So many NGOs believe they do not have the capacity to write winning proposals, and so must hire a grant writer to do it for them. For larger NGOs with the budget for full-time grant writers and many projects to fundraise for, this is an important job. However, for new or smaller NGOs with the limited budget cannot hire fundraisers on-staff, and so look to find a consultant writer for a one-off application. I myself have been approached for this job, and here are my reasons for why this is a bad idea.
For long, technical proposals it could take one person working full-time up to 5 weeks to write a full proposal from scratch. And as good fundraisers are worth their weight in gold, the expense can add up quickly.
It’s hard to find the right match
Finding any freelance grant writer can be challenging, much less one that is the right fit for you. Do you need someone experienced with small grants or large? From foundations, governments, or individuals? In which part of the world, and what sector? Does their timeline match with yours? Finding these few people can thus be difficult and time-consuming. And quality is difficult to determine.
No guarantee of success
Even if you hire the best possible proposal writer who makes an awesome proposal, there is still always a chance of failure for factors beyond the control or your NGO or the proposal writer.
Some consultants do work on a pay-on-success basis, but typically only for INGOs and UN organizations that already have a very high chance of success. Most consultants do not like this practice, and it actually goes against the code of conduct for fundraising professional organizations in many countries. Even if you find a consultant who will work on this basis, it is likely you will have to prove to them you have a high chance of winning the grant. Which may be just as time-consuming as writing the proposal yourself.
Additionally, donors tend to disapprove of this practice. They are disinclined to fund any projects which include back-payments for consultants in the budget lines.
Consultants do not know the work like you do
While consultants may have more writing experience, they cannot write well about a project they know nothing about. Paying consultants for their time while they familiarize themselves with your NGO and project quickly adds to the expense. And your NGO will have to take time away from project work to brief the consultant. Consultants may have the benefit of working with many different projects in the past, but this also gives them a certain aloofness; they are not as passionate about the project as you and are not as deeply tied to its success.
That money is better spent training your staff
Chances are, you will need to write more proposals again in the future. Money invested in a one-time consultant writer could easily be put to better us training your staff in proposal writing. The payoff here may not be immediate, but fundraising is a long-term necessity. For NGOs planning to continue working for years to come, having well-trained fundraisers on staff makes a lot of sense.