Grant writer performance standards?
March 2, 2010 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Grant writer performance standards?

If you are a grant writer, or employ a grant writer, what do you use for performance standards? Let's assume we're talking about a full-time position where the person is responsible for researching prospective foundations and writing everything for the grant, but isn't responsible for program design or management. How many grants of what size should be submitted per year, do you require a certain success rate, what other criteria? Thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Work & Money (3 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This depends on your budget. You shouldn't expect someone to walk in any be able to make it rain in the desert. Likewise, you shouldn't permit someone to walk in and slash-and-burn your rainforest.

I was told 10x my salary would be acceptable, although salary for a fundraising professional should never be conditioned on the amount of money they bring in. That would have put me at about 30% of the overall budget, which wouldn't have been totally off given the budget of the organization I worked for. It's also not a percentage that I would ever hope if I were an Executive Director for given the nature of grants. A lot of places just want a grantwriter to arrive and write a bunch of grants and make magic money appear. That's unlikely. You need to have well-articulated goals that the grantwriter can support. Your goals will determine how the success of your grantwriter is measured.

It is also important to consider the sources the person is seeking funding from. Family foundations, community foundations, and gigantic government programs are all vastly different in their scope. Are you trying for a $1m NIH grant or are you trying to put together an afterschool program for kids who want to do ballet? Vastly different goals. Again, your goals and how well they are achieved will determine how successful the grantwriter has been.

And a final consideration is current economic realities. It's pretty tough out there. I started grantwriting just as the economy imploded and while I did manage to secure some new grants, I fell drastically short of what I hoped to do primarily because there was just *no* giving going on locally. This didn't impact my performance review because it seems kind of stupid to berate someone for not raising more money when the economy has just collapsed and every local funder has announced that they're closing up shop. So bear in mind that because of the nature of grantmaking, many funders will still be restricting their funding in response to the current economic climate. (Though, check recent publications like the Chronicle of Philanthropy for more up to date information.)

And finally, grantwriting is a quality-not-quantity affair. You can't just paper the world with a half million letters of inquiry and expect that something will work out. I'd caution against using hard and fast numbers to gauge success. For an organization with just over $1m annual budget, I had between 20 and 40 projects going at any given time, each at various stages of development. But again, your needs will dictate which applications are appropriate. That was only based on our work (environmental, public health).
posted by greekphilosophy at 4:12 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I write grants in my job and want to second what greek said about quality-not-quantity. If you hire a grantwriter who writes 50 grants in a year and 3 get awarded, that is nowhere near as good as someone who writes 10 in a year and 7 get awarded. Also, the best grant applications demonstrate a thorough understanding of the goals and objectives, impossible to do if you write 50 grants a year. Oh, and don't forget that if you do get awarded a grant, you now have to DO what you said you would do. A good grant writer is trying to flesh out your goals and make sure they are do-able and have buy-in from your agency. I can't tell you how frustrating it was when I volunteered to write a grant for a local non-profit, it got awarded, and then the agency fumbled in implementation. I don't write grants for them anymore.
posted by eleslie at 7:36 PM on March 2, 2010

Greekphilosophy is pretty spot on. Not much new to add, but I will corroborate.

The main thing to keep in mind is that there are no hard and fast criteria here, as far as numbers go. What grants of what size and how many really depends on your org - where it is, how big the annual budget is, what it does, where it's at in terms of fundraising (are you in the middle of a capital campaign?) and how much the org depends on grant funding for its operations. You want to look at the quality of the grant writer's work: are they communicating the mission of the org well? Are they writing convincingly about the project or program? Is the application well put together? It isn't as though you can say, 'is this writer winning 27% of the grants they apply to? If so, they win.' No, it can't work like that. So keeping all that in mind, a few data points:

My salary is also about 10% of my annual fundraising goal. This is pretty standard, though like greekphil said, a grant writer should never work on a 'commission' basis, for a number of reasons. Foundations don't like it, it isn't fair to the grantwriter, etc.

What eleslie says about writing 50 grants means you don't have a thorough understanding of the goals and objectives of the org is not true. I apply to over 100 grants a year, most of them to small, local family foundations that are loyal supporters, but the grants still need to be written.

If you don't get funded for something, it is most likely not the grantwriter's fault. The economy is a huge factor, the financial position of the grantmaking entity is a major factor, the competition is a factor - heck, what the grant reviewer had for breakfast is a pretty major factor. It is not the job of the grantwriter to be a magician and make it rain all over your org. It is the job of the grant writer to represent the organization well to potential funders.

Finally, a grant writer will not be successful if they lack the support of the NPO. Is the ED making the appropriate phone calls and attending the appropriate cocktail hours? Does your org implement grants well and evaluate their projects? Is your org well run and doing good work? All of these play a major role in the success of a grant writer.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2010

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