Retool your gray matter with JONATHAN O'BRIEN and win more grant money!

August 2017
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Grants and Success Rates - Part 2
Posted by: Jon @ 7:39 am

So, just between you, me and this blog — do the math. Not the defense contractor type, but honest math. Calculate your success rate into a percentage — the number of grants (full proposals, not letters) won divided by the number of grants written.

If the grant writing business were to establish the equivalent of a Mendoza line, I believe it would be the 50% mark.

So, if what you just HONESTLY totaled up came out to less than 50%, you’re doing something wrong. And I think I know what.
But more about that in my book, RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the success rate and grant writers who flaunt it in front of clients and workshop attendees. It’s misleading and it doesn’t take into account extenuating circumstances that go far beyond the grant writer’s control. And, frankly, too many grant writers fabricate — or as they say in Hollywood, “re-imagine” — their success rate to impress potential clients, get more work and charge higher rates.

Some grant writers will tally a positive response to a one-page letter of inquiry to a foundation into their success rate, even though they might not win the grant that follows as a result of that. On the other hand, it’s not ALWAYS the grant writer’s fault that an agency doesn’t win a grant, yet that writer’s success rate will always suffer.

And now I can hear your muttering, “Yeah right, spoken like a true grant writer — and probably one who ‘re-imagines’ his own success rate.” Well, for your information, my actual, honest success rate is — no, never mind, it doesn’t matter. Besides, there are too many other indicators of a grant writer’s worthiness and ability.

To me, a better way to judge a grant writer’s track record is to compare the ratio of the client’s total expenditures for a grant writer’s services over a period of time - say, one year — to how much was earned for that client.

Let’s take my last year with one client for an example. I wrote 18 proposals for them. Ten were state grants, six were federal and two were requests to foundations. It was a loooong year. Seven of those were due within a ten day period! But that’s another chapter…in my psychotherapy journal. Of those, we’ve received news about 16. Thirteen of those 16 were funded. Although three months have passed since the announcement deadline, we’re still waiting to hear about the other three (that too is another chapter in itself). Thirteen out of 16 comes out to a success rate of 81%.

However, more telling, I think, is the fact that the client’s expenditure of $60,000 that year resulted in approximately $13 million dollars worth of grants (some lasting as many as four years). In other words, for every $1 of expenditures in professional grant writing services they earned back approximately $216 dollars. If I were in charge of hiring a grant writer, I’d prefer to know a writer’s more verifiable E-to-E ratio rather than their more inflatable and less verifiable success rate.

Oh, and by the way, my overall lifetime success rate is approximately 75%. Honest. So there. Want to know how I do. Check out RIGHT BEFORE YOU WRITE at