A healthy nonprofit fundraising plan should include a plan for seeking grants. Though, it can be difficult to acquire grant funding without proper knowledge or experience. That’s where a professional grants consulting firm comes in!
Grant consultants are a wise investment. They can give you the competitive edge you need to secure those vital funds that you might not acquire otherwise. By outsourcing the time-consuming work of grant writing (among other tasks), you can focus on cultivating relationships with funders. Best of all, grants experts have the professional knowledge to propel your grant seeking efforts forward.
However, picking the right grants consultant takes careful research—much like a nonprofit’s prospect research effort for their donors. It can be especially difficult when you don’t quite know what to prioritize when looking into grant consultants. To narrow down your options and pick the best fit for your organization, follow these key steps:
- Understand your organization’s needs first.
- Look into their writing skills.
- Seek out the all-in-one package.
- Consider their track record.
The quality of grant consultants varies widely. Because of this, it’s important you take the time to make a careful choice. Let’s take a closer look at each of these important aspects to consider.
1. Understand your organization’s needs first.
To get a full sense of what to look for in a consultant, you first need to understand your organization’s unique needs. Otherwise, you may rush into picking a consultant without any guidance or knowledge of what help you actually need.
Start by asking yourself why you’re seeking an external grants expert. It’s more than just “we need funding!” Dive a bit deeper than that and find out why you need funding. Then, consider which areas you need help with specifically.
For instance, if you have a list of potential funders and need to meet deadlines, you likely need help completing the grant writing process. On the other hand, if you need help finding funders, grant writing won’t be your main priority. Instead, you may need help researching funding opportunities and creating an action plan to pursue potential funders.
What to Know Before Talking With a Consultant
Before engaging with potential grants consulting firms, there are a few major points to understand:
- Grants aren’t a quick fix solution for funding. In fact, they can take substantial time and effort to acquire. Instead of using them as a last resort, work grants into your nonprofit’s budgeting plan.
- Grants don’t come with a guarantee. Just because you really need funding, doesn’t mean grants are your best possibility. Not all organizations or projects are destined for grants funding.
- Grant seeking requires preparation. Before pursuing grants, educate your board and staff on them, and prepare your staff to manage financial tracking and reporting.
Takeaway: Assess why you need guidance so that you can relay this to the grants consulting firm. Otherwise, they won’t conform to your specific needs.
2. Look into their grant writing skills.
The grant seeking process is made up of several steps. Each step is significant, but if you need help specifically with writing proposals, you’ll need to consider a consultant’s grant writing skills.
Grant seeking requires careful crafting of the proposal itself. For a proposal to compel funders to give, it must:
- Communicate ideas
- Be clear and concise
- Be tailored to the funder’s guidelines and priorities
- Create a sense of credibility for the organization
For a better understanding of the consultant’s grant writing capabilities, ask to review samples of their work so you can gauge their skill level and range. They may even leverage some of the donation request strategies organizations do like the ones mentioned here.
Seeing their work for yourself allows you to gain a better sense of how they represent organizations. Plus, you’ll be able to see if their variety of work shows their adaptability and if their tone aligns with your organization.
Keep in mind, requesting a grant shouldn’t begin with writing the grant proposal. Before the proposal should come a process of research to understand the grant funder’s priorities and requirements. As a part of your lead development strategy, plan to take the time to research before getting started on the grant proposal itself. Don’t plan on “shopping out” the first proposal your grants consultant writes. Sending the same proposal to multiple funders will yield little (if any) success.
Takeaway: While proposal writing doesn’t define the whole grant seeking process, it is important to consider when hiring a consultant.
For more tips on assessing a firm’s skill, check out Grants Plus’s guide to hiring a grants consultant.
3. Seek out the all-in-one package.
Good fundraising consulting firms provide you with guidance in a few dedicated areas, but great ones have a wide variety of professional skills. To maximize your grants potential, you’ll need a comprehensive grants consulting firm that specializes in more than just proposal writing.
Remember that you’re not just hiring a grant writer. Rather, the grants consulting firm should streamline the grant seeking process from start to finish, conforming to your organization’s specific needs. That way, if you run into issues or other needs down the line, they’ll be able to provide professional guidance.
Specifically, your grants consultant partner should offer professional guidance for other areas such as:
- Creating a funder relationship building strategy. Developing long term relationships with funders can help you secure future funding. Ensure the firm has this strategic expertise.
- Editing and finalizing grant proposals to be accurate and complete. They should catch technical errors and provide recommendations for making your application competitive.
- Researching potential funders and finding the most likely prospects. That way, you can pursue the right funders at the right times for the right reasons. Learn why this process is so significant with Double the Donation’s prospect research guide.
- Writing proposals to likely funders. Remember, they should develop clear, concise proposals tailored to each potential funder.
Also, they should be able to adjust their approach based on your organization’s current situation. For instance, if you’re experiencing a staff transition (e.g. parental leave, unforeseen position vacancy, etc.) or if they don’t have an in-house grants team at all, you will want a firm that is able to keep your grants program steady.
What to Ask When Reviewing Consultants’ Expertise
When comparing potential consultants, it can be difficult determining whose process will best align with your organization. To assess their capabilities, ask the consultant these key questions:
- Will they advise you on funder relationship strategy?
- How will they gather details from program staff and organizational partners?
- When can you expect review drafts, and what’s the editing process?
- Who will be responsible for handling final submission: you or the consultant?
While there are a handful of other questions to ask, the above should give you a good sense of their workflow. Then, if you decide to partner with them, you can develop your expectations accordingly.
Takeaway: Overall, your grants consultant shouldn’t only be skilled in one area. Rather, they should offer expertise in multiple areas, guiding you through the grant-seeking process.
4. Consider their track record.
Of course, you should be confident that a grants consultant has been successful at helping other nonprofits win grants. You want to be sure they understand the grant seeking process and have a track record of experience that they can apply to help your organization be successful too.
When you are considering hiring a grant consultant firm, keep these questions in mind to gauge their track record and experience:
- Can other organizations similar to your own vouch that they are a reliable resource?
- Do they have experience managing grant applications of a type that is suitable for your organization?
- Do they have narrow expertise in a specific area? Or do they have generalized knowledge that they can apply to many areas and organization types?
What about “how much” they’ve helped organizations gain in grants? This is certainly a question worth asking. Do keep in mind that a firm’s track record is about more than a number. Just as important is the depth of their experience and breadth of knowledge.
Is it important that the firm has experience with a specific foundation or funding agency? This experience can be helpful, but it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. A professional firm will have transferable skills and knowledge that they can apply whether or not they’ve applied before to that exact funder.
After all, the only numbers that truly matter are your nonprofit’s fundraising success metrics. If you’re seeing improvements there, chances are that your grant seeking efforts are paying off.
Takeaway: Ask about a grants consultant’s track record but don’t overanalyze it. It can be a good indicator of their experience, but it’s more important they have the expertise and knowledge to fill your organization’s grant seeking gaps.
Grants can be a powerful source of revenue. However, most organizations don’t have their own dedicated grants team to acquire this funding. Fortunately, grant consultants can fill these gaps, helping you expand your fundraising capabilities.
Remember that before you get started, you should first assess your organization’s needs. Then, evaluate the firm’s grant writing experience, skills, and track record. Overall, you should aim to find the all-in-one package, making sure your organization has all the resources it needs.
Once you’ve partnered with a promising firm, you’ll spend less time behind the desk and more time in front of funders. Now that you know the best practices for selecting a grants consultant, start moving forward with your grant seeking efforts!
Author: Jessica Salyers, Engagement Strategist
Jessica brings experience in grant writing, corporate giving, event planning, donor cultivation, and executive leadership.
Formerly Vice President of Fund Development and Community Relations at Clovernook Center for the Blind & Visually Impaired and Development Representative at the American Cancer Society, Jessica has raised millions of dollars in support of health and human service organizations in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She has served on the Board of Directors and Diversity Committee for the Association of Fundraising Professionals – Greater Cincinnati Chapter and volunteers for the Northern Kentucky Children’s Advocacy Center. Jessica holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Kentucky.