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Nonprofit Education

The Myth of Grant Writer Success Rates

Potential clients often ask about our grant writing success rate. BryteBridge is privileged to work with a diverse group of nonprofits at all stages of their organizational lifecycle. We work with nonprofits just starting up and within their first year of operation, as well as multi-million-dollar nonprofits that are well-established and have decades of activity. Because we worked with such varied nonprofits, this question is difficult to answer. Because questions about our success rate are often asked, we want to dispel some myths surrounding grant writer success rates and why it is not necessarily the best way to evaluate a potential proposal writer.

Grant Availablity Is Limited

Proposal writing is truly a numbers game, and the numbers are stacked against applicants. In 2020, there were 1.8 million 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits in the United States. Only 9.2% of organizations were grantmaking organizations or foundations. Many of those roughly 165,000 grantmaking organizations are small foundations with limited giving budgets. Grant seekers far outweigh grantmakers, which makes grant funding incredibly competitive. The creation of new nonprofits annually far outpaces the creation of private foundations, which means year after year, it will only get increasingly more competitive to win grant funding.

The national average success rate for proposal writing is roughly 10%. One in every ten grant applications submitted across the board is approved and funded. Since 10% is an average, some writers will have a lower percentage and some higher. A 20% or 30% success rate is a high percentage in the grant writing community but sounds incredibly low to those unfamiliar with the process. People advertising a significantly higher success rate usually are employed with a single organization for many years. They have effectively built long-term, lasting relationships with a portfolio of funders. These individuals often act as major gift officers but with a formal application component to their work. While they are never guaranteed funding, they are better positioned to make an ask of a funder they have worked with previously.

Success Rates Can’t Be Proved

Success rates are also challenging to prove, even when provided. There’s no database highlighting grant submissions written by specific authors. The best someone could do to establish a grant writer’s track record would be to look at 990s of funders to see what organization was funded and at what amount, but you would need to reach out to the individual organization to prove the writer was telling the truth. This process would also be incredibly time-consuming to track down the correct charity and find the right person to contact. Even if you reach out to each charity on a writer’s roster, the chance of receiving a response is slim.

A proposal often has many components that affect a writer’s success rate outside the grant writer’s control. Even seasoned proposal writers face barriers regardless of how well an application may be written. An applicant could have the best-written proposal, but if the organization’s financials or supporting documents do not meet the funder’s standards, or there’s a more substantial proposal or other applicants with established relationships, this is detrimental to the proposal as a whole. Grant funders sometimes reject applications for arbitrary reasons, such as the order received or a cut-off number not transparently established. A proposal could also be incredibly well written, but not a project the funder is interested in, or the foundation’s board is only funding specific kinds of projects not transparently stated on the funder’s website (if they have a website).

Not All Nonprofits Are Equal

If an 18-year-old student with no credit history and no money in their bank account apply for a mortgage, they will likely be unsuccessful. This individual is not mortgage-ready. However, if a middle-aged person with established finances and a history of credit success applies, they will most likely land the mortgage – they are mortgage-ready. Like the 18-year-old student, a nonprofit organization may not be ready to apply for significant funding.

As consultants, we often work with nonprofits that may not yet be grant-ready and aim to educate them on what is required for competitive applications. We attempt to steer clients toward other fundraising opportunities when they are not grant-ready. However, sometimes our clients still want to press forward with grant submissions. We are very transparent with our clients on their chances based on where they are in their lifecycle and operations. We do everything we can to meet our clients where they are and provide fundraising alternatives. Still, if a client insists on undertaking grants, we will work with them, knowing it is an even more complicated process for them to be funded, negatively impacting our success rate.

Takeaway

No grant proposal writer can guarantee funding success, and BryteBridge is no different. We can ensure solid foundation research, the number of submissions made on your behalf, reliable and practical advice regarding grant relationship management, and the proposals’ quality. Proposal writing comes down to accurate information and a well-rounded strategy, which BryteBridge is poised to provide.

If you’re ready to partner with BryteBridge and begin your grant application journey, don’t hesitate to contact one of our consultants today.

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