Success rates: making a silk purse from a sow’s ear

Success rates: making a silk purse from a sow’s ear

I am often asked by prospective clients what my grant-writing success rate is. It’s a fair question but one that requires a more complex answer than a simple percentage. There’s only so much I can influence and shape through the writing. If some of the key ingredients are missing from your  grant-seeking process and your project is not grant fit, well then to put it bluntly, and to quote an old Scottish proverb: I can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear! Sadly, I am not a magician.

Let’s say I were a tennis racquet manufacturer, and was asked about my championship success rate. How could I measure the number of match wins as a result of players using my brand of racquet? I couldn’t as it would depend on a player’s skill level, past grand slam history and experience, their preparation, fitness, mindset, strategy and tactics. It’s the same with grants: an organisation needs to play the long game – grants don’t produce quick wins – and prepare the groundwork before even thinking about writing a grant.  Here are some things to consider.

Grant-seeking groundwork essentials: 

  • Ensure your website is clear and well-presented with up-to-date financial and annual reports– so funders can do their due diligence
  • Demonstrate integrity and competence across governance, finance, leadership and stakeholder management
  • Present evidence-based programs with measurable outcomes
  • Demonstrate what is unique about your organisation and approach
  • Be able to show that the project is mission-aligned and delivers on your strategy
  • Evidence that any past grants acquittals have been submitted, and on time
  • A funder engagement and stewardship strategy around developing and nurturing relationships with funders
  • A diversified funding base avoiding an over-reliance on grants
  • An understanding of the wider granting environment – types of grants and funders – and an awareness that it’s highly competitive.

So, when a prospective client asks me about my success rate, I reply by asking them about their success rate, what preparation they have done, and what processes they have in place to position themselves for grant wins. It’s not really about me. If a client engages me to write a grant – rather than to carry out a grants fitness audit or to develop a grant-seeking strategy for them – then I am the icing on the cake. They first need to bake the cake by assembling all the ingredients, combining them correctly and at the right time. Then, my writing support can be part of a congruent and well-planned process that increases their chance of grant success.