Buyer Beware When Engaging a Consultant

There are lots of good reasons for nonprofits to engage professional grants consultants to help them identify funders and prepare proposals. The grant development work load might be too heavy for staff alone. Staff could benefit from mentoring by a high-level professional. Contracting with a consultant might be more cost-effective than bringing on a new staff member.

There are great grant consultants in the field who can sharpen your organization’s competitive edge. Unfortunately, some people who are peddling their wares don’t have the skills or experience to help you at all. “I’ve seen people with absolutely no real-world grants experience take a class and then sell their services as a consultant,” said Barbara Floersch, chief of training and curriculum of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Professional training is essential, but until you’ve worked in the trenches for a while you’re not ready to consult.”

When considering hiring a grants consultant, Floersch advises managers to dive deep while vetting each applicant’s skills, experience, and integrity. Look for a consultant who will up your game, teach staff members new skills, and bring a high-level of professionalism to the work.

    When assessing experience and skills, check the consultant’s depth of knowledge in:

  • Using available research tools to identify appropriate funder prospects;
  • Working productively with private and corporate foundations;
  • Handling a both simple and complex online submissions;
  • Assessing the need for input from subject area experts;
  • Identifying research and data needed to make the case for grant funding;
  • Developing proposals in collaboration with other organizations and community partners;
  • Working productively with evaluation experts;
  • Engaging organization staff members in a respectful, organized way; and,
  • Writing in a clear, declarative manner free of grammatical errors and jargon.

“Expect expert-level knowledge and skills,” said Floersch. “But don’t stop there. Be sure those attributes are grounded in clear communication, integrity, and honesty.” You need a consultant who will provide candid feedback, challenge the logic of an argument, suggest alternative approaches, and promote results-based planning rather than chasing dollars.

“Conduct in-depth interviews,” said Floersch. “Read writing samples, call references, pose questions related to integrity and grantsmanship.” Once you find a great grants consultant, build a strong, trusting relationship. They’re worth their weight in gold. © Copyright 2018 The Grantsmanship Center.