Nonprofit organizations often will contract with an independent grant writer for the purpose of writing one specific grant. This is usually the case when the organization lacks staff members with particular expertise in a complex federal agency grant or when the in-house writer is simply too overloaded with the usual work to deal with a new foundation funding opportunity that has just popped up on the development director’s radar. In this situation, the contracted grant writer will generally ask to look at past applications for re-usable material. Next, she will rifle through the organization’s website and GuideStar profile, as well as ask for access to annual reports, operating and program budgets, different types of media to enhance the application, and other relevant materials to prepare the grant.
Now, in the process of reviewing all of these materials, what happens when the contracted grant writer comes across gaps–sometimes very big gaps–such as near-to-nonexistent GuideStar profiles, an overly busy-looking website without interactive elements, lack of compelling storytelling material, and perhaps even the use of unrestricted funds to carry out programming when those funds would be much better allocated to the organization’s overhead? Is it the business of the contracted grant writer to bring these lacunae to the attention of the development director or executive director?
This consultant and grant writer says emphatically, “Yes!” At a minimum, the contracted grant writer should know and understand the importance of the GuideStar profile as a marketing tool for nonprofit organizations. And now that the G4G (GuideStar for Grant Applications) functionality has been incorporated into the GuideStar platform, it’s more important than ever to have a full profile so that potential funders can upload an organization’s basic information directly into their own proposal management software.
But what about that overly busy website that is so difficult to navigate? Clean, easy to navigate, and interactive are now the watchwords for website design. If a contracted grant writer can’t find your organization’s board of directors listing, you can be sure that potential funders won’t be able to find it either. But, this is also the point at which some caution is necessary. On one hand, a messy website, absence of video on the landing page, and lack of compelling storytelling material all diminish the chances that your hard work as an independent grant writer will come to fruition in the form of an award. But, do you want to risk alienating your client by bringing up these topics? Or worse, make the client feel that there is far too much to be done with so few staffers and just give up on the effort to become successful at raising funds through grant writing? And is it really part of your job to address issues that may properly belong in the purview of a development or executive director?
Rather than clamming up and adopting a take-the-money-and-run strategy, consider that there is much to be gained by broaching these matters with your contractor from a position incorporating diplomacy, tact, and your expressed wish to be as helpful as possible to increase the chances that the organization you are working with will be funded. Both parties gain from this approach. The grant writer may very well be asked to edit the website content and work with the webmaster to streamline the site. And if you know a bit about other types of fundraising, you can point out that the most recent research shows that a short, but compelling video on the landing page can lead to an increase of an astounding 62% in individual donations! If I were in the contractor’s shoes, I would certainly be happy to pick up that powerful bit of advice. The organization benefits from increased donation revenue and increased chances of being funded, while the grant writer benefits, too, often in the form of additional writing assignments, referrals, and repeat business. So, don’t be shy about using your knowledge to make those helpful suggestions–just be sure that you are on terra firma with your fundraising facts, then proceed to turn that potential boondoggle into a win / win situation!