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A Case for Boosting Your Short-Term Grant Writing Support During a Crisis

May 5, 2020

At Elevate, we generally recommend thinking long-term when it comes to investing a grant program for your organization.

We know from working with hundreds of nonprofits over the years that in most cases — and under normal circumstances — that the most successful partnerships between organizations and their grant writers are built over time.

But things change. With the many ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we know nonprofits are suddenly facing an uncertain future with more questions than answers. And for many organizations, it may be less feasible than ever to invest in hiring a full-time grant writer — even at a time when they may need it most. 

So what can nonprofits do? 

We recommend adding experienced capacity for a short period of time. For many organizations that can afford it, hiring a full-time in-house grant writer is the default choice. But this is a decision with a long-term impact, and for many organizations, it is off the table right now while there is so much still unknown about how the pandemic and recession will play out. Elevate has talked to nonprofits that have agency-wide hiring freezes, that are concerned about how to best hire remotely, that do not have the systems in place to onboard a new team-member virtually, or who have background check requirements that they are not able to fulfill right now. 

This is why, in times when uncertainty is high, like now, adding short-term capacity may be the most strategic option. And, because the timeline is condensed, it is important that the people you bring on know what they are doing from Day 1. 

When short-term capacity makes sense.

In periods of high uncertainty, like what the sector is facing right now, focusing on short-term needs makes sense — as long as it leaves all future options on the table. This is because uncertainty decreases over time: within the next few months, we expect to know much more than we do now about things like: 

  • The full extent of increased demand for our programs, and the cost; 
  • When our paused programs can re-start; 
  • What institutional philanthropy’s collective response will be to the pandemic and a potential recession; 
  • The full governmental response at federal, state, and local levels; and 
  • How individual donors are responding. 

 

One of the few upsides to so much uncertainty right now is that we are almost guaranteed to have more information in the future. And more information means better decisions. This is why postponing certain decisions that have a long-term impact on your organization makes sense at the current moment.

But this obviously does not mean you can stop your fundraising — now is the time to be ramping up your fundraising! Doing so will enable you to both capture rapid response dollars, and be in dialogue with your funders and prepare for changes brought on by shifts in the sector and the economy. 

Adding short term support to your grant program could allow your organization to act quickly in response to the challenges you’re facing. But you need to focus on adding high-level capacity, meaning people who come in on Day 1 with significant expertise. 

The timeline is short, so invest in expertise. 

Typically, an outside grant writer will have more expertise than an in-house hire and therefore, will often require less training than a full-time staff member. Firms like Elevate also likely have systems in place to make onboarding and getting started even quicker and easier. (We’ve had processes and systems in place for years to onboard and work with clients remotely, and we continue to refine them.)

Moreover, experienced grant writing consultants know what questions to ask. We know what funders are looking for. We know how programs throughout the sector are designed and are adapting to these confusing times. And, most critically, we have a wealth of experience to draw on with a variety of issue areas, regions, and specific funders. 

We know that many nonprofits aren’t necessarily looking for freelancers or have had bad experiences with consultants in the past. This is where research and vetting are critical! Finding a reliable consultant you trust, with the experience and case studies that illustrate a breadth of experience, will help you address your immediate needs — while leaving your options open for the long-term without the pressure to decide on those plans right now. 

For example, at Elevate, our Writing Capacity Projects have been effective in supporting organizations to maintain their grant calendar or pursue large opportunities during hiring freezes, staffing searches, or temporary staff leave. These projects assign an experienced writer to efficiently gather the information needed to develop compelling proposals or reports and provide project management to coordinate all the necessary pieces. After completing these projects, some organizations choose to engage long-term with Elevate through our Comprehensive Grant Writing Services, while others have taken the opportunity to restructure internally or otherwise be more deliberate in their hiring process.  

Above all, the key benefit of a short-term engagement is flexibility. When we have a good picture into the long-term future, flexibility does not always rank as a top priority — but in times like now, it is the top priority.  

>> Learn more about Writing Capacity Projects


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