Should our organization use a volunteer grant writer?

March 9, 2011 2 Comments

grant writing

By Megan Hill

Organizations desperate for grant money often rely on volunteer grant writers. They don’t have the funds to pay for a professional, so they figure a college student or random volunteer will suffice. They’ll write grants for free!

It sounds like a great set up, but there are plenty of downsides to consider:
  • If the volunteer is not somehow connected to or invested in the organization, you have to trust they’ll do a good job out of the goodness of their hearts. Money is a strong motivating factor, and it’s one I find easier to trust.
  • Volunteers are not automatically qualified. Sure, there are exceptions. Retired grant writers looking to continue doing good work, or pros who have room for pro-bono work, or board members with grant writing experience…but those are few and far between. Most volunteer grant writers are not qualified.
  • Not all good writers make good grant writers. Grant writing is a very specific niche for freelance writers and it’s one that requires extra training and a strong knowledge of the nonprofit world. Most freelance writers don’t have these qualities.
  • If you allow someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing to write grants, you could end up hurting your organization more than you are helping it. Grants are not free, easy money. Successful grants take a combination of a skilled grant writer and a prepared organization. Letting someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing write a bunch of grants will waste everyone’s time and will make your organization look bad.
There are certainly exceptions to this, but in my opinion it’s best to hire a professional grant writer than to rely on a volunteer. Of course, if your organization has successfully utilized the free services of a volunteer grant writer, congratulations!
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One problem here is that organizations have no idea how to fund a professional grant writer’s salary to begin with. I suggest that if you can’t fund a pro, you’re not ready for grants. Wait until you have a stable income and plenty of reserves before hiring someone. You’ll be glad you waited and glad you hired a professional grant writer.
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(photo from flickr by dlbezaire)

Tags: , The Nonprofit World
2 Comments to “Should our organization use a volunteer grant writer?”
  1. Laurie says:

    I can’t agree more with this post. I have seen a lot of my clients use volunteer grantwriters, especially when they are new and looking for the one big grant to get them seed money. It ends up costing them more in the long run as the grants are often of poor quality. It is a specialized form of writing. Best to hire a professional which dramatically increases the odds of actually getting the funds.

  2. Larrietta Jacquett says:

    Thank yo so much for the clear clarification,of what a really good writer brings forth.
    I am the CEO of The Caring Handz of Texas, I must sat that I am beyond hungry to get started. I was currently seeking a college student to pick up my offer,as I was referred to them,from another party that says it has worked for them.
    You made so much since when you wrote on to say,(One problem here is that organizations have no idea how to fund a professional grant writer’s salary to begin with. I suggest that if you can’t fund a pro, you’re not ready for grants. Wait until you have a stable income and plenty of reserves before hiring someone. You’ll be glad you waited and glad you hired a professional grant writer.)YOUR WORDS!!!
    Thank you again.

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