5 Reasons Measuring Grant Writing Success is a Myth

 If you are a freelance grant writer, then you probably get asked by potential clients what your grant writing success rate is; i.e.:
“What is your grant writing success rate?”
While I completely understand this question, it isn’t the clearest level of success for a grant writer.
Sure, there is validation of having grants awarded. I definitely recommend boasting about your secured grants so potential nonprofit clients can see what types of grants and clients you have worked with.
But stating an 80 percent or 50 percent success rate doesn’t really say how good of a grant writer you are. Chances are the nonprofit client that asks you your success rate won’t be able to interpret what is a ‘good’ success rate either.

Of course, you can and should track grants won for your own method, but there are better ways to identify your value as a grant writer.

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Success for grant writing

What is Your Grant Writing Success Rate?

A lot of time you, as a grant writer, won’t even know what your success rate is unless you are tracking it. But your success rate is built upon a variety of variables.

#1) Quantity: If you have a ton of clients, your success rate could be lower. For example, you may write 10 grants per client and get two or three grants awarded per client. That could be a total of 30 grants secured and could total well into the millions of dollars. But your success rate would only be 10 percent. Ugh! On the other hand, if you only have written one grant and got it secured, then you have a 100 percent success rate. But you can see how that may not be a good indicator of you being a good grant writer.

#2) Nonprofit Credibility: A grant writer’s success rate is much of the time really supported by the credibility and experience of the nonprofit. If a nonprofit has been around for 40+ years, has secured a multitude of grants (maybe 30 percent + of the annual operating budget is supported by grants), and has a strong infrastructure then your grant writing success rate is automatically increased just based on the health of the nonprofit. As a reviewer looks at resumes with a strong track record on managing grants and implementing projects, they will have more confidence in the application versus a start-up nonprofit’s grant application.

#3) Nonprofit Project Experience: If the nonprofit has had years of experience serving a similar project that it is asking for funding for, they will have a leg-up. This differs from overall experience, as it looks at specific project experience. For example, if the nonprofit has a women’s project that serves victims of crime with housing and they are requesting grant funding for supportive services for their existing clients, they will have a higher chance of securing a grant compared to a nonprofit who has never served victims of crime and is asking for the same funding. According to Funding For Good, a success rate for a well-established nonprofit can be around 90 percent, expanding programs around 80 percent, and start-up projects around 30 percent. So it really does depend, in large part, of how much the nonprofit has experience with similar projects. Funding begets funding.

#4) Funding priorities: This year is the year of opioid grants, research, and STEM funding. Last year the funding priority was human trafficking. The trends of federal grants are reflected of the political administration.

#5) Knowing the grant: Another variable is how well you as a grant writer know a certain grant. I know other grant writers who only write grants for specific grants and categories; such as SAMHSA grants for family and children programs. They know they are more successful and like to write these grants so that is all they do. Some departments at universities focus nearly exclusively on NSF and NIH grants. This is due to it being a super good fit and them getting experience writing these grants and in return their success being very good at securing these grants.

The top 5 reasons that success rates are not a true indicator on your grant writing skills are:

  1. A percentage is tweaked by the number of grants you have written
  2. The credibility of the nonprofit
  3. The experience that the nonprofit has with the project
  4. Current funding priorities of federal grants and society trends
  5. How well you, as a grant writer, know the grant

So, what are good indicators for grant success?

#1: The types and number of grants you have secured: The bottom line is writing more grants produces more awarded grants. It’s simple math. But, also it really depends on the types of grants you are writing and getting awarded. Maybe you know a lot about project for women in need so it’ll be easier for you to secure certain DOJ or SAMHSA grants. Then those types of clients will be more drawn to you because of your success with those grants.

#2: The types of nonprofits you have worked with: If you have worked with start-up nonprofits, and due to the nature of start-ups work more on developing projects, then you will be more attractive for start-ups. Vice versa if you work with larger nonprofits, then you might be able to have leverage with working with other larger nonprofits.

#3: How well you are aware of priority shifts: Staying up-to-date on the political and economic climate is essential as a grant writer. Noting what is a priority for funding sources can also help you market to new clients. But most of all, this helps secure and maintain clients because you go through the shifts and pay attention to the federal guidelines and societal changes under foundations. Following grants.gov to keep up with federal guidelines is a good idea, and also following foundations on social media can give you updated information on where trends are headed.

#4: How well you know the grant or agency: This aligns with #1 and #3 but goes a step deeper. How well do you know a particular funding source? Go a step further and develop relationships with people who serve on the board at local foundations.

#5: How much funding you have secured. This is basic. Nonprofit clients want to know how much money you have secured. This goes back to #1 on funding begets funding, and writing more and more grants increases your knowledge on writing grants!

Okay, I know all you newbie grant writers are thinking, Holly that is all well and good, but I have written or won any grant yet! How do I get clients?

We are going to go more in-depth in the next couple of weeks! For now, go ahead and download free downloadable on how to track grants, as well as a checklist from today’s episode!

Click Here for the FREE Downloadable in Hub Haven

grant writers track success