Nonprofit organizations that use freelance grantwriters are making a smart investment in their fund development, especially when they use their freelancers’ time effectively.
Here are ten tips (plus a bonus one) to make the most out of your grantwriter’s time:
1. Get organized: Make sure that your grantwriter has everything she needs to be as self-sufficient as possible. This will take a substantial amount of your administrative time in the beginning, but it will save significant time in the end. Ask your grantwriter for a checklist of things needed, as well as a wish list. The basics include audited financial statements and organizational budgets. Take a step further and produce project budgets for every program or capacity building initiative that may be a potential for grants. Also provide jpegs of logos, letterhead, and photographs that help tell your story.
2. Single point of contact: When working with a contractor, it’s always best to have a single point of contact. Make sure the person assigned is a decision maker that can delegate effectively to all areas within the organization. Development Directors of small organizations may be too busy around special events to give grants the attention they need on a regular basis. Having the grant writer report directly to the Executive Director is optimal. They will have better access to the big picture and can ensure that information is produced more quickly for deadlines.
3. Put it in writing: Dictating instructions or narrative to a grantwriter over the phone can be a poor use of the time and add to the chance of miscommunication or error. Rather, take the time to write bullet points for the main ideas that the grantwriter can elaborate on and polish. Use an informative subject line in emails (such as the name of the foundation being applied to or the name of the organizational attachment) so that the grant writer can quickly find the information in deadline crunches. It’s also a good idea to break email threads by changing the subject line if the important information is now a new subject. If there is an attachment included, make sure to reference it in the body of the email.
4. Back off the deadline: Too often, busy organizations wait until days before the deadline to get information to the grantwriter. Grantwriters need time to do final edits, analyze the grant from the fifty foot view, and package the proposal aesthetically. Organizations will lose that opportunity when the grant gets down to the wire. If there is going to be more than one reviewer, make a calendar of review, and stick to it. Or better yet, use Google docs so that everyone can edit together and leave time for the grantwriter to finish it up. Note whether grants must be delivered or postmarked by the due date, note the time of day and the time zone for online applications. Some foundations still require eight copies of grants, double sided and hole punched. Allow the grantwriter a chance to make one final edit before the grant is submitted.
5. Provide the budget first: One of the most frustrating experiences for a grantwriter is to have the grant proposal ready, and then receive a project budget that doesn’t remotely resemble the narrative. Work on the budget first so that the narrative only serves to describe the financial request. Organizations do well that have a solid understanding of what it costs them to provide the service, including staff time, overhead, and program specific expenses. Follow the money.
6. Use your grantwriter to write grants: Be careful not to let your team put the grantwriter to work doing administrative tasks. Keep in mind that the grantwriter is being paid $40-$120 per hour and while they’ll probably do a great job at gently nagging the team for past due information, crunching numbers for a budget, or creating board rosters, you might want to save their time for grantwriting.
7. Take their advice, seriously: Freelance grantwriters have seen the underbelly of nearly every kind of nonprofit organization in a range of fields, sizes, and styles. They have seen the best, and they have seen the worst. The grantwriter is one of the best consultants a nonprofit organization will ever have because they know what foundations want to hear in terms of how the organization operates and they can help the organization move in that direction. The grantwriter is also on the forefront of research and technology and can suggest ways that the organization can be more efficient and effective – but only if you ask.
8. Keep them in the know: Make sure that your grantwriter is receiving the organization’s newsletters and the minutes to the board and staff meetings. The more information that your grantwriter knows about the organizations happenings and things being developed, the more they can keep an eye out for appropriate grant opportunities. For example, one organization had a serious plumbing problem and later mentioned it to the grantwriter in passing. The grant writer saw a missed opportunity for an emergency grant, but it was too late at that point. There is also the chance that a grant opportunity might present itself for an initiative that the organization is undertaking that might have been missed if the grantwriter had not been informed.
9. Try a retainer: Working with your grantwriter on a retainer basis provides the grantwriter an opportunity to respond to urgent needs or back off when things are slow. The way the retainer works is that the organization pays the grantwriter based on an average number of hours per month. If an urgent opportunity comes up, the grantwriter can spend extra hours on it and then use less hours the next month so that it balances out over time. The financial team appreciates having a consistent budget to work with and the grantwriter can use the time allotted most effectively.
10. Project Wisely: Encourage the grantwriter to write several grants at a time for one particular project. Developing a completely new grant proposal takes more time, as does having the grantwriter switch topics from project to project. One way to do this is to focus one month on general operating grants, and then the next month on program support for a particular proposal, and so on.