Be Careful about Grant Win Rates!

Grant proposal win rates often are used to measure nonprofit success.  After all, there is a big difference between winning 30 percent and 60 percent of your submissions.  However, win rates are slippery numbers, and they may cloud rather than clarify your business efforts.

Chris Simmons, the founder and president of Rainmakerz, points out that win rates are often “made up, fudged, or otherwise artificially inflated.”  There are two basic ways of calculating a true win rate.

First, you could simply compare the number of proposals that become contracts to the number of total proposals.  For example, if an organization submitted 10 proposals and won four grants, the win rate would be 40 percent.

Another method is to compare the amount of total proposal revenue won through successful bids to the total amount of proposal revenue bid.  For example, if an organization or consultant submitted 20 proposals with budgets of $20 million dollars and won $5 million dollars in new grants, the win rate would be 25 percent.  In this calculation, the number of bids is unimportant.  What counts is the ratio of revenue bid to revenue obtained.

These two kinds of calculations seem very straightforward, but many organizations and consultants have problems with their win rates.  The most prominent ones are:

  • Win rates are rarely audited and impossible to verify.  As a result, they sometimes are inflated to make everyone look good.
  • When organizations and consultants are asked about verifying win rates, they often reply that they cannot disclose their bids or clients.  This makes high win rates suspect.
  • Consultants often do not have a choice about what grant proposals to develop.  Sometimes they are asked to develop proposals that have little likelihood of winning, which will lower their win rates.

In actuality, most organizations have win rates of around 33 percent.  Having a win rate of 50 percent or higher is unusual and impressive.

Because of the inherent difficulty of calculating win rates, they should be treated with great skepticism, especially if they are high.  It is not uncommon for consultants, for example, to advertise win rates of 80 percent.

I think that the best kind of win rate is the one that calculates the total amount of revenue gained through proposal bids.  From my perspective, it does not really matter how many proposals you submit but how much new revenue you gain for your organization.

Albert Einstein once said that “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  Keep this in mind when calculating win rates, and focus on the only number that ultimately counts – $$$$.

1 Comment

  1. What Is Your Grant Win Rate? What Should It Be? | Fundraising for Nonprofits
    February 20, 2013

    […] Neither of these questions is easy to answer, so I did a little research before writing this post. When I Googled “grant win rate,” I came up with a lot of grant writing consultants that advertized win rates of 75 – 95%. I also came up with a post by Jayme Sokolow, contributor on this blog, entitled, “Be Careful about Grant Win Rates” […]


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