When NOT to Hire a Grant Writer

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When is the right time to hire a grant writer for your nonprofit? I have seen organizations hire grant writers in the first year of the organization’s existence, in the last year, and at every point in between.

Generally, public perception of grant seeking oversimplifies the process and makes it seem like a good choice whenever. However, timing is everything when it comes to grants.

If you recognize any of the following scenarios, your best bet is to HOLD OFF on hiring a grant writer.

Your mission and programs are not fully defined.

If your organization is in its first year of existence, you likely don’t yet have the level of program and mission definition a grant writer will need to write compelling proposals. The architect Mies van der Rohe once said, “God is in the details.” Details and specificity make a grant proposal sing.

If your organization is still figuring out the details—for example, the programs you will be providing—it’s best to hold off on writing grants. You’ll also find as you begin researching grant opportunities that many corporate and foundation funders won’t even accept proposals from organizations that are less than 1-3 years old. A grant writer hired too early will just end up spinning her wheels.

You don’t have any outcomes.

If your organization or program is in the early stages, you may also lack outcomes and impact statistics simply because you haven’t been doing your work long enough for it to change the world. It is normal for a new program to take 2-5 years to begin generating any meaningful outcomes.

My advice: develop outcomes for your program EARLY and track results religiously.

Sometimes organizations have been operating programs for decades but never took the time to measure their effectiveness. This lack of documented outcomes will surely hamper grants efforts! Every single institutional funder to whom you are applying will ask for outcomes. You simply can’t raise grant money without them.

You don’t have an internal person to liaison with the grant writer.

This scenario applies if you are considering retaining the services of an outside grants consultant. Grant writers cannot be successful working in isolation—especially if they are external to your organization.

You must have someone on your staff who is able to funnel organizational background, program data and evaluation information to your grant writer. This person must be available to help strategize which grant opportunities to pursue and which to forgo.

Successful grant seeking today depends more on relationships with funders than it ever has. To this end, the internal liaison to your grant writer must also be out pursuing relationships with the funders to whom you are applying.

This internal role I’m describing is usually filled by a Director of Development or Executive Director. The key? S/he must have TIME to give to the grant seeking process and to communicate with your grant writer – and be willing to prioritize this work.

Finally, when you ARE ready to hire a grant writer, be sure to check out these tips for successful grant positioning.

Has your organization had success with grant writing? What ways have you found to be effective with grants? Please share your thoughts, tips, and advice in the Comments box below!

A special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).