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As a consultant, determining whether a client should pursue a competitive grant is not always easy.

 

At times, all signs are that a client is ready to compete. The leadership’s go-ahead decision is unequivocal and has broad-based support. All of the organization’s assets necessary to prepare a proposal are committed to the task.

 

At other times, the signs are more uncertain. Some outspoken leaders or stakeholders may be anxious about subsequent commitments if a proposal is funded. Internal or external critics may question the wisdom of pursuing a particular grant. And the organization as a whole may be reluctant or unable to commit significant time and money to developing a proposal that may or may not yield funding.

 

The more list-items below that a client can mark as present the more likely it is ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity.

 

Strategic Readiness:

An applicant is probably ready to seek a grant if the specific grant opportunity fits:

  • Its organizational history and strengths
  • Its strategic plan
  • Its mission and vision statements
  • Its short-term and long-term organizational goals
  • Its internal understanding of a significant and resolvable problem or need
  • Its capacity to disburse, manage, and account for grant funds
  • Its capacity to track, measure, and report evaluation outcomes

 

Proposal Development Readiness:

An applicant is probably ready to apply for a grant if it can furnish its proposal developers:

  • Enough lead-time to complete a competitive proposal
  • Consistent internal support and accessibility from leadership
  • Access to meeting space and other necessary physical resources
  • Access to necessary internal subject area experts and decision-makers
  • Access to necessary statistical data and research literature

 

This post has focused on strategic and development readiness. An earlier post discussed organizational and leadership readiness.

 

As a consultant, determining whether a client should pursue a competitive grant is not always easy.

 

At times, all signs are that a client is ready to compete. The leadership’s go-ahead decision is unequivocal and has broad-based support. All of the organization’s assets necessary to prepare a proposal are committed to the task.

 

At other times, the signs are more uncertain. Some outspoken leaders or stakeholders may be anxious about subsequent commitments if a proposal is funded. Internal or external critics may question the wisdom of pursuing a particular grant. And the organization as a whole may be reluctant or unable to commit significant time and money to developing a proposal that may or may not yield funding.

 

The more of the list-items below that a client can mark as present, the more likely it is to be ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity.

 

Organizational Readiness:

As an applicant organization, a client is probably ready to pursue a specific grant opportunity if it can:

  • Supply adequate proofs of its legal status and eligibility
  • Provide sufficient data to substantiate need
  • Propose creative and innovative yet realistic and practical solutions to problems
  • Anchor its choice of key strategies in the scientific research literature
  • Identify and describe appropriately qualified key personnel
  • Bring other agencies on board in a partnership, if required
  • Track and report on its funding and expenditures
  • Adopt and execute a sufficiently rigorous evaluation design
  • Measure and report on interim and final outputs and outcomes
  • Commit enough matching funds or other cost sharing
  • Monitor and protect confidentiality and privacy, as needed
  • Enact and enforce human subjects research protocols, if needed
  • Commit to continuing its initiative after initial funding ends

 

Leadership Readiness:

As an applicant, a client is probably ready to seek a grant if its leadership has:

  • Completed its process of selecting priority grant opportunities
  • Validated a specific grant opportunity as a viable option
  • Firmly decided to pursue a particular grant opportunity
  • Adopted a proposal submission approval process
  • A shared awareness of the commitments that a funded proposal will entail
  • Sufficient human and financial resources to dedicate to developing a proposal
  • Policies in place for ensuring fiscal and programmatic accountability
  • Sufficient technologies available to create and submit an application

 

This post has focused on organizational and leadership readiness. A later post will address strategic and development readiness.

Private foundations tend to award capacity-building grants to small or large organizations that have already-proven staying power. Such grants are not intended to rescue failing enterprises, nor are they intended to support delivery of direct program services.

 

Sometimes a pre-existing relationship with a specific funder is a prerequisite for being an eligible applicant; other times, it is not. Potential applicants should review each potential funder’s preconditions and verify that they satisfy them before they decide to apply to it for funding.

 

Purposes of Capacity Building:

Ultimately, capacity building proposals focus on an organization’s internal needs, particularly, on improving its ability to achieve and fulfill its mission and to deliver services. Proving a record of accomplishment in this area is essential. Other aims are to increase an organization’s long-term sustainability and effectiveness. Consequently, seeking a capacity building grant often follows upon an organizational self-assessment by board and key staff.

 

Uses of Funds Related to Grant Seeking:

As always, allowable uses of funds depend upon the purposes and priorities of each specific grant maker. Among the many potential uses an applicant may propose for a capacity building grant are:

  • Fund development planning
  • Revenue diversification
  • Fundraising (e.g., developing grant proposals, donor recruitment campaigns)

 

Other Potential Uses of Funds:

Beyond or in lieu of resource development, foundations also may favor:

  • Organizational assessment or self-assessment
  • Evaluation of overall organizational effectiveness
  • Strategic planning
  • Improving governance and management
  • Board/staff development (e.g., workshops or conferences)
  • Leadership development
  • Leadership succession planning
  • Marketing/community outreach
  • Volunteer management
  • Membership development (e.g., recruitment and retention)
  • External communications (e.g., website improvements)
  • Computer skills development (e.g., using donor databases)
  • Organizational mergers or restructuring
  • Financial management
  • Media relations
  • Technology integration (e.g., hardware or software upgrades)

 

This post is one of a series on Grant Writing as a Career. Earlier posts have discussed various business expenses and fees as well as arrangements for paying for grant-writing services.

This post discusses contingency fees. It is one of an ongoing series on Grant Writing as a Career. Earlier posts discussed hourly fees and flat fees, consultant retainer fees and prospect research fees, proposal review and editing fees, and ordinary and general consulting business expenses.

 

The odds of a given proposal being funded vary with the program, the funder, and the competition at the time of application. They vary with the applicant’s experience as a grant seeker, its track record in managing prior grant awards, and the merits of its problem-solving strategies. Seldom is a proposal’s positive outcome a certainty.

 

Contingency Fees:

Most grant writers value their work highly enough to require hourly or per diem or per-project compensation, rather than accept deferred payment made contingent upon grants being awarded. And most clients value consultants’ expertise and work products highly enough to pay for them upfront as agreed upon in a contract. However, there are exceptions.

 

Some clients expect consultants to develop a grant proposal for free and to get paid only if or when it is funded. They do so even though their personnel don’t work for free or on contingency themselves. Such clients shift to the consultant the risk of a grant not being awarded. Often, although not always, the same clients expect, sometimes naively, to use part of a grant, if awarded, to pay the consultant. This all-or-nothing arrangement makes any payment contingent upon the outcome of a grant proposal.

 

Zero-Sum Risks:

Some consultants are averse to the risk that they will earn nothing for creating a proposal; others accept the risk. Those who write proposals as a sidelight tend to be less risk-averse than those for whom writing proposals is a primary source of income.

 

Contingencies may leave a consultant penniless while the client walks away with a completed proposal. Such work-products often can be reworked and submitted to the same funder or to others. The arrangement implies that the value of a consultant’s time, effort, and work-product is zero. Such undertakings become speculative at best and desperate at worst.

 

In addition to undervaluing the consultant’s expertise, clients too often try to pay for a funded grant out of the grant itself. Such an expectation is problematic at best. In the federal grant context, cost principles in OMB Circulars A-21 and A-122 prohibit the recovery of costs (including grant writing costs) incurred before a grant award unless the sponsoring agency allows those costs. Whether such pre-award costs are allowable is stated in the proposal solicitation. In the private sector, foundations may exclude both pre-award and post-award proposal development as allowable costs. As a rule, they also tend to abhor the use of their grant awards to pay contingency fees or commissions to grant writers.

 

A later related post will discuss commissions, ethics, and pre-award cost recovery.

 

If your organization intends to compete to win a highly coveted and widely sought grant award of $50,000, $500,000, or $5,000,000 or even much more, teamwork and persuasion often will prove indispensable. A funded proposal is a product of both attributes, which are key aspects of nearly every effective grant proposal.

1. Teamwork:

Ours is an era of ever more intense competition for grants from public and private sources. Strong teamwork is invaluable.

Virtually anyone can play a valuable part on a grant-seeking team. For example, in the context of grants for public education, specialists, experts, and technicians can serve as contributors of professional knowledge and research-based rationales. Parents, students, and other types of clients can share perceptions and insights about needs and priorities. Teachers, clinicians, and other types of practitioners can identify appropriate activities and effective strategies.

Although good technical writing helps a proposal to command attention and win approval, shared commitment, networking, energy, and imagination are equally indispensable.

2. Persuasion:

Grant proposals both describe and persuade. They appeal to both heart and mind. Good proposals respond meticulously to selection criteria. Their narratives support identified needs with data and research findings and build compelling arguments around them. Since successful applicants keep their decision-making audience in mind at all times, the proposals also incorporate the grant maker’s interests and priorities. They offer cost-effective solutions to problems regarded as important on both sides of the grant funding equation.

3. Product:

It is seldom enough these days only to use a team to develop a proposal or to make a compelling case for funding. The finished proposal, as a final product, will play a critical part in funding outcomes as well. Its outward appearance must connote the quality and completeness of its contents and the processes used to generate them. It must look the part it plays as a fund-raising document and an instrument of persuasion. In all respects, both its appearance and its contents – in every detail – must match the specific grant-making occasion.

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