Many people have written to me, or commented on the posting, that they don't understand why contingency payment is bad, and I've tried to explain and re-explain the AFP position (see the links for details). It's not that contingency payment is illegal, it's just against the industry standard, considered an ethical violation by many, and (perhaps most important) frowned upon by the very funders that we're applying to.
But, so far, nobody has given me a compelling reason to question that position. Until last week...
Here's an excerpt from an email conversation I've been having (since it involves a potential ethics violation, I'm keeping the author anonymous - if the author wants to take credit in the comments, that's up to them):
I'll add some comments on the "ethics" of contingencies. Standards set up by grantwriting boards and societies are generally self-serving. Many of the ministries that I support cannot afford Ph.D level research and writing but their causes do merit funding. For example, I am working with a group building a rap studio for positive, drug-free support in one of the most crime ridden neighborhoods in Minneapolis. They don't have the money to risk $50-75 per hour on grants that may not get funded.I certainly cannot dispute the self-serving aspect of the AFP code; after-all, I need to pay my mortgage and bills and can ill afford to wait months on payment for my work - a payment that may or may not ever materialize.
Our resolution is to bill at $20 per hour which they can afford, and then bill at $75 for time after the award, if and when it comes. Quite frankly, the discussion of ethics that I have researched regarding these issues have all centered around putative issues of the appearance of integrity on behalf of the grantwriter (is it or is it not a kickback) and no dialogue has been forthcoming about the IMPACT our services have on the organizations we help support and the clients they serve.
Clients that can afford to pay full scale on the front end are billed in this manner, but those that cannot should not be ignored in the funding process because of self-serving billing practices developed by "grant writing professionals." If that is the standards developed by these societies then I will take the position of Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member."
But I certainly hear the point about the impact on our clients loud and clear. This is not something I've been blind to, and have felt guilty and shamed in times when my work for a client has not immediately resulted in grants that far exceeded my fees. This frustration is part of why I've lately been trying to minimize the amount of grant writing I do as opposed to other services.
I still feel there are valid points to the AFP prohibition against contingency fees, and until the funder community comes to a consensus to the contrary, the grant writers are not likely to change their practices.
But what about those smaller nonprofits that can ill afford to pay for fundraising upfront? How does a startup start up if they cannot raise those first dollars on a contingency? In a very real way, our insistence on the purity of our image is yet another roadblock that grassroots organizations face in their struggle to serve our communities.