By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
A potential client reached out the other day, inquiring about our contract grant-writing services. As our conversation evolved, I realized many nonprofit leaders with even decades of experience may not be familiar with outsourcing such services.
Many small nonprofit organizations with limited budgets cannot afford to hire a full-time grant writer. They often rely on grant writing by committee, with the organization’s chief executive, select board members and overburdened staff chipping in when possible. Or perhaps just one member, juggling many responsibilities, must set aside time to write grants — again, when possible.
Some may employ a part-time grant writer, who, despite best efforts, has only so many hours to research applicable funders and compile the volume of proposals necessary to reach financial goals.
So What Does the Contract Grant Writing Process Involve?
When you contract with a grant-writing agency, you’re investing in your organization’s future by mobilizing a team of experienced grant writers to work with you to fund its mission and initiatives. But we understand there may be additional questions. Here are some of the most common:
1. How Much Will It Cost?
The most frequent question, by far, involves cost. Of course, tight budgets necessitate such tough questions, so we don’t blame you. Many contract grant writers work on a consulting, per diem or project-by-project basis, costing nonprofits roughly $100 per hour in larger markets. The average salary for a hiring full-time grant writer in the U.S. is a shade under $70,000 annually, including health and retirement benefits.
We prefer to work on an annual contract basis for less than a third of that cost. As contractors, we are responsible for our own health and retirement plans. Per diem contracts can also be cost-effective on a limited basis.
2. How Much is the Average Grant?
That depends. Individual grants can range from just several hundred dollars to several million. They may also amount merely to material donations — for instance, books to a children’s literacy project or winter coats to a homeless shelter. The amount of funding available to particular nonprofit initiatives also depends on the source — government agencies vs. private foundations and charitable trusts. Government agencies may release RFPs noting millions of dollars available for research, capital projects, economic development and more. Private foundations often have smaller purses, but they’re particularly helpful with building community initiatives offering direct support to individuals.
We prefer to target a variety of private foundations for funding. They typically offer shorter, much friendlier processes for average sums between $10,000 and $100,000.
3. How Much Funding Can Be Secured in a Year?
Generally, the sky’s the limit. A great grant-writing strategy requires a volume of proposals to build upon, complement and supplement each other while building capacity to leverage even more funding.
It’s impossible to guarantee a set amount, but it’s conceivable even a small nonprofit may secure several hundred thousand dollars in grant funding in a single year with a contract grant writer. We prefer to work alongside nonprofits to establish a smart fundraising target aligning with strategic goals.
4. What is the Average Grant Writing Success Rate?
Even the best grant writers fail more often than not. Grant processes are highly competitive. Private foundations receive hundreds of requests — government agencies receive thousands — with the ability to fund only a select few. But as I always say, “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.”
A great success rate for pursuing new grant processes is about 30 percent. Channeling the former baseball player in me, getting a hit three times out of 10 gets makes you an all-star. Yes, it can be THAT hard. Also like baseball, be prepared for cold and hot streaks. We may strike out several times over the course of a few months, only to hit a bunch of homers meeting and even surpassing your financial goals. Trust the process.
5. What is the Average Return on Investment?
Assuming you invest in an annual contract, a successful grant-writing year could offer an ROI of 900 percent or more. Again, it’s impossible to guarantee one or several grants totaling a set amount, but a devoted strategy involving numerous grant proposals should easily bring in much more than the initial investment.
For example, as of this writing, the ROI for one of our current contracts has been 1,650 percent!
6. How Many Grant Proposals Will We Write?
The number of proposals depends on scope. An annual contract aims to achieve dozens of finished proposals for submission over the course of a year. A per diem contract may involve pursuing just one or several grants.
7. How Much Communication Should You Expect?
Upon entering a contract, we are a team. Frequent communication and collaboration is critical to the success of our grant-writing strategy. Expect weekly meetings via videoconference or in person, as well as day-to-day email, phone and text communication (if preferred) to:
- Update the status of current applications
- Highlight pertinent upcoming funding opportunities
- Coordinate efforts with you, your staff and grant collaborators/partners
The more communication, the better. But just as important is the quality of the discussion. In order to win grant funding for you, we must know your story to tell it flawlessly. Which segues nicely to our next FAQ.
8. How Do We Begin Our Grant Writing Relationship?
We like to begin with a thorough and detailed onboarding process. It’s where we meet and get to know each other and learn how we’ll best work together. We’ll learn your needs and goals in alignment with your organization’s strategic plan. You’ll learn what we need from you to build proposals on your behalf.
We often ask for your organizational boilerplate information (typically required in all grant applications) including:
- Mission and vision statements
- History and key accomplishments
- Board of Directors roster
- Executive leadership and curricula vitae (professional accomplishments and accolades)
- Previous grant proposals for reference (if possible)
Then we’ll look at your mission more deeply. What do you do and how do you do it? How does your organization positively impact the people and systems it serves? From there, we can strategize a grant-seeking mission to accomplish your goals. We first develop a “blanket proposal” laying out your organizational info, mission background and accomplishments, and funding priorities. The blanket proposal language will guide, inform and inspire all future grant proposals, which must be tailored to funders’ specific requirements.
9. Where Do We Find Potential Funders?
Research. Research. Research. The bulk of successful grant writing requires loads of research into potential funders. We must leave no stone unturned.
But a good place to start is with past and current funders. Are they likely to fund you again? Do you have strong relationships with their grant officers, board members and other leadership that may blossom into continual proposal invites? Might your relationships point toward other potential funders?
Then we turn to new funding sources. This often involves research into databases of foundations, government agencies and other charitable organizations. (Professional memberships with places like GrantStation and the Grant Professionals Association are particularly helpful.) We highlight funders most likely to support your nonprofit mission to begin drafting proposals and, when possible, reaching out to build relationships.
10. How Long Does It Take to Write A Grant Proposal?
Again, that depends on the funder and size of the grant. While many grant processes may be similar, very few are exactly the same.
Some government grant proposals may take months. They can be hundreds of pages long, including dozens of pages of supplementary info and letters of support/memoranda of understanding. Foundation grants may take only a day or two to compile a general project overview, while others may take a few weeks or months, including cover letters or letters of intent for invitation to submit a full proposal.
How Does the Contract Grant Writing Process Work?
The contract grant writing process can be very streamlined and effective — with a minimal investment compared to hiring a full-time staff member (who may or may not be successful).
There’s no shame in asking for help! Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC manages clients seeking grant funding by providing grant-writing and research services, as well as guiding the relationship-building process with likely funders. Contact me at email@example.com for free consultation.