No, I Won't Write Your Grant Proposals
I’ve written before about the years I worked as a grant writer:
I enjoyed grant writing and am enormously grateful for all I learned during my 13 years in fundraising. But that chapter of my life has closed.
And yet, when people read these articles they seem to think it means I want to find grants and write proposals for them.
For those who aren’t aware, grant writing is more than just throwing a few words into a document, hitting “submit,” and kicking back until the check arrives.
A typical grant writing process involves:
Researching funding opportunities relevant to your field/request/project
Gathering data and stats to bolster your Need Statement (e.g., tracking the demographic data of the individuals your program serves so you can talk about its impact on low-income communities)
Reviewing the foundation’s guidelines to ensure you have the information necessary to answer all questions thoroughly (but succinctly!)
Building a balanced budget for the project
Collecting or creating any required attachments for the proposal, including photos, videos, letters of support, etc.
And this is before the writing even begins.
Why I Won’t Write Your Proposal (So Please Stop Asking)
I’ve received a few emails lately from people who, solely based on my articles, want me to tell them how to find money for their project. They ask me to do their research and write their proposals, for free.
As a freelancer, I spend all my time on my writing. I don’t have time to teach each stranger who emails me how to write a proposal or research grants. And it’s insulting that anyone would assume I (or anyone else) would do such work for nothing.
I mean, would you reach out to someone who was once a mortgage lender and ask them to help you buy a house? Would you email someone who blogged about their former career as a dentist and tell them to find someone to fix your teeth?
Grant writing is like any other profession and deserves to be treated as such. Research, data collection, all the things I mentioned above are challenging and time consuming. (Ironically, the writing is the easy part.) There’s a reason grant writers are in demand; solid, successful grant writing is hard work.
Also, very few programs are grant-worthy. Many people have this strange idea that foundations are flush with cash and just dying to give it away. All you have to do is ask!
I’m sorry to say, that’s not the case. Foundations are not banks. They’re philanthropic institutions that want to better the world by funding not-for-profit organizations doing important work. And because there are so many great organizations in need of funding, there’s a limited amount of money to go around. (And I should mention that in the U.S. there’s almost no money for individuals, and the bit of funding that exists often requires the individual to have a fiscal sponsor.)
Foundations are inundated with requests and never have enough money to support each proposal received. Therefore, it’s the grant writer’s job to make a strong case as to why the foundation should donate to their specific project or program. This requires a significant amount of research, strong writing skills, and a thorough understanding of how not-for-profit fundraising works.
(And this isn’t even getting into the importance of stewardship, or the amount of work that goes into reporting once a grant comes through. Working on grant reports is sometimes harder than writing the proposal itself.)
Point is, it’s frustrating to receive an email (let alone many emails) asking me to whip up a proposal. I understand there’s often ignorance when it comes to fundraising, but I wish the people emailing me would have the decency to understand that grant writing is work and requires a lot more than just typing up a few sentences.
That said, here are my suggestions on…
How to Find a Grant Writer
If your nonprofit has a critical project that requires funding and you feel strongly that grants are the way to go, there are freelance grant writers out there looking for work. But you must do the research to find them.
Do a google search for “grant writers for hire.” Search through the Grant Professionals Association Consultant Directory. Check places like Upwork or Freelancer.com. Use LinkedIn to find freelance grant writers in your area.
When you find a potential writer, reach out with specific details about your program or project. Don’t say, “I need grants. Help me.” Be professional and courteous. In your email, provide answers to the following:
What is the purpose of your program?
Where is it located? Is it U.S.-based? Or international? What community (or communities) does the program serve?
Is it a new program? Or has it existed for many years?
What is the budget? How much funding do you need?
Have you received grant funding for this program before?
Do you expect the grant writer to research and find funding sources, or just write the proposal?
How much are you willing to pay for their services? Knowledgeable, experienced grant writers won’t work for free, nor will they work on commission.
It’s perfectly OK to contact a freelancer who is open to new clients, as long as you approach it as a business relationship. It is not OK to email a writer (who has given no indication that she is interested in taking on clients) and tell her you want her to find you money…for free.
Put the effort in and hire someone willing to do the work, and maybe your project will get the funding it needs.