First things first: Let’s experiment with letting go of the term “grant writer.” The right name should be “proposal writer” because the person is writing a request for a grant, not writing the grant itself. That correction might be a paradigm shift for some, but for purposes of these notes, we’ll do it right.
Some nonprofits have a staff member whose job it is to pursue public and private grants from federal, state, local, foundation and corporate funding programs. However, most nonprofits, particularly smaller organizations, don’t have a staffer to do that work. Options include writing-by-committee where everyone contributes to the proposal (not good); finding a training program to help a staffer get the skills needed (much better); and, in some instances, retaining the services of a proposal writer (can be a good idea, depending).
What are the reasons you might consider hiring an outside proposal writer? “One (reason) is the time it takes to focus on requirements and follow all the guidelines,” said Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Time a staff member might not have,” according to Boyd. The writer is not pulled in all directions (as a staff member often is) and will make sure deadlines are met and t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.
Another reason is the benefit of an outsider’s perspective. Folks who work on an organization’s programs can develop habituated ways of thinking and talking about “what we do.” A good outside proposal writer asks new questions, raises new possibilities, suggests fresh ways to present the case for support.
A third factor is the budget and management benefits of using a contractor. Your nonprofit isn’t going to take on the burden of supporting a new staff line with all the administrative chores (and costs) that come with a “hire.” Proposal writers work for a fee but aren’t in line for benefits — and if things don’t work out, you can simply end the contract and move on.
There negatives or risks in using a proposal writer. You might pick the wrong person or someone with the wrong type of experience. You might hire someone who is too busy to give your project the attention it deserves. And, the flip side of an outsider’s perspective is that a writer might not know the history, tradition and culture of your organization.
It’s probably a good idea to be sure your staff really needs the outside help and determine that the cost of a proposal writer makes sense in terms of the potential revenue from grants. With these calculations in hand, outside writers can be a big help to your institutional giving campaign.
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