In February, we offered free Grant Readiness Reviews to qualified organizations. In working closely with these clients, a trend emerged regarding staffing. Most organizations wanted to amp up their grant writing efforts, but they did not have the room in their budget to increase their personnel, leading them to rely on volunteers.
There are some challenges when using volunteers for grant writing, due mostly to the inherent nature of volunteering. Volunteers are not paid employees, and it can be dangerous to treat them as such. As they are not tied to their responsibilities by a salary, volunteers can be instable source of support.
In addition, grant development often takes a consistent effort over time. It takes time to research and identify potential funding sources, and for a complex grant, preparing a proposal can take several weeks. Grants are also deadline-based, meaning late nights and some stress are not uncommon. As a result, preparing a grant application is not a task that can be completed well as a part time, sporadic effort. Furthermore, it may take a rejection or two before submitting a winning proposal—a process that can take a year or more. In that time, several volunteers may emerge, produce, and vanish.
However, there are ways to address these challenges when using volunteers, and still have a strong grant effort.
1. High-level Structure and Oversight
Volunteers can come and go, which can be disruptive for an organization's grant effort. One option is to assign someone with a strong commitment to the organization (be it a paid staffer, member of the Board of Directors, or long-term volunteer) to oversee and manage the entire grant process, and to rely on other volunteers for supplemental support. This reduces the risk that volunteer loss (a natural occurence) will derail an organization's grant effort.
2. Funnel down training system
When training volunteers to assist with grant writing, assign small tasks to a large number of volunteers. Start with easy tasks (preparing attachments for a proposal, for example), and then start to increase the difficulty and narrow the volunteer pool as skills and results dictate. By training a number of volunteers to help with grant writing, your organization can put forth a more consistent effort. In addition, there is less risk in using volunteers. If a volunteer moves on, there are others available to fill in where needed.
3. Document processes
Have clear descriptions of tasks for volunteers to perform. Also have processes in place for volunteers to document their tasks and acquired knowledge (for example, ensure that all volunteers are listing potential grant opportunities in the same Excel file in the organization’s central file). This will help guard against the less of knowledge when volunteers move on. Volunteers are wonderful assets for organizations, and they can play a helpful role in grant writing if the organization is properly prepared.