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Why You Should Not Hire an External Grant Writer

If you do not want the implementation phase of your proposal to suffer, do not hire a grant writer. Earlier in my career I served as a grant writer on a contractual basis for various organizations as well as wrote many grants for the institutions where I was an employee. I was hired because I had a 90% success rate, which of course, made me very valuable. All of these grants were in my own field of expertise; thus, guaranteeing a greater success rate. The requestors were usually top level administrators who wanted the funds and the prestige that came with being a grant recipient.

I discovered, however, that once the grant was won and the funds became available, those responsible for the implementation often did not know how to proceed. For example, the detailed plan outlined in the original grant request often was not followed, timelines were set back, funds were not dispersed properly and many other inconsistencies occurred. The result was that a large percentage of the grants failed at the implementation level. This phase of the project does not involve the external grant writer. Also, in cases where I was writing a grant for my own institution, it would not be unusual for a supervisor to ask me to apply for funding even though I had given very specific reasons why we would not succeed. Their reply was: “just spin it.” It was for these reasons that I eventually stopped writing grants for others. Today, I am at times offered large sums of money to write grants within a short window of time, but I refuse. I do so because of the following reasons:

  1. Chasing the money – In much of my own experience, the top level administrators who hired me to write their grants were primarily interested in the money. After a while it became clear, however, that grants are not about the money, but the good ideas that need money to be executed.
  1. Lack of buy-in – This is a major reason for the implementation stage failure, since it is not unusual for administrators to receive a grant and then assign the responsibility of implementing it to those who either know nothing about it or even worse, are not interested.
  1. Lack of effective management – It is important to agree prior to submitting the grant on how the project will be managed and implemented. This cannot be done if extensive conversations have not taken place on what the grant award will mean for the institution and its beneficiaries.
  1. No attention to detail – If the grant is written by an outside grant writer, there probably has been little discussion on who will oversee and execute the details of the project. This becomes a serious problem if an outside evaluator from the funding agency examines how the project was executed.
  1. Strategic planning is non-existent Superior grants emerge from institutions that have a sound understanding of external funding. They know that successful projects will emerge from the strengths of the institution and focus on how these strengths can be augmented via external requests.

At the end of the day, utilizing external grant writers leaves an institution in a position where they have to hire more of the same, and eventually, there is a good chance that their reputation could very well suffer. Instead, the institution needs to train as many people as possible to write successful proposals. These people should be familiar with the needs, strengths, and challenges of the organization. Once a proposal is written, it should be the same individuals who will implement the grant. The ultimate success for any institution will require a proactive approach that evolves out of strategic planning, buy-in from administrators, attention to detail, excellent management, and a large number of grant writers who have the training and experience in writing winning proposals.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

3 comments on “Why You Should Not Hire an External Grant Writer

  1. This is a well-written article; however, I think there are a lot of assumptions and generalizations made that may be true of some contract grant writers–but, definitely not all. I have built a grant writing team within a national nonprofit and now work as a contract consultant for a diversity of organizations, Tribal governments, and community groups across the country. In my experience, it is all about how you operate as a grant writer and direct the development and writing process. Depending on the timeframe of the grant, I facilitate either in-person or phone-based brainstorming sessions that bring in key stakeholders from project implementation to grants management and evaluation. I also take great care to understand the organization, including a thorough review of current fundraising material, news articles, and conversations with different staff members. I learn how to “speak” about the organization in the same way the organization speaks of itself. My process stands in direct contradiction of many “cons” listed in your article related to external grant writers.

    Furthermore, many organizations–particularly those focused on social justice initiatives, led by marginalized communities, or that are new–simply do not have the capacity to train a staff member or to set aside enough of an employee’s time to write and manage successful grant development. I consider part of my work as a contract consultant to build capacity for future grant submissions rather than simply writing and submitting an application. While the issues you bring up in your article are certainly problem areas within the field of grant consulting that need addressed, I take issue with your generalization of all grant writers and think your article may actually be a disservice to those organizations that–for whatever reason–do not have the capacity to support internal grant writing efforts.

    1. Additionally, I have worked within an organization that dispersed grant writing duties among various staff. This led to a lack of coordination in sharing information and the inclusion of data or information that was inaccurate or shouldn’t have been shared with donors. This organization eventually consolidated grant writing efforts into one team, which allowed dedicated individuals to focus on coordinating across the institution while still maintaining a clear and consistent message in all grant submissions.

  2. This is an EXCELLENT article. Kudos to you Ms. Harris for writing this, as you are very experienced in this area. I have been a grants coordinator for a small county government for almost two years, and I must admit, I had some grants management experience prior to this position, not as much actual grant writing, but this job is the most difficult job that I’ve ever had, and that’s really saying something. The management & directors who want me to apply for various grants for their departments give me very little support and information in which to apply for grants, and I have to continuously ask for information, and sometimes I may hear back from them, and sometimes not. I have written grants for parks and recreation projects, economic development, law enforcement, etc., with the first being the most difficult because I don’t have any parks and recreation experience. This has created much stress for me personally, so much so, that I’ve been contemplating quitting in the next few months. Do you have any suggestions in terms of what I can do to make the grant writing process easier for myself, aside from quitting my job, lol.

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