grant writing

Professional versus Volunteer Grant Writer

There are two types of grant writers—someone paid by the nonprofit and one who is not (a volunteer).

I’m a volunteer grant writer which means I provide my services without compensation. But I know professional grant writers who each formed a company and are paid for their services.

Professional grant writers are paid either hourly or by a set fee. Whether the nonprofit gets the grant or not, the grant writer gets paid. The other way is for the grant writer to get about ten percent of the awarded amount. If the grant is not awarded, the grant writer does not get paid.

There is a long list of pros and cons for these two methods of pay. The grant writers I know are paid an hourly rate. I was involved in one situation where the grant writer was paid a percentage of the award.

Personally, I would rather pay the grant writer up front for their services. I feel the nonprofit has the best control of the grant writers’ work such as selecting the foundation. In the other situation, the nonprofit had almost no input into the application and the grant writer only submitted grants to places they were fairly certain of success (and getting paid).

Yes, it seems easier with a greater chance for success to pay a grant writer a percentage of the award amount. But reality can be much different after the grant is awarded. Having control might be easier and not all grants are good for the nonprofit.

Of course, whether a nonprofit pays for a grant writer or not depends on whether they have the money to do so. Many times, the nonprofit’s staff and management write the grants. In another blog post, I’ll explain why bringing on a grant writer, paid or volunteer, is as necessary as paying a volunteer coordinator (and doable).

Making Changes

I worked on a novel for several years until putting it away to work on other writing projects and grants. When I put it away, I had in my mind that it was a great novel. Over time, it became even greater.

Two weeks ago, I decided to work on it for publication later this year. I thought the writing was good, but the plot was not good. After two weeks, I had hacked away at my great novel, taking out large sections. I eliminated characters and added to what plot was left.

These were major changes to a novel I thought did not need any changes to. This is one of the most important things I learned over the years about my writing: never be devoted to what was written.

Most people dislike changes, including writers. I think writers get better by how they overcome this dislike. It was not an easy decision redoing my great novel, but I thought readers would not like it (I didn’t really like it). My novel will be better (I hope) with my changes.

Every writer will produce something they think is great, whether it’s a story or a grant proposal (or even a blog post). I am suspicious whenever I think that what I wrote is great. The more I think this, the less likely it is. The only problem is accepting that the work needs changes.

This is where editing is important. I meandered from the central plot with unneeded side stories and undeveloped characters. Soon I will need to know when to stop editing. Too much is like the writer is trying for greatness.

I’m not looking for greatness. I’m looking to write the best story I can that I hope is at least pretty good.

Finding Local Grants

A nonprofit has a better chance of a grant if the foundation has a presence in the area where the nonprofit is located and operates.

When I’m out in local shopping areas, I note the names of chain stores.* At home, I put “foundation” at the end of the name and most times there’s a website for a grant application.

I could find business names with an online search. But seeing the physical appearance of the building tells me a lot about the business and whether they will fund grants. If the building is run-down looking, the company has probably changed its focus away from that store or the store manager has a negative opinion. The chance of a grant is low.

Besides, I would not want the nonprofit to receive a grant from a business that looks run-down. I look for stores that have customers, a clean appearance, and are stocked with merchandise. I look for a positive appearance.

After I select a business and review their website to make sure the nonprofit qualifies for a grant, I contact the store manager.

While grant applications go to corporate headquarters for approval, the local manager usually has influence in the approval process. By getting the manager’s support, the nonprofit has a better chance for success.

A local grant is a mutual relationship between a business and a nonprofit. Not only does the business give back to the community where their customers come, but they can advertise that they helped the nonprofit.

I like working with local business managers who want to help the community. Even if their company does not approve the grant, there are lots of ways a business can help a nonprofit.

* Sorry, but local small businesses usually do not have foundations.

One Degree of Separation—The Grant Writer

Writing grants is not about the grant writer. Yes, they do the writing, which is important. But a grant writer also connects the people in the foundation with the nonprofit and vice versa. With the application, many times this is the first contact between the two organizations. It should be like a handshake and not a slap in the face.

A good introduction of the nonprofit to the foundation increases the opportunity for approval. For a nonprofit, being introduced to a new foundation reduces issues if the request is approved.

When I answer the questions on the application, I keep in mind that this may be the first time the foundation has heard about the nonprofit. So, I provide enough information throughout the application, but not too much, to welcome the foundation into the nonprofit.

On the other side, when I propose that a nonprofit submit a first-time grant request, I highlight the foundation’s information that is specific to the nonprofit’s mission. I want the nonprofit managers to focus on what is relevant about the people who may give them funding. Second, I provide background information like the foundation’s history. This is the foundation’s introduction to the nonprofit.

Introducing the nonprofit and foundation to each other is important since it is hard to come back from a bad or so-so introduction. To write a good introduction, the grant writer should: stay friendly and not demanding; provide confidence and not arrogance; give encouragement and not being derogatory.

The connection the grant writer makes between the foundation and nonprofit could positively impact the people both organizations are helping. Most importantly, a good introduction by the grant writer may help create a long-lasting relationship beneficial to everyone.