As the new Director of Development to an agency, I have been asked to look at next year’s budgeted revenues. What percentage of the budget should comprise grant revenues?
We consider grant support to be soft money in that the amount you receive will change from year- to-year. For this reason, it is important that all nonprofit organizations have a diverse portfolio of revenue sources, similar to a personal investment strategy. Look to develop a robust resource development program that may include foundation grants, individual donors, major gifts, government support and contracts, and fees for service.
While budgeting is not our expertise, we follow the rule of thumb to not let one source of funding exceed more than 30 percent of a non-profit’s budget. If an organization loses 30 percent of its revenue, it could likely restructure in order to survive. However, if the loss were to exceed 30 percent, keeping the organization solvent would be a significant challenge.
Why should I pay a grant writer if my organization does not receive a grant award?
The funding of a proposal depends upon many factors, the majority of which are not in the hands of the writer. You are paying the writer to make a stunning and stellar case for the support of your organization or a specific initiative. If the writer does that, he or she completed the task for which you retained them.
We can understand how frustrating it is to pay someone to write a proposal with the intent that it brings additional revenue to your agency, only to have the engagement show on the expense line of your budget, rather than factor into the net revenue line.
Keep in mind that if the proposal written is solid, you can submit it to several other foundations—all is not lost. Similarly, you can oftentimes submit the proposal, with modifications, an additional two times (rule of thumb) to the same foundation that was unable to fund your initial submission.
My agency recently lost a considerable amount of state funding. To keep expenses down, I assigned grant writing functions to program staff. Is this a good idea?
While doing this is understandably a matter of necessity, please keep in mind the revenues generated will likely not be as high as if a professional writer prepared the proposals. The skill sets of program staff members align with their particular field of specialization, and while they might capture the clinical or programmatic aspects of the proposal composition, it is unlikely they would have equal expertise in messaging, conceptualizing, selling, and positioning from a macro perspective. These are just a few of the qualities professional grant writers can bring to your projects.
I would like to make a suggestion. If you are considering submission of a highly competitive proposal that could make a strategic difference to the agency, try to eke out the funds to retain a contract writer to either write the proposal, consult with the staff member beforehand, or review what the staff member prepared prior to its submission.
Our initial advice is to call the foundation and ask why your proposal was declined funding. The feedback could be valuable as you move forward with successive submissions.
Our experience has found the following to be common reasons why a beautifully written proposal was not funded:
The foundation you solicited funds from may not support the activities you proposed;
The program or concept for which you requested funding might not be evidence-based or have sufficient outcomes to support its efficacy;
The amount requested may be too large a percentage of the total funds needed to operate your program;
Someone within the foundation may be operating under erroneous rumors or assumptions about your agency;
The grant reviewer may not understand your submission or its significance; and
The foundation supports a host of previously funded organizations and may not have the funds available to make awards to new grantees.
I thought the proposal my agency submitted to a private foundation for funding was a winner. However, funding was declined. What could have gone wrong?
I read about your comprehensive services. Can I hire you to write just one proposal?
Most definitely. J. G. Poll & Associates can customize any of the services we offer to meet your need. Our interest is in helping you raise funds to support your activities.
We have several low-cost options. Call and let us know what you need. Oftentimes, the scope of our work can be as minimal as writing one or two boilerplate proposals for your agency, which your staff may fine-tune over and over again for subsequent submissions. Other low-cost, high-impact options include review and editing of the main proposals your staff currently submits, or coaching the staff member assigned to proposal writing responsibilities.
I would like to use your services, but feel that we cannot afford to pay your fees. What options do I have?
The foundations that we work with do not allow this practice.
Can your fees be worked into a grant application?
The simple answer is, no. The Association of Fundraising Professionals states in its Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of Professional Practice: “Members shall not accept compensation that is based on a percentage of charitable contributions; nor shall they accept finder’s fees.”
Do you ever work on commission?
Start-ups need to have sufficient cash on hand to completely cover their operations in the first one- to-two years. Even mature nonprofit agencies new to grant writing cannot depend upon grant revenues when they first start out. The exception is if the project for which they seek funds is groundbreaking.
I want to start a new nonprofit. Can I count on grant revenues to sustain us?
Job postings for in-house grant writers often read, “Individual must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and two- to-three years of experience in grant writing.” This is a red flag that the agency does not have the funds available to hire an experienced professional (unless this individual is a backup to a senior writer).
Our advice is to retain a contract writer until your agency has adequate funds to hire a professional with at least four- to-five years of experience and an impressive track record of submissions yielding significant revenues. Using a contract writer is a cost-effective solution to hiring a full-time professional and a boost to the return on your investment.
I want to hire an in-house grant writer. What qualifications should I look for?
This is an excellent and commonly asked question. We encourage non-profit organizations to retain J. G. Poll & Associates when they:
Have multiple RFPs that need to go out at the same time or are unable to respond to an RFP because there is not enough staff to work on all of them;
Have a vacant staff development position and need short-term assistance;
Require a fresh perspective on existing boilerplate proposals or want an objective opinion of a proposal prepared by a staff member prior to its submission;
Want assistance with critical and highly technical parts of a proposal, such as a logic model or evaluation plan or;
Need comprehensive research regarding potential funders, as well as an annual proposal submission calendar that references annual submission dates of proposals and reports.