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Grant Writers as Subcontractors: Problems and Solutions

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I do some grant writing/research for other firms as a subcontractor in addition to the work I do for my own company, GrantWorks. In certain cases, everything functions as it should. This means that:

  • I am hired with enough lead time to perform the job well
  • The project itself is not overwhelming
  • I am to be paid a fair wage for undertaking it
  • The client has been vetted and a determination has been made that they are ready to apply
  • Sufficient background information about the client’s mission and the goals/objectives of whatever they are seeking support for has been obtained

The list can go on. But there are some situations in which some or all of these criteria have not been attended to, either because of circumstance (tight deadlines, for one) or because doing so is not standard business practice. Both are reasons to walk away (not that I always have). So is any hint of the client being sold unnecessary services like data gathering for reporting, compliance, and accounting when, in fact, very little is required, among a number of other such add-ons. In these cases, not only will an inexperienced client be made to pay for items they shouldn’t have, it’s often a sign that they are being charged practically nothing for the grant writing itself. That often translates to the subcontractor not receiving a fair wage for the services provided.

I understand that if the subcontractor agrees to take such a job on, it is their responsibility to deliver on the services for the amount agreed upon, even if it is pennies on the dollar. But if they perform work for a firm that is essentially selling services under false pretenses, then are they also guilty by association? At the very least, these are not great business practices to be linked to if the question can be raised at all, especially when one is in business for oneself. So how can these situations be avoided and how can subcontracting entities and those they hire work together so that clients receive value for their investment, and so that trust is not breached between any of the parties involved?

Tips for subcontracting entities

For one thing, I suggest that subcontracting entities not take on clients wishing to apply for grants with terribly tight deadlines. I understand that this is a difficult rule to adhere to. What is considered too short a notice for one may be feasible for another. But there are some scenarios that should be avoided at all costs.

What is considered too short a notice for one may be feasible for another. But there are some scenarios that should be avoided at all costs.
For instance, I was recently called upon to write a federal grant from scratch with less than one week to submit it. I agreed to take this project on before I knew what the deadline was. Obviously, I should have asked first, but it never occurred to me that I would be asked to do such a thing. Of course, once I said yes, I was obligated (and yes, I got it done). I also wanted to maintain a good relationship with the firm that hired me, though I am questioning that too (especially since I have yet to be paid!). I likely wouldn’t have had such doubts had proper timing been taken into account and timely payment been rendered. In the end, I have neither the ongoing relationship with the subcontracting entity, nor do I have payment for services rendered. And while I did what I thought was better than a good job under the circumstances, I’m quite sure the client didn’t receive any discounts for the possibility of receiving potentially subpar work.

Another suggestion I would make is for the subcontracted grant writer to make sure that the firm hiring you is totally scrupulous. This can be done by checking for complaints and litigation made against the hiring entity on the web, especially at the Better Business Bureau site. One can also ask for a clear explanation, preferably in writing, of exactly how much they are charging their clients and what they are charging for. If they are honest, these kinds of documents should be pro forma. Also, their reaction to such a request is usually a pretty good indication of the quality of the working relationship the contractor is likely to have with them going forward. A less-than-clear explanation is sometimes a good indication of a less-than-trustworthy employer.

I would also suggest that if subcontracting entities want to be able to submit winning grants on an ongoing basis, that they pay for the services they receive rather than offer what typically amounts to less than half of what an independent contractor would charge on their own. I realize that these firms offer the subcontractor a client where there would not otherwise be one. But to ask for the same amount of work for less than half the price may result in the work being less of a priority for the subcontractor. It will definitely ensure that whoever is hired will be looking for greener pastures resulting in a discontinuity in service that may, in turn, result in reduced quality for the client.

I’m sure there are more problems resulting from the issues I’ve raised. I’m also sure there are more ways to address them. What do you suggest?

About the Author

David Lipten, Ph.D., successful grant writerDavid Lipten, Ph.D., owner/consultant at GrantWorkshas written winning federal grant proposals on behalf of a number of electric utilities, garnering nearly $40 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, among other successes. He is based in Tallahassee, FL.  He can be contacted at  granted2u@gmail.com.



About eCivis

eCivis is the nation's leading grants management software solution and the ideal platform for improving local governments' and community-based organizations' grants performance. For more information about eCivis, visit www.ecivis.com. For media inquiries, contact media@ecivis.com.

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