Freelancers are the best people to write your grant application.
I firmly believe that.
And it’s not just because I’ve worked as a freelance grant writer (and still do, sometimes). I genuinely believe this model has real benefits for grant seekers.
Grant writing is a skill, and like most skills – it’s hard to be good at it when you’re not doing it all the time.
Most organisations with a well-thought-out grant strategy apply for a few grants a year. Very large organisations might be applying often enough to have a dedicated grant writer on staff, but most organisations simply don’t apply for enough grants for that to make sense
That means that the grant needs to be written by someone other than a full-time on-staff grant writer. Anyone else on the team might have had a bit of experience, but usually they’re someone who doesn’t write grants regularly (or they’re someone who has never written one!). And it’s really hard to be good at something you don’t have a lot of practice doing.
On top of that – grant applications are a lot of work! They vary, of course, but a solid application is likely to set you back perhaps 30-40 hours. I’ve put in over 100 on large complex applications. And I just don’t know many people who have that many spare hours in their working week.
Most of us are BUSY. We have organisations to run! Lives to change! People to help! The business of running social services organisations or for-purposes businesses is time-consuming. When we add a grant application to the mix, we end up needing to find more time, shuffle more priorities, and can struggle to prioritise it until it’s nearly due. That means the quality suffers – the application won’t have had the thought space it needs.
Here’s where a freelancer just makes sense.
Freelance grant writers bring the two things most organisations that want to apply for grant are lacking – expertise in grant writing, and time. Freelance grant writers are people who write grants regularly, and so they have a chance to develop their craft and get good at it. As I said, grant writing is a skill – and like most skills, practice really helps. So does exposure to lots of different types of grants, which is something most freelance grant writers have.
The other thing a freelancer has, which you probably don’t have, is dedicated time to put towards your grant application. When you hire a freelancer to write your grant, you still need to put in a lot of work – but it’s a whole lot less work than it is on your own. A freelancer has time in their schedule to dedicate their best thinking hours to your project.
Freelancers provide surge capacity. When you and your team find yourselves super busy with just too many projects and not enough hours in the week, a freelancer can give you the surge capacity you need to meet short-term demands, without needing to grow your team permanently. Grant applications are a great example of the type of project you can hand over to a freelancer giving you surge capacity – they’re contained, with a tangible output and a clear due date.
This is why I think the freelancer model is the best way to tackle grant applications. It gives you dedicated grant writing expertise on your team, just like the very largest organisations, but without needing to be so large to hire someone permanently. It gives your team the extra hours you need to manage this extra project, without letting your other priorities go. And your other work is important – you wouldn’t be doing it otherwise!
One drawback to working with a freelancer is that they’re coming in cold to your organisation – but I’d argue this can be a strength. Coming is cold means they’ll need extra time to understand your work and what you want the grant for. But that also helps them see your idea with the objectivity of the grant assessor – after all, the person making the decision to fund you isn’t familiar with your work either.
There’s two circumstances I wouldn’t recommend using a freelancer, and they both come down to size and cost. Freelancers are fantastic for mid-size and growing organisations. But they’re not suited to anything staffed fully by volunteers. Freelancers need to be paid for their work – it’s not ok to ask a freelancer to work for free, but it’s also weird if the freelancer is the only one getting paid for their hard work. In this case, it’s better to skill up a volunteer to write the grant.
The other time is when the ROI (return on investment) doesn’t add up. For large grants, it’s good ROI to pay for dedicated expertise on your team to help you win that grant. But for smaller grants, a professional grant writer can be too expensive for the grant available, and the ROI just doesn’t make sense. In that case, it can be better to seek the help of a professional grant writer through coaching, editing or review – that gets you a higher quality application, but costs less than a fully done-for-you service.
Ultimately, freelance grant writers give small and mid-sized organisations the best chance at accessing funding. Your ability to write a grant isn’t the same as your ability to run a great program that truly helps people. A great grant writer translates your skills into something that scores well at assessment and wins funding, so change-makers can get on with what really matters – doing the work that actually helps people.
People with great ideas aren’t always great at writing them down. It’s not fair that a great idea can miss out on funding because the person writing the grant didn’t have enough experience to understand the format and the structure of the application. Freelance grant writers help make sure an idea is judged fairly and on its merits, not skipped over because of poor writing or form errors. They help level the playing field. And I think that just makes sense.