Is your nonprofit interested in hiring a grant writer in the near future? You're probably wondering 1) how you can protect your organization from a fraud, and 2) how to make sure the grant writer you choose is good at winning grants.
If you’ve been searching the internet and talking to friends, you probably have decided to ask the grant writers you meet, " What is your grant writing success rate?"
This million-dollar question is usually top of mind for every person hiring a grant writer, and universally despised by many grant writers. Your potential grant writer may initially cringe when you ask the question or give you a slightly annoyed smile before stumbling around and giving you an answer along the lines of, "It Depends".
Why do so many grant writers hate this question when the answer really IS a window into how successful they may be in the future?
Let me tell you a secret, Grant writers hate this question because the answer is complicated. Offering a simple answer like, 90% success rate, leads nonprofits to make bad comparisons and poor hiring decisions. Too much time is spent focusing on a shiny, big number and not enough time on what the grant writer has accomplished for organizations like yours.
In addition to leading to apples to oranges comparisons grant writing success rate isn't a simple answer because, for the most part, whether a grant wins is out of the hands of a grant writer.
Factors that influence why a good grant application is rejected, and why a not so well written application gets money include a nonprofit's grant readiness, how much money is available, how many nonprofits applied, history with the funder, and program design. You can learn more about those factors in our article Why Was Our Grant Declined: Reasons and Solutions.
But if success rate is something that is important to you, and I know it is, here are seven metrics that you can use to understand what a grant writer might be able to do for you.
7 Key Performance Indicators for Grant Writing Success Rate
1. Grant Money Secured
This is the most obvious metric that seasoned grant writers will be able to share. It is the total amount of money the grant writer has helped secure during their time as a grant writer. This number can be misleading. If the grant writer worked for a city, for example, they may only have a handful of succesfu grants, but the dollar amounts won were large. On the other hand someone working at a smaller organization may have secured many grants, just at smaller amounts. So after they tell you how much money they have secured I suggest you follow-up with the next KPI, Number of Grants Won.
2. Number of Grants Won
Number of grants won will tell you how active the grant writer is and how much experience they have applying to diverse grant funders. If your organization needs to apply for a lot of grants, you may want to hire someone with a higher number of grants won.
3. Percentage of Grants Won
Another KPI you can use to determine grant success rate is Percentage of Grants Won. Percentage of Grants Won is calculated by taking the number grants that have been won and dividing it by the number of grants that have been applied to. It works like this: In 2020 a grant writer won 15 grants and applied to 20. 15 grants won/20 grants applied = 75 percent success rate.
This method can be a little tricky to use when comparing grant writers because some grant writers work for organizations that apply for a lot of grants, even when they know its not a great fit. They have a “Numbers Philosophy”. The more grants out, the more grants in. But it can really drive down the grant writers success rate. We encourage the opposite. Our approach to grants is that less can mean more. More money, more time for the mission, more sanity. We like to apply for fewer grants that have a higher chance of success by completing a comprehensive vetting process.
4. Number of Applications that Move To the Next Phase
A grant writer may track the number of applications they wrote that moved to full application or site visit. This metric demonstrates that a grant writer is successful at getting an application over the first hurdle, the application review. And it takes into consideration that nonprofit leaders can tank the grant during the site visit by being off message.
5. Grant Applications Submitted On-Time and 6. Grant Applications Returned with errors
I like these KPIs because they are in the grant writer's control. They also demonstrate some benefits of having a grant writer like time management and attention to detail, even when a grant is not awarded. A successful grant writer will always strive for error free, complete applications that are submitted before the deadline.
7. Return on investment
Last but not least, I think ROI should be part of the Grant Writing Success Rate conversation. ROI is how much money your organization spent on grant writing services compared to how much money it secured from those grant writing services.
Our experience is that ROI is impacted by several conditions.
If a nonprofit is applying to new funders, ROI tends to be lower. If grant request amounts are large, ROI is better. Applying to at least 3 to 4 grants leads to a higher chance of success, so how many grants applied to impacts ROI. Last, the longer you work with a grant writer the better the ROI will become, if they are a good fit.
At a minimum, our company always strives to win at least 3 times our fee within the first 12 months of working with a grant ready organization.
Now you know a few ways grant writing success rate can be measured. I hope we have set you up with more of the information you need to make an informed hiring decision. And get peace of mind that you made the right choice. One KPI may be better for your organization over another, or maybe you consider all of them!
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