Outsourcing the time-consuming work of grant writing can be a wise investment. That’s because the most valuable place for your leadership team and development staff is not behind the desk, but in front of funders to cultivate relationships. Plus, an external grant writer can provide dedicated focus to propel a grant seeking effort forward.
The quality and experience of outside grants experts can vary widely, making it important to make a careful choice. Following are our tips on what to look for when hiring a grant writing consultant.
Look for clear and compelling writing skill
A grant writer’s goal should be to clearly communicate ideas and tailor the proposal to the guidelines and priorities of the funder. Ask to review samples of proposals the consultant is most proud of. You may have a winning grant writer if you can answer yes to each of these three questions:
- Is the writing clear, easy, and even enjoyable for you to follow?
- Do you gain a sense that the organization is credible, and that the proposal presents a compelling solution to a palpable need?
- Even without knowing anything about the funder to which the proposal was written, do you pick up on clues that the proposal was written through a filter of the funder’s mission and interests?
Seek the full package
You’re not just hiring a “grant writer.” You need a project manager who can orchestrate a smooth process from start to finish. To get the full package, seek someone who is not only skilled at proposal writing, but also funder strategy and project management. When interviewing a consultant, ask these questions to understand their process:
- Is it part of their service to advise you on funder relationship strategy?
- Will they outline a project timeline that builds in key meetings and progress milestones ahead of the deadline?
- How will you communicate? Virtually or in-person?
- How do they propose to gather details from program staff and organizational partners?
- When can you expect to review drafts and what is the process for editing?
- Who will handle the final submission: you or the consultant?
Don’t get swept up in “win rates”
It’s appropriate to ask a grant writing consultant about their track record. But if you ask for their “win rate”—the percentage of grants they’ve written that were successful—take the answer with a grain of salt. There are factors outside the grant proposal, like the organization’s reputation and its relationship to a funder, that influence a funder’s decision, meaning a decline doesn’t automatically indicate a poorly written proposal. Furthermore, a grant writer can drive up a success rate by only choosing to write “safe bet” grant applications. Instead of focusing only on “wins,” use questions to gauge a grant writer’s experience and familiarity with certain types of grant applications. For example:
- Do they identify as a “generalist” who is comfortable writing about any type of organization or do they specialize in certain issue and topic areas? Some highly technical grants and research grants are best managed by a specialist.
- If you’re seeking help on a federal grant, make certain this is a consultant with that expertise—government grant writing is a special kind of monster.
- Do they have experience writing grants to specific foundations you are interested in submitting to? That’s a plus.