What is your success rate?
We all want guarantees in life. We want to know, especially in this year of unusual change, that we will get the results we want when we want them.
I believe this desire for success is what leads clients to ask me about my success rate. They believe that, if my success rate is high, that means I am good at what I do, and will be successful at getting them grants for all their projects.
Unfortunately, there are two problems with using the success rate as a measure of how effective we will be at getting grants: the varying definitions of success rate, and the measure of true success in grant writing.
What is the definition of success rate in grant writing?
When clients ask me about my success rate, I sometimes turn the question back on them. What do they definite as a success rate for a grant writer? I have heard so many different answers:
- How much have you gotten in grant funding throughout your career?
- How many grants that you write get funded?
- What is your average grant award size?
While all these are valid questions, the numbers can get very skewed based on the grant writer’s focus and tenure at their job. For instance, a grant writer may only be on the job for a year, but have gotten thousands or even millions in grants. But, how did they get those grants in such a short amount of time? They may have been renewals of previous grants, so the grant writer may have not done much work at all, just updated an application. Similarly, if the grant writer’s focus is on less competitive grants (training grants for example), they may get a lot of money and a lot of grant awards for their clients in short amount of time.
While average award size is a commonly used measure, receipt of a large federal grant (after applying for 30 of them) will definitely skew the numbers.
In general, while there are many versions of the success question, it is very hard to figure out if the grant writer has been successful by asking any of the above questions. If it helps, even grant writers have a hard time agreeing on the definition of success rate.
What is the measure of true success in grant writing?
So, what is the true measure of success in grant writing? In my humble opinion, the way to measure a grant writer’s success is by allowing her to talk about her or her team’s approach to grant writing and their history. Our team, for example, has collectively gotten over $260 million in grants. We have gotten a mix of grants, from state to federal and small to large award size. We have gotten grants for education, technology, equipment and program projects.
What we will never do, however, even with all our success, is guarantee our clients that we will get them a grant. That is very dependent on a number of factors, including the completeness and accuracy of information the client provides; the politics behind the grant application (are they interested only in funding grants in northern Illinois for example, even though it is advertised as a state wide grant); and the competition for grant funds.
We do promise our clients that we will write the most competitive grant application given the information they provide. We also incorporate practices into our research and writing process to increase the probability of success, including a third party review of federal grant applications and prioritizing possible funding opportunities with those that are a “best fit” with client’s projects given the highest priority on the research summaries presented to clients. All in all, I believe that makes us very successful!