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Introduction: An Epistemology of Grantsmanship

This new post explores grant consultants’ success rates (also called ‘win rates’ or ‘hit rates’ or ‘funding rates’) for proposals for grant funding, as publicized on their websites early in 2016. It is the first post in a new series about what grant consultants claim as their success rates.

 

Benchmarks for Comparison

Grant consultants who post their success rates online seem to be peculiarly high achievers. As benchmarks for enabling comparisons with their own (always much higher) rates, several grant consultants’ websites cite average success rates for all grant seekers of only 5%, 15%, 17%, 20%, or 25%. When they don’t cite a specific average rate, other grant consultants’ websites cite benchmark success rates that fall within narrow ranges such as 5%-20%, 20%-30%, or 25%-50%. Whether stated as definite ratios or as ranges, the benchmark rates stated on the websites are always considerably lower than the consultants’ declared rates.

 

Rates Across Programs

Most grant consultants are specialists. Few are generalists. Some websites provide the more or less specific source of consultants’ grant awards as a context or basis for calculating their success rates. Their rates may reflect only grants from a specific federal grant-making agency or only grants from a specific federal grant program. Many other grant consultants are not quite so specific about the types of grant makers that award their grants and form the basis of their success rates. Thus, their rates may reflect only all types of foundation grants or only government grants in general.

A notable fraction of the websites provides more detail in the form of lists of grants the grant consultants have won. Such lists often present the grant-makers, the grant programs, the years awarded, and the amounts awarded. At times, the lists go back nearly two decades. For some consultants, the lists exhaust their entire experience, for others, the more or less partial lists only hint at the possibilities.

 

Rates Over Time

Time matters in measuring success. Some grant writing consultants calculate and present single-year rates. Typically, such rates are for the most recent calendar year or even the most recent 12 months. This shorter-term metric implies that although past years’ rates may have been lower, the more recent few years’ rates are higher and future years’ rates are likely to be at least as high.

Other consultants calculate and present rates over a career lasting two decades or longer. This longer-term metric implies that although there may have been dips from year to year in the past, overall funding rates over the long haul have been high and are likely to remain high for well into the future. Both metrics use past performance to encourage potential clients to forecast future funding results and, ultimately, to retain the consultants’ services based on that happy forecast.

 

Ranking Grant Writers

Some consultants rank grant writers’ success rates in bands along a spectrum. One such consultant offers only two thresholds in its spectrum for ranking grant writers – 30% funded as ‘good’, 50% funded as ‘great’. The bands along this simple spectrum use intervals of three different sizes: 30-20-50.

A different consultant’s website offers more bands in its spectrum – 0-29% funded as ‘failure’, 30-49% funded as ‘barely performing’, 50-74% funded as ‘satisfactory’, 75-90% funded as ‘good’, and 91-100% funded as ‘guru’. The bands along this spectrum use intervals of five different sizes: 30-20-25-15-10. The threshold for being ranked as a ‘good’ grant writer is 2½ times as high as in the three-interval spectrum.

 

Success Rates and Ranking Spectra

The table displays grant consultants’ success rates found in a search of websites in March 2016. It then applies the rankings used in the two spectra (identified here as Spectrum A and Spectrum B). In the table, the median success rate is 85%. The range is 33% to 100%. Most success rates (15 of the 19) are so exact that they do not seem to be mere estimates. The remaining rates (four of the 19) are less exact and thus do appear to be only estimates.

Consultant/Firm Rate Spectrum A Ranking Spectrum B Ranking
Consultant/Firm 1 >33% Good Barely Performing
Consultant/Firm 2 50% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 3 65% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 4 65.5% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 5 70% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 6 71% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 7 73.8% Great Satisfactory
Consultant/Firm 8 >80% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 9 >80% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 10 83% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 11 85% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 12 85% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 13 87% Great Good
Consultant/Firm 14 91% Great Guru
Consultant/Firm 15 94% Great Guru
Consultant/Firm 16 95% Great Guru
Consultant/Firm 17 >95% Great Guru
Consultant/Firm 18 100% Great Guru
Consultant/Firm 19 100% Great Guru

 

If one applies one spectrum to the success rates found on websites, then virtually all (18 of 19) of the grant consultants/firms that post their success rates have great rates. By contrast, if one applies the other spectrum, then only a third (six of 19) of the same grant consultants/firms that post their success rates online would have guru status. One may notice that every grant ‘guru’ is a ‘great’ grant writer, but not every ‘great’ grant writer is a grant ‘guru’.

 

Future Posts in the Series

Later posts in the series will examine some of the many intriguing practical and epistemological questions that these claims and rankings raise.

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