Insight Grants

“Do I Need a Consultant to Apply for a Grant?”

Honestly, the answer is probably no, you do not need a consultant to apply for a grant.

I’ve never seen a grant that obligated the applicant (through the application guidelines or the program requirements) to utilize a consultant. There’s no special certification or particular program of education needed to be a grants consultant. While some tools exists, there aren’t even tools that are “must haves” for this field beyond the basics of a computer, the internet, and basic word processing and spreadsheet software, and a heck of a lot of time.  Why, then, do we even exist? Do we serve any purpose at all? Of course I feel that we do. Our value is similar to that of most consultants: this is what we do all day long, so we know the field.

It’s not that grants are so complicated that the average person can’t figure them out, it’s really just that the average person doesn’t always have time to devote to the work of researching grant opportunities and writing grant applications and usually isn’t familiar enough with the field to know what’s out there, where to look, and how the various funding processes work. That’s where consultants come into play.

Do grants consultants know all there is to know about grants? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, the grants field is not always a clear one. Even those of us doing grants all day every day for years do not have all of the answers. There are many, many grant funders and even many more funding streams in the US. All of this involves countless individuals who participate in the program development, application review, and program oversight and evaluation processes along the way. While there are similarities among the many grant funding streams, each works a little differently. A consultant with a strong background in funding research who has applied to many funding streams multiple times is going to be able to offer the applicant solid direction and valuable input throughout the grant identification, application, and implementation and evaluation processes based on knowledge and experience, but cannot know every possible caveat or potential outcome for every program. There are simply too many variables. This is also why no grants consultant can guarantee with 100% certainty that your grant will win if the grant program is competitive.

So what are you paying for and why? Why take the risk of investing in a consultant if you don’t even know if you’ll win the grant? If you hire a grants consultant, you’re paying for time and knowledge. You still have to participate in the process no matter what, and your time contribution may be significant depending on the application, but it will be notably lessened with a consultant’s assistance. This frees you up to do all of the other things you’re supposed to be doing all day, like your regular job and meeting your home and other personal obligations. Our client contacts tend to be highly productive, intelligent, and resourceful folks that simply don’t have the time to devote to writing applications alone, learning how various grant programs work, or designing appropriate program evaluation plans. Basically, our job is to lighten their load by helping out with the grant work and advising them based on what we’ve seen over the years. While consultants don’t know everything, simply working regularly in the field provides a wealth of knowledge about basic grant processes, how to obtain information, program histories and current funding availability, and specific program rules—both publicly released and otherwise. A good consultant should be able to improve your chances of winning grants—in the immediate and long-term. Even if you don’t win the first grant the consultant writes, simply working with the consultant through the process should demystify the process some so that moving forward you have a better sense of how to grants work and what is required for success.

Is it possible to just go it alone? Absolutely. You can apply for and implement and evaluate grants without assistance if you have at least the minimum resources needed to do so.

So what are the crucial, minimal resources needed to be successful in the grants arena?

  • A computer with the internet and word processing and spreadsheet software
  • Solid writing skills
  • Time management skills and the ability to adhere to deadlines
  • Organizational skills
  • Time
  • Basic knowledge of the requirements of the program you are applying to or implementing funding from (At barest minimum, this would mean knowledge of the RFP for research applications, implementation, and evaluation, plus knowledge of any evaluation guidelines established by the funder for implementation and evaluation.)

If you have more resources than the above—for examples, in depth or historical knowledge of programs, particularly strong writing skills, a good editor, an evaluator or assessment professional, or a coalition of organizations or individuals that will support you throughout the process—you’re likely to increase your chances or level of success. A good consultant—and do be sure to get a good one with experience in the area you’re focused on, if you’re going to invest the money—can help here.

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