Consultant Vs Development Professional

When I decided to switch gears in my career and move towards nonprofits and charities, I contemplated the differences between becoming a development professional representing a single organization, or moving towards consulting and working with several. There were pros and cons of each option, and I weighed them carefully. 

In the end I decided I wanted to become an independent grant writing consultant because I enjoy helping nonprofits further their missions and I didn’t want to limit myself to just one. Along the way I found a few assumptions, some of which were true and some that were not.

1) Consultants make more money, work less hours and make their own schedules

Yes and no. As a consultant I am able to charge for specific services, and there are months where I earn more income as a consultant than I would as an employee, but there are also months where things are scarce. I have to be very careful with planning my time and my billings in order to ensure cash flow. It is important to remember that as a consultant I am also running my own business, which means I am the accountant, the human resources department, the project manager- the whole staff, on top of being a grant writer. In some ways this means I work lots of non-billable hours managing my business. Don’t discount your benefits package, either- as an independent consultant I pay full price for my insurance and there is no match for my retirement funds.

 2) Consultants have varied areas of expertise

Some consultants focus specifically on one type of funding or one topic. I did not specialize and have enjoyed a broad range of opportunities, funding sources and topics. For example, last month I was writing grants in support of a prototype hip replacement through the National Institutes of Health, a youth gang prevention and rehabilitation mentoring program with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and a capacity building expansion project for technology funding through several private foundations.

3) Consultants are not dedicated to their causes and remain at an arms-length

While I cannot speak for all consultants, I know that personally I do not take on clients with missions that do not spark my passion. It is imperative to me that I am supportive of my nonprofits and their programs- if not I am not the right consultant for their cause. However, I do maintain a professional distance, which allows me to focus on facts and program structure in order to ensure my nonprofit clients receive the funding they need. By drawing on experience from several programs, agencies and experiences I believe I am able to construct logical, concise and clear proposals while maintaining emotional appeal. Development professionals are also able to create this perspective, but I am better able to manage this as an independent consultant.

4) Consultants are too expensive

Consultant fees are varied. According to the American Association of Grant Professionals, grant consultants are not able to ethically charge based on grant awards or percentages. Professional services should be based on the work required. However there are consultants that charge fees this way. As a professional I have decided to charge my fees based on an estimate of the time needed to complete a proposal and the supporting research, and I charge these fees proportionately based on delivery of work product. I also offer supportive services once a grant is awarded, including assistance with reporting data collection and scheduling. This additional service provides two benefits- first, my clients and I are a team as we apply for funding and I have a financial incentive in providing quality applications; and second my awarded proposals will have the necessary ongoing support to ensure my funding agencies are comfortable with my experience. Both of these outcomes strengthen my relationship with my clients and my funding agencies while maintaining professionalism and ensuring proper handling of grant funds.

5) Consultants have a bad reputation

This I have found to be true in the nonprofit world. Horror stories of unscrupulous consultants are frightening and sad. I have heard of consultants who have taken deposit checks and never delivered proposals, promised the moon or guaranteed grant awards because of special preferences that don’t exist, used plagiarized proposals and more. Unfortunately, these people have given the rest of us a bad reputation. Organizations such as the American Association of Grant Professionals have taken steps to help stop these unethical consultants and promote the honest and hard working writers out there. For example, the Grant Professional Certification Institute offers the Grant Professional Certified program, which includes a background screening and verification of professional experience.

Several states have developed licensing programs for fundraising consultants and grant writers- please check with your state government to determine the process for your area. As a professional in Florida I hold a license through the Department of Consumer Affairs. I always advise to be cautious and vigilant when they hire a grant consultant, or any other service provider. Do your research, and only work with someone you trust. I do not advertise other than my general website and a yellow pages listing. Instead I accept limited referrals from my active clients on a case by case basis, and I rely on my reputation for honest and straightforward services rather than advertising.

In the end, I am glad to have taken the route of independent consultant vs. a dedicated development professional. I am blessed to have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects and assist my clients in providing the needed services in my community.

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