If you’re seeking a proposal writer for your organization, assessing their success is mission critical. Rising stars of the grant world can become falling stars with one bad grant season. But how do you gauge success of a proposal writer? Many of us measure our success by the percentage of grants we are successful in securing for clients. We also keep track of the total dollars we’ve helped clients secure over time. Some proposal writers shy away from these kinds of measurements because they may have a low percentage of success just starting out or perhaps they haven’t been writing long enough or for large enough grants to have amassed an impressive bottom line for clients yet.
In the present economy, the only way not to have your batting average drop as a proposal writer is not to write any grants. It’s a tough environment right now and with money so tight a lot more agencies are submitting applications than ever before. The percentage of proposals funded is bound to drop. But the percentage of grants funded does tell me two things which are not equally valuable measures of success. First, and more important, the percentage of successful applications tells me how well a proposal writer writes grants. The second thing it tells me is how carefully they select what they will write and whether they are willing to take risks for clients. What an overall percentage does not tell me is whether a grant writer has experience and/or success in writing for a particular grant maker or program. This is important to know because there are some grant programs which I am batting 1000 (100% success, yeah baby!) and there are others which I’ve written to once which were not successful (0% success, whoa Nellie!). A proposal writer who has an overall success percentage that’s low (say below 50%), or who won’t tell you what it is, should be able to give you other proof that they are successful.
Another way a proposal writer demonstrates success is in the amount of funding they have secured for their clients. A new grant writer will have trouble showing a lot of money secured because they’re new. But a proposal writer who has survived say ten years in the business should have a sizeable portfolio of clients and grants secured. You do want to know what's in the portfolio because if they have secured 50 million dollars that could be all from one grant! Their percentage could be around 5% if that 50 million dollar grant was one of twenty they’ve written and nineteen of the twenty were declined! You may still want them to write for you if it’s to the same program they were successful in, but you may not! Remember too that the portfolio of clients is a proprietary matter and a proposal writer does not have to share that information with you, and they may have clients who prefer not to have their business relationship used for promotional purposes.
In the end, you want to hire a successful proposal writer who is a good fit for your organization and who can demonstrate their proficiency through a history of success. Measuring success can be a little tricky but if you remember these three questions, you’ll probably make a good decision.
- Do they have a recent history of success?
- Do they have evidence?
- Do they have successful experience with the source you want to apply to? Or at least in the topic area of the grant?
A proposal writer who tells you they don’t keep score is failing to do that for a reason! I’d be asking them why before I hired them! Grants are submitted into competition so there are winners and losers. The only way to make a living as a proposal writer, or as an agency that depends on grants, is to be on the winning side most of the time.