the frustration. It took me a long time to feel confident in writing grants. Now I have my voice and my way of doing things. I spend much less time on a grant because I have a process that works for me.

If you are a beginning grant writer or need someone to help you find your way, you’ll love my 5-day grant writing overview course. If you are interested, comment below and I’ll add your name to the list. This short course is a great way to dip you toes in the water and get a feel for grant writing.

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Everything You Need To Know About Grant Writing Is Out There (Somewhere)

Any seasoned grant writer will tell you there are a gazillion (don’t use that word in a grant proposal) places to find grant writing information. You can search for them on the Internet. But I don’t have time for that, so I look for one-stop shops that offer resources, funding information, and professional development.

To save time and get a good return on your investment, find a service that offers what you need and then stick with it. Get to know all it has to offer and slowly make them your go-to site for all things grants.

If you can locate a service that fits your needs, you will save yourself time and money in the long run. Here are the components of my favorite grant writing resource:

  • A great research tool that allows me to search for private foundations and government grants (never going to grants.gov again). A good resource will let me search by a variety of categories and will provide me with a good funder profile.
  • A weekly email newsletter that comes straight to my inbox. I need something that will tell me about new grant opportunities without having to remember to go to the site. Big. Time. Saver.
  • Professional development opportunities that are offered in a way that I like to consume them. I want something that offers blog posts, webinars, and podcasts.
  • Tutorials on basic grant writing as well as tips for seasoned writers. (I’ve been around a long time, but I’m always ready to learn something new.)
  • Other resources at my fingertips. There is a lot of great information out there. I need a service that collects it for me in one convenient site.
  • Affordable and convenient. I need research and learning at my desk, whenever I’m ready and at a price I can afford.

There are many great grant-writing resources out there, but I always consider that my time is money and I want something good, convenient, and provides value for the dollar.

I use GrantStation and after thinking about what I want in a service and looking at what they have to offer, I plan to use them more and more. They seem to fit the bill for me.

I hope the list above gives you something to think about and will encourage you to find your own go-to site that gives you everything you need. Spend your time bringing in the big bucks instead of surfing the Internet.

By the way, I think Grant Station is such a good value for the money that I got them to offer a fantastic (and secret) sale on a one-year subscription. As in less than $10 a month for 12 months good! Better than the sale they are offering on their website good!

Here’s what to do next:   Sign up for my 20 Tips for Great Grant Proposals and you’ll get on my list to receive the link for the special GrantStation sale on December 6th and 7th. (Remember, this sale is even BETTER than what they offer on their website.)

The Grant Coach

VIP Days | Grant Writing | Coaching for Success

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3 Myths About Grants (And the Truth You Need To Know)

You’ll be in hot water if you continue to believe these 3 myths about grants.

 If you’re new to the grant-writing field, you’ll soon learn that there are plenty of myths floating around out there about grants. You need to understand the truth about the myths and bust those myths for your coworkers and your board. Your life will be much easier once everyone knows the truth.

Myth 1:

Grant money is everywhere and is yours for the taking.

You’ve heard this before: “There are millions of dollars in grant money out there just waiting for you.   Get your share of the money THEY don’t want you to know about.“ Of course, nobody else knows about this money and all you have to do is buy the book to locate your share of millions for your organization. Yeh, right. There’s more to this story that THEY don’t want you to know. Let’s bust that myth.

The Truth:

Yes, there is grant money out there. The 2014 edition of Key Facts on U.S. Foundations reported that there were 86,192 foundations in the U.S. However, the trick is to find the best matches among those foundations. Not every foundation is interested in the type of services you provide or the type of clients you serve. Not all give in your geographic area. Not all give millions of dollars – some only give a few thousand, some a few hundred.

Based on these facts alone, that cuts your chances of getting those millions down considerably, doesn’t it? It is doubtful that there are millions of dollars out there just waiting for you to find them. There is a lot of hard work involved in narrowing down the field to the few that really match your needs and your mission. This may be a good conversation to have with the leaders of your organization.

Myth 2:

Grant money is free with no strings attached.

All you have to do is apply and they write you a check.   It’s simple, right? Just send in a letter or an easy application and the money rolls in. Then all you have to do is spend the money. Well, think again.

The Truth:

There are always strings attached. Many times there are public recognition expectations. You promise the funder a photo op, press release or an article in your newsletter. If it’s a large grant, there may be naming requirements and all the celebration and hoopla that go along with that.

Some funders make site visits to be sure your organization is legitimate and is getting the work done. Be prepared for a visit, and be sure your finances and records are in order.

Sometimes you have committed to meet specific objectives and must report progress to the funder. If you don’t meet the objectives, the funder might withdraw their funding. Failure to meet objectives may jeopardize future grants from that same funder.

At the very least, you will have to make some kind of final report and possibly periodic financial reports. And, don’t forget the thank-you notes and friendly updates needed to cultivate and steward the funder.

Myth 3

Once you get a grant, you can use the money any way you want.

All you have to do is apply, win the grant and you have free money to do with as you please. Once that check comes in from the funder, you are on your own. Believing this myth will get you into trouble faster than almost anything. Again, educating your organization to the truth about grants is essential to keep you and the organization legal.

The Truth:

The truth is that you must spend the money just as you promised you would in your proposal. The funder selected your organization based on those promises. You were selected to extend their reach and help them carry out their mission.

I once worked for a school district that received a large grant for a school to develop and present parenting classes. Unfortunately the school also needed a new roof. Can you guess what happened? One of our school board members asked if we could just use the grant money to work on the roof.

When you accept a grant, you agree to use the money as specified in the application. Any time you accept a grant, you are entering into a contract with the funder to use the money as you promised and as they want it used.

If you want to deviate from the promises you made, you should to get permission from the funder. If your proposed change is in the spirit of the grant, it will probably be approved. But, always ask for permission and get it in writing.

If the change is totally off course from the original proposal, contact the funder.   Explain why the initial grant proposal is no longer relevant and how your new direction is still a good fit for their investment.

Bonus Tip:

Never break the trust a funder has put in your organization. Be honest and up-front with them. They want you to succeed. No funder ever wants to take their money back. Taking back their money actually causes problems for the funder. So, be sure you are developing a positive relationship and using their money to further their mission and help your clients.

What to do next:

Want to know more about the grant writing process? Click here for my free “Quick Start Guide to Grant Writing Success.”

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How to be grant ready!

3 Steps to Getting Grant Ready

Think you’re ready to write a grant because you’ve found a great source and know the grant writing format? Well, wait just a minute (or a couple of days, if possible.) If you aren’t grant ready, writing grants will be much more difficult. And, if you were to actually get a grant, managing the grant might not be the gift from Heaven you think it will be.

So right now, set aside a couple of days to get grant ready. The best way to be grant ready is to gather all your information together in one place, so you can put your finger on it when you need it.

Here’s how to start getting grant ready:

Step 1:

Start walking around the office and emailing your co-workers with a list of information items you need. You will need to bug your coworkers over and over again until you get the information, because, let’s face it, its not their problem

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Organization Mission statements
  • Current year organizational budget
  • Most recent income statement/statement of activity/balance sheet
  • List of board of directors with affiliations
  • IRS letter designating your organization as a 501 (c) (3)
  • Brochures, articles, newsletters, stories, pictures about your organization
  • Detailed description of your organization, what it does, who it serves, history, accomplishments
  • Wish list of needs with related costs
  • Descriptions and details of programs and projects for which you need funding

Step 2:

As soon as you get a bit of information, make a note where it came from. Next year, when you are looking for updated or current information, your job will be a lot easier.

Step 3:

After you have gathered as much information as you can, make a special file for it in your filing cabinet. Give it a name you can remember. Scan each item if possible so you have it in electronic format and file it on your computer where you can find it easily.

When you have all the information gathered in one place, you’re one step closer to writing your first (or next) grant. You’ll have the information you need at your fingertips and can concentrate on writing, not on hunting for information.