As I indicated above, I ran across an article by Allison Shirk in PhilanTopic which provides ten ways (and a bonus) to get the most out of your grant writer. I thought I would do my own take on this theme. Here is my reaction to the last items on her list.
6. Use your grantwriter to write grants. Here, I think it makes more sense to insist that your grant writer solve problems. In my consulting practice, I end up doing a lot of things to win money that have nothing to do with writing a grant. I have found I need to solve personnel problems for the client. I have sometimes found it necessary to design survey research, set appointments, provide public speaking coaching, and assist with program design and reporting compliance. I have even created logos and letterhead for clients. One of the cool things about being a grant writer is that you have a rare opportunity to use a full range of skills including your political skills and emotional IQ. I am not sure it is healthy to allow the grant writer to focus too narrowly on only doing grant writing. You may end up with a grant writer who really does not have a clue about what it takes to win a grant, solve a practical problem, negotiate a deal, or turn around a struggling agency.
7. Take their advice, seriously. I always get uncomfortable when we set up the grant writer as some sort of guru with a nearly magical understanding of the world of grant writing. Frankly, I won substantial grants with no experience at all simply because I was conscientious and followed directions. Instead, I think it is important to encourage the client to be decisive and to trust their own gut instincts. Almost always, the client knows much more about their field and what is right or wrong than the grant writer. You are not doing the client any good by suggesting they filter their best contributions out of supposed deference to the greater expertise of the grant writer. This recommendation, on my part, means that it is also important for grant writers to be humble and coachable.
8. Keep them in the know. This piece of advice rings true for me. I know that when I am writing a grant, I feel like I am the Dr. House of the non-profit world. Like the television Dr. House, I really cannot do my best work if I am in the dark about what is going on with the charity.
9. Try a retainer. I need to disagree with this one. I think retainers make grant writers lazy. It is very easy to sit back and collect a retainer and do nothing. This is not healthy for the grant writer or the charity. I prefer to work on brief, high intensity projects. If I am on a retainer, I get lazy and the charity starts to under-appreciate my skills.
10. Project wisely. "Encourage your grantwriter to write several proposals at a time," Shirk writes. "Developing a completely new proposal for every opportunity that comes up is labor intensive and inefficient, as is having your grantwriter switch his or her focus from project to project. One way to avoid this is to focus one month on general operating support grants and the next on program support, etc." I have nothing to complain about here. I do think it pays to do batching on any sort of project.
11. Leave time for follow-up calls. As I teach in my workshops, the time you spend on the phone with funders can be much more significant than the time you spend on the computer. I think Shirk makes an absolutely inspired suggestion when she writes: "You might even want to consider giving your grantwriter an organizational e-mail address to use for initial inquiries and follow-ups." I have never thought about this before, but I really like the idea. As Dr. House would say: "Run the test."