In my nonprofit volunteer work, I've encountered so many nonprofits who do not have a grant-writer (or a person skilled in grant writing) on staff, and yet they wonder why they have so many denials from funders. While there are various reasons why a grant is denied, having someone who knows what funders are looking for and who is skilled in writing the your "story" can do nothing but increase your chances of approval.
Most nonprofits want to include grants from foundations or the government in their funding mix. It is a sensible thing to do, but not always easy.
Researching and writing grants is time consuming and requires specialized and finely honed research and writing skills. Experience with grants and grant writing always makes the odds better for landing a grant.
You may be fortunate enough to have an experienced grant writer on staff, especially if your organization has a developed and long standing grants program. But for many nonprofits that is not so. In that is the case, it makes sense to hire a grant professional or consultant, at least for a limited time. Also, for the same level of expertise at a much lower cost, you could hire an experienced grant reviewer. A grant reviewer can provide critical feedback on prepared grants and direct you on how to make the grant better before you submit it to the funder.
The Pros of Hiring a Grants Consultant/Reviewer/Writer
The grant writer will actually sit down and write the proposal. He or she is not likely to spend time in endless meetings discussing what the proposal should be like. Some organizations assign groups to write a proposal, a strategy that often ends up producing what is essentially a "Franken-proposal," bolted together from mismatched parts.
The grant reviewer will not write the grant but they will review a prepared grant (with a professional and critical “eye”) and edit before you submit it to the funder.
The job will get done on time. Consultants could not stay in business if they did not meet deadlines. Since the goal of writing proposals is to get the money, meeting deadlines is of paramount importance. A good consultant will be super sensitive to the cold wind of the deadline on his or her neck.
Because the grant reviewer costs so much less, he/she is more dependent on you and when you finish the proposal. He or she may remind you when the deadline is approaching, but ultimately you have to stay on top of the grant due date.
You have control. You can hire the person of choice, and fire that person if the process doesn't go well. If your consultant, grant writer/grant reviewer is no good, you just cancel their retainer or don't hire them for the next job.
You get the benefit of the consultant's experience.The diverse experience many consultants have can be a bonus, as exposure to different ideas, trends, and kinds of work can filter into other proposals. So can knowledge of funding "gotchas." You don't want to make a million-dollar mistake because the grant writer or grant reviewer doesn't know the ins and outs of the application system.
The Cons of Hiring a Grants Consultant/Reviewer/Writer
The consultant does not have the institutional memory that an insider might have.
On the other hand, if you have had staff turnover, the lack of memory could work the other way. No one remembers when and how the last proposal was done, or where to start next time. A grants consultant always stays up-to-date on how grants are done.
You might not pick the right person. It can be tricky finding the consultant who fits with your organization, listens well and has the sharpest skills. Look for experienced consultants with a holistic picture of what funders are looking for.
It may cost too much.This is likely the most frequent reason organizations hesitate to hire a professional grant writer. But that fear itself can trip up a nonprofit when they are reluctant to hire professional help to do the tasks they are not staffed to do.
The cost can be deceiving as well...remember that with a staff member you have all the costs of salary plus benefits. Jake Seliger points out in his article "Tilting at Windmills: Why There is no Free Grant Writing Lunch and You Won't Find Writers for Nothing," that you will pay for grant writing one way or the other.
The bottom line about whether to hire a professional grant writer is that you need to consider what talent you have on staff (and how much time they have to devote to grant writing), your need for grants from a variety of sources and what outside talent you can find at what cost.
Again, for the same level of professionalism and grant “know-how”, you can hire a grant reviewer to ensure you are turning in a fund-able proposal…..at a fraction of the cost for a grant writer.
So, the answer to "To hire or not to hire" is up to you. How talented is your volunteer team? How badly do you need those funds?