Alas, there was yet another heartbreaking story in the news this past week about a grant writing scam conducted against a number of nonprofits trying to secure grant funding. Stories about grant writing scams crop up around the country occasionally, always with different details, but with the same punch line of disappointed grant seeking organizations already in need of resources, now further behind then when they started. This time the story was about a number of organizations in the City of Buffalo that were victim to a scam, and this story hit particularly close to home as I grew up in Western New York and still have numerous family members living throughout the community. You can read more about the specifics of this specific scam and how the New York State Attorney General laid out the charges in the case at The Buffalo News website here.
What are we, as grant professionals – whether full-time, part-time, employee, or consultant, to do in light of grant writing scams such as this?
I believe that we need to speak up. We need to increase awareness and understanding of the Grant Professionals Association‘s Code of Ethics. We need to educate about what the Grant Professional Certified means in our field. We need to highlight that our profession is just that, professional, and that the intent and ability of a person to complete a scam, has nothing to do with the integrity of the field as a whole.
Tips to Avoid a Grant Writing Scam
If you are a grant seeking organization looking to work with an external consultant, consider these three tips:
1. Use the Grant Professionals Association Consultant Directory when looking for an external grant professional to work with.
2. Ask potential grant consultants for your organization if they are a member of the Grant Professionals Association or Association of Fundraising Professionals (both have similar codes of ethics). These codes of ethics outline many critical points, but also address the fact that paying a grant professional a commission of what they secure for your organization is unethical in the field.
3. Ask for references and when speaking with the references, in addition to asking how the professional was to work with, ask if they knew the grant professional prior to their working engagement to try and unearth references that are friends or family.
Also, while the tips above address organizations proactively hiring an external grant professional and the way to avoid being taken advantage of, there are unfortunately an entirely differnt type of grant scam where nonprofit organizations and businesses are being directly contacted about “receiving a grant.” There was a great post from Grants.gov in July of 2017, Is This a Grant Scam that addressed this type of scam. Remember, a grantmaker will NEVER call to tell you that your organization has received a grant award, but before they give you the grant you must…”Pay them $xx.” or “Give them bank account info over the phone so your grant can be deposited.” and so on.
While our blog focuses on grant writing industry best practices and success stories, I felt that there is value in opening the dialogue about grant writing scams and how to spot and avoid them as a way for all of us that interact in the space of grant professionalism to continue to raise the bar for our field.
Do you have other tips or stories to share? Please share them in the comments below or email them to our team directly at email@example.com.
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Great article, thank you. I’m a Grant Writer for a Buffalo-based organization, and this story was all over the local news.
Also, I have to tell you, the “please give back account info over the phone to receive grant” routine isn’t always an indicator of a scam, as I just found out. We were recently awarded a small $8,000 grant from Uber, and in order to receive the funds we had to–you guessed it—provide all of our banking info on a sketchy-looking online form. We had many back-and-forths with the Uber people, asking if they could just mail a check,as well as several conversations with our CFO, and ultimately caved and provided the info. It wasn’t a scam and we happily had the funds directly deposited the other day, but it definitely had all the trappings of a scam. And this from a company as large as Uber!
Thanks for sharing the information about your interaction with the process to receive the corporate grant funds from Uber. It is a good reminder for us to be skeptical so that we do our due diligence and then can be confident in enjoying the award in situations like that.
This story made me sit up in my seat when I saw it on my local Buffalo news broadcast! My wife asked me how an organization could fall for such a plot, and I mentioned the need for organizations to do their homework: research the person or company, ask for references, etc., just as you did. Unfortunately, a dishonest person can target an entity that perhaps has less professional/business experience (such as a church) that would lead a person to perform those reviews.
Also, just think if the scammer had forged additional references. She had already forged letters from a state official, so a prepared scammer could be prepared to answer those questions.
I agree that GPA would make a perfect source for news agencies to contact for professional advice on how to avoid these scams and find themselves a qualified professional. I’m not sure how else to get that information out so the public at large knows how to avoid scams BEFORE they happen.
You’re right – a dishonest person can go to great lengths to create a story/cover their tracks, and this is true in fields beyond grant seeking. I believe that the more of us as grant professionals that help spread the word about GPA, our code of ethics, and the professionalism of our field, the less chance a dishonest person will have to take advantage of well-meaning organizations.
I am looking for an honest grant writer for my organization. Can you refer me to someone
Our entire team abides by the GPA code of ethics and we are happy to talk to you about how we can help. Please use this link and schedule a mutually available time to set up a phone call. https://live.vcita.com/site/dhleonardconsulting/online-scheduling?service=7e5e6e5b