Nonprofits love to evaluate: we evaluate programs, we assess how grant funds were used, we review staff performance, we even try to gauge volunteer and client progress. But how many times do grant professionals weigh the grants effort itself... how are we doing as a grants office, what results are we achieving, and what can we do better?
Evaluating the Grants Office can be instrumental in improving grant seeking efforts. The problem arises because no one knows exactly how a grants office can or should be evaluated, especially since getting (or not getting) a grant is determinant on so many factors besides the grant writer. After all, a proposal can be rejected because a funder has no money, or due to a falling out with a key board member, or even because of a hurricane that diverted funds to other causes. The number of times a grant proposal is actually funded because of a grant writer's writing prowess can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand - by all nonprofits within a 5-mile radius!
For supervisors the question then becomes, how do I know if my grant writing team is doing a good job, when I don't take into account the number of grants that they are bringing in? Similarly, consultants want to know how they can show off their skills without mentioning a success rate. Good questions... let's see what the answers might be. First of all, consider the grants function in totality, rather than isolated to a grant writer's writing efforts:
- The grant writer's skill set, qualifications, credentials, and ongoing professional development.
- The number of grants submitted during a given year (this will need to be assessed separately for foundation, corporate and government grants because the amount of time needed to complete each type of proposal varies greatly).
- The amount of research conducted about new grant opportunities.
- The total amount of funds raised through grants (this is not an excellent indicator of performance because funders in the area may be prone to granting small awards but it should be measured in order to assess if the amount is high or low compared to previous years, as well as to create goals for the future).
- The number of new grants received as well as the number of repeat grants (again these numbers can be used to assess past performance and to set future goals).
- Relationship building and stewardship activities (these are important for grant writers to participate in rather than be assigned to other development staff or senior leadership alone).
The Puget Sound Grant Writers' Association has created a good list of benchmarks that will be helpful in assessing how a grant writer is doing. And remember, the best grant writer is he (or she) who can research, write and follow-up well. At least, that's my opinion!