Previously, in our Grant Geek Blog, we shared the top three questions you should ask a grant writer during a job interview. Those three questions were important open ended inquiries that will help determine a grant writer’s level of expertise and their work process. However, sometimes you have to go back to the basics and ask some very poignant and quantitative questions that will help you further determine a grant writer’s suitability for your organization. Here are 5 more questions to ask when interviewing a grant writer:
1. How long have you been writing grants?
It is imperative for a writer to have at least three years of experience. This amount of time allows a grant writer to go through the lifecycle of pursuing a grant. There are three stages to the lifecycle: the application phase, the outcome phase and the program implementation phase. Generally, this process takes about three years from beginning of the fiscal year of the application stage, to the end of the fiscal year of the first implementation year. Please note: it does not take three years to apply for a grant and determine the outcome, but three years is generally the amount of time that elapses from the time a grant proposal is identified to the point in time that the first year of implementation is complete. During this three-year period there are many opportunities to receive feedback. This feedback is valuable to the professional development of a grant writer. It is important to determine how this feedback was received and how changes were made to the grant writer’s process thus improving their most valuable skill sets.
2. How much time do you need to write a federal grant?
The answer to this question usually ranges from four weeks to three months and is usually heavily dependent on how much information is available to the grant writer to begin the grant writing process. Once a grant writer has become skilled in their practice, they can determine how long it takes to write 20-30 pages of narrative (60 in some cases) and how long it takes them to collect the additional information that is needed for the forms, budgets, and other attachments. When answering this question, the grant writer should be able to describe a situation that may take them longer versus a situation that may take them less time. The answer to this question will help you determine your grant writer’s ability to manage time and set a timeline.
3. How many federal grants would you like to write a year?
The answer to this question usually ranges from six to 12 for the most accomplished and professional grant writers. While some grant writers are comfortable writing multiple grants at the same time, some grant writers are not. Also, it is important to know that some grant writers like to have down time between grants to allow them to clear their mind and freshen up for the next project. The grant lifecycle sometimes has a “dead season” where not many grants are available. The answer to this question will help you determine if the grant writer is going to be able to meet your goal of the number of grants pursued per year.
4. What is your award rate with federal grants?
This is a challenging question that can be very subjective. Professional grant writers can have award rates that range from 30%-75%. We have found that most grant writers with over a 75% award rate are not writing a significant number of grants per year, either because they are choosing the grants that they are writing or they are refusing to provide services to clients that they are not confident they can get awarded. Of course, there are exceptions. We would all love to be able to say that all grant writers have a 100% award rate, but the number of grants awarded per competition show an accurate depiction of the competitiveness of grant funding. The fundability of most federal grants is 25% or less. Although it is nice getting a grant awarded on the first try, there is often a lot of beneficial feedback that is received from a denial. This helps to improve the success of your project’s implementation when you write and submit the grant for the second time. The answer to this question will allow you to determine your grant writer’s ability to apply for grants with an open mind and their ability to bounce back after a denial.
5. How do you improve your skills as a grant writer?
The answer to this question will help you determine the investment that the grant writer has in the industry and their profession. We have found over the years that the best grant writers are those that are continuously invested in developing their skills and are constantly seeking professional growth opportunities. The answer to this question is not always directly linked to the nonprofit industry. For example, grant writers can grow their professional skills by reviewing communication skills articles provided by Harvard Business Review or they can attend training sessions from The Foundation Center. There really is no right or wrong answer, but the answer will allow you to gauge the writers interest in growing their professional skills.