They say the key to a successful organization is having the best people in the correct positions…..this couldn’t be more true when it comes to grant writing. Grant writing is a specialized industry and those that have the skills and a successful track record of getting grants awarded are hard to find. Grant writers usually start out their careers in another position before they are asked to write a grant. With the dozens of grant writers we interview each year, we have always found this to be the case. There are three main questions we have found helpful in identifying a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Every organization should ask them when interviewing a grant writer.
- Tell us about a grant that you wrote solely and was funded? Tell us about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them? There are multiple environments in which a grant writer must thrive. Some writers have worked for multiple organizations as the sole writer, some have worked with one large organization with a team of writers, while others have worked as a sole writer for one large organization. When interviewing a grant writer, it is important to determine which type of environment the applicant is familiar with and make sure it is consistent with the environment that you wish to place them in. Unfortunately, we find some writers attempt to take full credit for a grant when in fact they worked in a team environment and were only partially responsible for the writing. There is nothing wrong with this type of collaboration, but if you are planning to make the writer the sole person responsible for an entire grant, then they may become overwhelmed due to the fact that they will now be taking on all of the responsibilities. The same is true conversely if you have writer that is used to working on their own and now you are requesting that they work with a team; you will need to make sure that they are capable of working with multiple people.
- How do you make sure that all details are captured in an RFP? Explain your process of review? Request for Proposals are large documents with many details and it is easy to miss important requirements and lose track of allowable elements. That is why it’s important for each grant writer to have their own internal process to check the RFP multiple times. Most often, grant writers will say that they review the RFP multiple times and highlight sections and make notes. It’s also a common practice to create a check sheet of important elements to make sure they don’t miss anything. Answers to this question do not usually vary, but it’s an important question, because if a writer says they don’t usually have a problem keeping everything straight, it may be an indicator that they have not been writing grants long enough.
- How do you work with a challenging person who you need to get information from? Most of the time when a writer is working on a grant, they will have to seek out information from other sources. Unfortunately, these outside sources (individuals in this case) have other projects they are working on and are often “too busy” to provide you with what you need. It is important for a grant writer to have the people skills needed to collect the information for the grant without creating turmoil within the organization. Some common responses to this question include techniques where the grant writer works on building a relationship with the individuals prior to the grant writing process, so that people are often more at ease when asked for information.
The above questions are our top three most important questions to ask every grant writing applicant. They are in addition to the basic questions that must also be asked, which include, How long have you been writing grants? How many grants have you written? Were you the sole writer? What is your award rate? Which funders do you have the most experience with?
When hiring a grant writer we keep an open mind about a person’s background. Depending on the level of involvement that you want with your grant writer, you can often grow an individual’s experience by working with them to write a grant. In the end, “the proof is always in the pudding” when analyzing award rates. Keep in mind that sometimes it takes several attempts to get a grant.