Positioning Grant Writers For Success

Unrealistic Expectations, Pay Practices That Grantors Often See As Tainting The Funding Process, And Poor Planning And Follow Through, Can Doom The Best To Failure

Some of the most heated discussion in the nonprofit world centers on grant writing. Why? Because so much is riding on it. It is the rare organization that could continue to carry out its mission anywhere near as effectively if its grants dried up, and for many, such an occurrence would sound the death knell.

Of the three basic sources of money for non-profits—earned income, donations from individuals, and grants—the process of getting a grant is the most puzzling. All but the smallest organizations are likely to have people on staff or use outside counsel who specialize in grant writing. The demand for skilled grant writers, coupled with the mystery that seems to surround successful grant writing, leads to some troubled areas for development professionals and non-profit organizations.

Two questions are central: How do you evaluate the performance of grant writers and how do you pay them?

How Do You Evaluate
The Performance Of Grant Writers?

I have seen many resumes with statements like the following, “The grants I write are awarded funds 80% of the time.” A recent query to an Internet newsgroup by an executive director asked, “My grant writer has a grant success rate of 41%. How does that compare with the standard of other organizations?”

Grant writers touting a past high percentage of grant attainment to impress potential employers are in danger of setting themselves up for future failure. How many of us would want to go into a new work environment with the expectation that 80% of the grant applications we submit would be approved? Not me!

Executive directors who see the success or failure of grant-getting as residing in the hands of the grant writer are failing to take into account something even more important than the grant application—the purpose of the funding. Poorly delineated projects, “soft” budgets, and a host of other weaknesses cannot be overcome by a well crafted grant proposal. The awarding of grants has more to do with function than form, and grant writers are not usually the ones who make the policy and practice recommendations that lead to a search for funding.

When it comes to measuring performance, I believe grant writers should be evaluated on the quality of their work. What I expect of a grant writer as written into a job description might read something like the following.

The grant writer will:

  1. Through interviews and other means, gather information that will easily allow him/her to grasp the concept of a project or program for which funding is sought as defined by the person responsible for carrying it out.
  2. Acquire and maintain sound knowledge and understanding of the organization, and use that knowledge and understanding to better comprehend all projects and programs for which grants will be sought and to recommend the seeking of grants.
  3. Research grant-making organizations and analyze them to identify likely funding sources for specific projects and programs.
  4. Compile, write, and edit all grant applications exhibiting strong expository writing skills and a high-level command of grammar and spelling.
  5. Review the budget of a project or program for which funding is sought and make recommendations to better present it to grant-making organizations.
  6. Develop individual grant proposals in accordance with each grant-making organization’s preferences and follow exactly each grant-making organization’s guidelines.
  7. Keep in contact with grant-making organizations during their review of a submitted grant application in order to be able to supply additional supportive material.
  8. Manage the process of supplying progress reports when required by a grant-making organization that has funded a project or program.

Any grant writer I hired was expected to carry out the above duties well. Doing so left me satisfied with his or her performance. Grant award or no grant award, the grant writer was successful. It was never my grant writer’s job to get the grant, rather the job was to make the best case possible to appropriate funding organizations.

How Do You Pay A Grant Writer?

Few topics generate more heated discussion in non-profit organizations than whether professional grant writers should be paid a percentage of the money raised, receive commission-based compensation, or be paid a performance bonus. Perhaps because it is a practice of giving financial rewards to grant writing professionals contingent upon the achievement of fixed money goals, we can simply refer to it as “contingent-pay.” Whatever you want to call it, two things are becoming more and more apparent.

  1. The practice is increasing.
  2. The practice is troubling the grant writing profession.

I recognize the difficulties that cash-strapped non-profit organizations have in providing upfront, fair compensation to consultant (or staff) grant writers for the legitimate and important work they perform. In many instances, it has become a common practice to make compensation contingent on the award of a grant. Nevertheless, there are concerns this practice raises which need to be addressed.

Often, the professional ethics of those seeking such contingent-pay for grant writing are brought into question. While I see problems with giving grant writers a percentage of the funds awarded by grantors, I do not think that the willingness, or even the preference, to write grants on a percentage, commission, or bonus basis automatically indicates a lack of ethics.

To me, the answer to the question of why contingent-pay is so troublesome—and often incites highly charged emotions—seems obvious. It is one thing for grant writing professionals to discuss grant writing techniques and philosophies and to strenuously air disagreements. It is quite another to tell people that the way or amount they are paid is unethical.

Rather than preach against contingent pay as unethical behavior, I prefer to share with contingent-pay seekers (and providers) some real-life consequences of such arrangements which mainly puts the livelihood of the grant writer at risk. I believe grant writers should never agree to contingency pay. It is simply not fair for hard working grant writers to receive little or no pay for their efforts due to many reasons beyond their control. I’ll list several of those reasons which I have seen crop up time and time again, resulting in rejected proposals. In those instances, a grant writer’s time and effort were wasted and she or he received no compensation for their good faith professional services:

  • Say an organization wants someone to write a grant proposal for a project costing $118,000 and that the grant writer was to be paid a 5% commission if the grant is approved. It is almost always a requirement by funders that every dollar to be raised for and spent on projects be accounted for on a line-item basis. For many funders, the line item in the budget showing $5,900 for grant-acquisition services, would be reason enough to deny the grant. It would make no difference what the commission size or even if the contingency-pay were a flat fee.
  • Grant-writing expenses are seen as part of an organizations operating budget. Few if any foundations, corporations, or governmental organizations are willing to make a grant when a portion of the money granted is to be used to pay a grantwriting fee. Remember, the grant is being requested for a specific project, not to offset operating expenses nor to disguise a professional fee. A non-profit or a grant writer that fails to take the possibility of such a caveat into consideration may be facing a rude awakening.
  • Discerning and experienced program officers can readily see right through, and will reject, poorly delineated projects, “soft” and questionable budgets, and a host of other weaknesses which cannot be overcome by well crafted grant proposals.
  • An ineffective and failing “selling” job might be made during a presentation meeting by an organization’s officials.
  • You do not know in advance the foundations which are over committed to funding other organizations, have limited resources, thus they will not have funds available for you at the time, nor possibly for some time to come.
  • What if the grant was to be paid out over a number of months—even years? Would an organization be willing to pay the grant writer for the services rendered in full at the moment of grant approval? Should the grant writer be willing to accept a compensation payment schedule in sync with that of the grant award which could be spread out over several years?
  • The grant writer should be ready to accept the fact that she or he will receive little pay for a major work, should a much lesser amount be granted than was originally requested.
  • A grant writer could conduct the best possible research, make the most helpful recommendations, and even voice strong protests and caution when called for—but project directors and executive directors will prevail should they insist that the grant request be written in spite of flaws and concerns. They will say to the grant writer: “We’ll send it anyway, what have we got to lose?” They should ask the grant writer that question who stands to lose a great deal.
  • Most grantors have greater vision than grant-proposal-submitting organizations. Grantors routinely look for assurance from the organizations that what they fund will be reasonably evaluated and measured in the longer term for effective and efficient use of their money, and that the organizations have future financial sustainability plans in place, or pending—especially that there are well developed long-range, strategic plans in place or being planned. A grant writer’s best efforts expended in the writing of a given proposal simply cannot be extended or expected to meet such governance and policy-making requirements and expectations.
  • Grant proposals, even the best of them, are all too often prepared and presented to potential grantors when the organizations have no, or few, other important sources of contributions to show, especially from their boards of trustees. Chances are slim to none for grant awards when there are no other visible and viable sources of support available to the organization.
  • The hope for grants to be awarded to ensure payment for the grant writer’s efforts is even more uncertain, and most unlikely, when proposals are stretched beyond practical and common sense limits, and they are presented to new, potentially uninterested, prospects—some even to distant, uncaring potential benefactors—as is often the case.

In the end, grant writers should be paid for their time and efforts by the hour or project, whether or not the grant is received. I question whether an organization unable to pay a fair fee for work done is likely to survive. Few non-profits forced to operate in ways not fully in accord with accepted professional standards flourish and grow.

I believe in the standards that have resulted from thousands of grant writing professionals working to help raise billions of dollars over decades of time. For me, not everything should be a matter of personal opinion; codes of ethics are established through collective wisdom because we do need absolutes by which to work and live. When I see all the wrong that can befall an organization or a grant writer in contingent-pay schemes, I cannot imagine for the life of me why either would want to go that route.

What Should You Do
Before Engaging An Outside Grant Writer?

Accomplished, experienced grant writing consultants are in demand and they are not cheap. Therefore, you should do as much of the preparation work as possible yourself. This will allow you to spend your consulting dollars where they are really needed — the actual grant writing. Also, the better prepared you are, the more likely you will be to attract the best grant writers. Before you engage a grant writer, you should already have:

  1. Defined the project or program you want to get funded.
  2. Developed the essence of your “Case for Support.”
  3. Identified prospective grant sources for the project or program.
  4. Determined who will actually solicit the funds and how they will do it.

Begin the definition process by first setting your grant-seeking priorities as they fit within your organization’s long-range strategic plan and mission. The three basic areas for which you are likely to be seeking grants are to:

  1. Create new programs and services.
  2. Support ongoing programs and services.
  3. Provide annual operating funds.

Then clearly and precisely define each project or program for which you will seek grants in terms that grant-making organizations will recognize and respond to. Make sure that while you’re doing this you also plan for life after the grant. How will you support the project or program in the future if it is to last longer than the timeframe covered by the grant? It’s a question every grant making organization will want answered.

Be certain that you have reasonably determined in advance the scope, intent, and “case” value to the community of the project or program you wish to have funded before you engage a grant writer. If you ask the grant writer to do this, he or she will have to learn your organization’s capabilities and community’s needs in the specific areas. It makes no sense to pay someone on the outside to do this. Those who run your organization already have this knowledge. Also, when you meet with grant makers you will be better able to respond to questions if you have developed the case.

Identifying the sources most likely to make a grant to an organization such as yours for the purpose you have defined is crucial to the process of grant application. The public library, the Foundation Center, your trustees, and others in your community are excellent sources of this information. Check your state Attorney General’s office to see if it publishes a list of foundations. Go through other non-profit organizations’ annual reports to look for funders. Then be sure to contact as many foundations and other grant making organizations as possible to get their grant seekers’ guidelines and grant awarding calendar.

While most experienced grant writers, particularly if they operate in your geographic and “services” areas will know such information, doing your own research will let you better direct the grant writer’s efforts. It is not hard to do and will establish a process and routine you can follow in future grant- seeking opportunities. Plus the information and expertise stays in your organization.

Never ask a grant writer to be the actual solicitor of funds. You and others within your organization are the best people to present your case. Why would you want a grant writer with whom you have a temporary relationship to represent you to grant makers? Why let the outside grant writer build a personal relationship you or your trustees could be nurturing? Besides, foundations want to meet the people who operate and are committed to an organization — not an outsider on a temporary hire.

Prepare well before you engage a grant writing consultant and you will save money while putting your organization in a better position to attain the grants for which you apply.

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of material here. Everything from paying and evaluating grant writers to using consultants. But by no means have we exhausted the topic of grant writers and grant writing. Neither I nor anyone else has all the answers on this subject. My goal here is to encourage you to look at grant writers, how you use them, and how you pay them within the context of:

  1. Your organization’s mission.
  2. Your organization’s fund-raising agenda.
  3. Grant making organizations and what they are likely to expect of you.


From time to time, consultant grant writers and organizations, seeking to engage a grant writer on a temporary or project basis, want to know what amount of fee is fair and reasonable. And non-profits want to know where they might find such accomplished professional grant writers. Here are my personal observations on both those inquiries.

General Grant Writing Pay Rates

Fees charged by grant writers will range far and wide. But from what I have seen, experienced and capable grant writers charge about $60 per hour. I’ve seen some fees in the area of $100 per hour and more, and then I have seen some very low fees—well under $50. I believe that the $60 to $70 per-hour range is usual, and with the right person, it is fair and reasonable. Naturally, the hourly rate and the resultant total fee will be significantly impacted by the relative efficiency of each grant writer. As well, grant writers could charge by the project once they assess the full range and scope of the job, but the flat fee for time expended would probably closely factor out to the hourly rate I cited.

However, as I strongly encourage in my article, neither party should in any way arrange compensation to be paid on a “contingent-pay” basis. That is, do not enter into a contract which would have a grant writer paid a commission, bonus, or percentage of a grant award—or from any other available funds. And especially do not arrange payment upon award of the grant in the first place.

How to Find Grant Writing Jobs

When you are ready to start your own grant writing consulting career, or you want to increase your client base, you might be able to secure freelance grant writing opportunities in some, or all, of the following ways:

  • Send letters to development officers of non-profits in the geographic area of your choice (United Way, universities, hospitals, etc.), and let them know that you are available. Get your resume’ up to date and ready. You might just make contact at the right time when an organization is in the middle of a full-time grant writer search, and could make good use of your interim freelance services. Not to mention the many additional non-profits with no such full-time staff position which are generally in need of the services of a freelance grant writing professional.
  • Be a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or otherwise attend the local chapter’s regular open lunch/program meetings. It is one of the best ways to get to know individuals who work for non-profits and to have them know that you are in the consulting business should they have a grant writing need some time or another. This is true as well with board members of organizations who are at those meetings. It’s the best possible, “Let me have your business card,” opportunity during the “Attitude Adjustment” half-hour prior to the usual lunch program. See your nearest AFP Chapter from their geographic search page.
  • “Network!” Make inquires at the AFP chapter, and other places where there might be opportunities to speak on grant writing topics. Offer your free lecture services. Maybe the local Library, United Way, Business Volunteerism organization, or University, would welcome such a talk as part of their production of seminars and community programs specific to non-profits, or general in nature. To stand up in front of a group comprised of individuals from non-profits, and deliver a talk on the process of grant writing, is one of the best ways for them to see and hear you in action.
  • “Speak!” Identify fund-raising consulting firms or individual fund-raising consultants at work in your area. Do some research “through the grapevine” to know of the best ones. Perhaps a firm needs you as a new grant writing consultant to add to its team, or perhaps an individual professional’s business is growing and she or he would welcome a partner/colleague such as you.
  • “Expand The Market Potential!” Write an article of the type which might be of interest to your local newspaper’s writer on things philanthropic. Offer an article, or articles, on grant writing to some of the non-profits at work in your area for publication in their newsletters. Look for any opportunity to have something you have written be published somehow, somewhere, in your community: i.e., Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.
  • “Publish!” From your experience as a development professional, collect the names of the board members with whom were were associated, and get their addresses if you can, or you’ll need to do your own phone book research. Many of the board members whom you served, or otherwise knew, when you worked as a development professional, most likely are members of other boards of trustees for other organizations. Remind them of your good association during your development professional time with them, and ask that they consider your services when the need arises as they serve on the boards of other community organizations.
  • “Referrals!” Visit program officers and corporate contributions managers, or otherwise make known to them your credentials and availability to provide grant writing services. As they talk to grant seekers and grant getters, these stewards of foundation and corporate money many times want to be in position to name grant writing consultants for the benefit of those organizations to contact as a resource for their fund-raising needs. While it’s good to be mentioned in that way, we are especially blessed when those grant givers actually recommend us by name.
  • “Endorsements!” I’ve advertised, mailed, and otherwise distributed my consulting services brochure”Network!”all with limited success, relative to time and expense expended for relatively scant return. What worked best over time, and accounted for almost all of my engagements with clients, was the good old WOM (Word Of Mouth.) Do all you can to have your name readily recalled and mentioned—and better yet, recommended—when the subject of available, experienced, and capable,– –grant writing professionals comes up.

Additional Job Opportunity Resources

Job listing sites

Professional Associations

How to Find Grant Writers

  • Contact development offices of a few of the largest non-profit organizations near you (United Way, university, hospital, etc.), and ask to (personally and confidentially) talk to their grant writers. Many times, such professionals are eager to, and are allowed, by their employers, to “moonlight” by producing proposals for other, non-directly-competing, organizations.
  • When you contact those non-profits in your area and you find no staff grant writer employed, ask to speak to the Development officer and inquire about any grant writers he or she might have hired on a consulting basis. Many times, such organizations cannot justify a full-time grant writer, and do hire on a part-time, or special project, basis, thus being in a good position to make helpful referrals for your search.
  • Contact the nearest chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in your area to search for a grant writer. Usually, there are many such leads to be found there. Use this AFP Web page to find the exact geographic location to your area:

Grant Writers’ Tool Kit

  • Common Grant Application Form
  • Tips For Proposal Writing
  • Be Ready For Questions A Program Officer Might Ask

Common Grant Application Form

(Courtesy: Minnesota Center For Nonprofits)

Use the following outline as a guide to your proposal narrative. Most grantmakers prefer up to five pages, excluding attachments, but be sure to ask each individual funder if they have page limitations or any additional requirements. Also, include a cover letter with your application that introduces your organization and proposal and makes the link between your proposal and the mission of the grantmaker to whom you are applying.

— Attachments & Proposal Check-list —


A. Brief summary of organization history including the date your organization was established.

B. Brief summary of organization mission and goals.

C. Brief description of organization’s current programs or activities, including any service statistics and strengths or accomplishments. Highlight new or different activities, if any, for your organization.

D. Your organization’s relationship with other organizations working with similar missions. What is your organization’s role relative to these organizations?

E. Number of board members, full time paid staff, part-time paid staff, and volunteers.

F. Additional information required by each individual funder.


(General operating proposals: Complete Section A below and move to Part III – Evaluation)
(All other proposals: Complete Section B below and move to Part III – Evaluation)

A. General Operating Proposals

1. The opportunity, challenges, issues or need currently facing your organization.

2. Overall goal(s) of the organization for the funding period.

3. Objectives or ways in which you will meet the goal(s).

4. Activities and who will carry out these activities.

5. Time frame in which this will take place.

6. Long-term funding strategies.

7. Additional information regarding general operating proposals required by each individual funder.

B. All Other Proposal Types

1. Situation

a. The opportunity, challenges, issue or need and the community that your proposal addresses.
b. How that focus was determined and who was involved in that decision- making process.

2. Activities

a. Overall goal(s) regarding the situation described above.
b. Objectives or ways in which you will meet the goal(s).
c. Specific activities for which you are seeking funding.
d. Who will carry out those activities.
e. Time frame in which this will take place.
f. How the proposed activities will benefit the community in which they will occur, being as clear as you can about the impact you expect to have.
g. Long-term strategies (if applicable) for sustaining this effort.


A. Describe your criteria for success. What do you want to happen as a result of your activities?

B. How will you measure these changes?

C. Who will be involved in evaluating this work (staff, board, constituents, community, consultants)?

D. What will you do with your evaluation results?


Generally the following attachments are required:

  1. Finances—Most recent financial statement from most recently completed fiscal year, audited if available, showing actual expenses. This information should include a balance sheet, a statement of activities (or statement of income and expenses) and functional expenses. Some funders require your most recent Form 990 tax return. Organization budget for current year, including income and expenses. Project budget, including income and expenses (if not a general operating proposal). Additional funders. List names of corporations and foundations from which you are requesting funds, with dollar amounts, indicating which sources are committed or pending
  2. List of board members and their affiliations.
  3. Brief description of key staff, including qualifications relevant to the specific request.
  4. A copy of your current IRS determination letter (or your fiscal agent’s) indicating tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.
  5. If applying to a corporate funder only: if an employee of this corporation is involved with your organization, list names and involvement.

Be sure to check each funder’s guidelines and use discretion when sending additional attachments.

Proposal Check-List

___Cover letter.

___ Cover sheet.

___ Proposal narrative.

___ Organization budget.

___ Project budget (if not general operating grant).

___ Financial statements, preferably audited, showing actual expenses, including:

  • Balance sheet.
  • Statement of activities (income and expenses).
  • Statement of functional expenses.

___ List of additional funders.

___ List of board members and their affiliations.

___ Brief description of key staff.

___ IRS determination letter.

___ Confirmation letter of fiscal agent (if required).

___ Additional information required by each individual funder.

Writing Letters of Inquiry

It’s a good idea (and sometimes it’s required) to send a letter of inquiry to a foundation before submitting a full proposal.

A letter of inquiry is just what its name implies — a letter asking if the foundation is interested in receiving a full proposal in order to consider the project for funding. Sending a brief letter (try to keep it under two pages or less) can save both you and the foundation valuable time.

What Should the Letter Include?

  • The amount of the request
    How much money do you need?
  • The total project budget
    What is the total cost of doing the project?
  • The total organizational budget
    What is the annual cost of running your entire organization?
  • Other project funders, if any
  • Who else is supporting the project?
  • The project objectives and the time frame
    What do you want to accomplish and how long will it take?
  • Methods to be employed
    What approach will be used to accomplish the objectives?
  • Organizational background
    What experience does your organizational have?

Tips for Writing Letters of Inquiry

(or anything else)

  • Proofread carefully. Spelling and grammatical mistakes will not make a good first impression.
  • Avoid jargon. Use simple, straightforward English.
  • Don’t overstate your case or make unsubstantiated claims.
  • Include a brochure if you have one but don’t attach every publication ever created by your organization.
  • Ask at least one other person to read the letter before you drop it in the mailbox.

Tips For Proposal Writing

Courtesy: Akron (Ohio, USA) Community Foundation

  • The shorter, the better
  • Talk to others about proposals to a funder. Ask about their experience with funders’ proposal preferences regarding:
    • Length
    • Complexity
    • Budget detail
    • Statistical support
    • Personal contact before submission
  • Don’t write by committee. Project initiator – manager should draft with guidelines provided by the grants writer. Final proposal should be written by the grants writer.
  • Prepare the budget first – then make sure your proposal supports each item in the budget.
  • Write the summary last. Emphasize beneficiaries’ benefits, and why the project should be funded at this time.
  • Before you write, determine your project’s features and emphasize throughout your proposal.
  • Write in the third person – easier to “brag.” (Don’t have the good work you do be a “well-kept” secret).
  • Choose a project title of ten or fewer words. Suggest in your title results, rather than a plan.
  • Include a table of contents if the proposal exceeds ten pages.
  • Use contractions for ease of reading.
  • Accentuate the positive. Stress opportunities over needs.
  • Avoid “iffy” and “hopeful” statements. Be positive.
  • Use simple words. Avoid acronyms, literary references, and jargon.
  • Use strong verbs. (hint): Eliminate forms of “to be.”
  • Use emotional words. Describe the emotions and the well-being of your beneficiaries.
  • Write short paragraphs of four to six lines, if possible.
  • Strive for strong 1st-sentences for each paragraph.
  • Use the active, rather than the passive, voice.
  • If you have trouble getting started, go back to your budget. Money has a way of helping to refine methods and objectives.
  • Fill in the blanks on an application form. Write “n/a” (not applicable) where necessary.\
  • For increased credibility, let a beneficiary or expert state your need through a quote.
  • Use a few clear statistics – rather than a number of ineffective ones.
  • Use graphs and charts wherever possible.
  • Always include a plan for funding the project after the grant ends. Assure that there will surely be “life after (their) grant.”
  • Never miss deadlines, including progress and follow-up reports.

Be Ready For Questions

A Program Officer Might Ask

Courtesy: Akron (Ohio) Community Foundation

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want? How much, and for what?
  • What is the purpose of your organization? How old is the organization?
  • What is the average age and income of those whom you serve?
  • What service(s) do you provide?
  • How many beneficiaries of your programs and services did you serve last year?
  • How much does it cost per-beneficiary to provide your service(s)?
  • What makes you unique?
  • Who is you chief executive officer? What are his or her qualifications?
  • Who is chairman—president of your Board of Trustees?
  • Who are the members of your Board of Trustees?
  • What kind of “track record” does your organization have?
  • What is the general financial condition of your organization?
    • Operating budget?
    • Any deficit? How much?
    • Long-term obligations?
    • Principal areas of expenditures?
  • How is your income generated and what is its percentage of you total annual expense?

1. Earned Income:

Fees for your service(s) ____ %

2. Contributions:

Individuals ____ %

Foundations ____ %

Corporations ____ %

Government ____ %

United Way ____ %

Net from benefit events ____ %

Other: ________________________  _________ %

  • For what will grant funds be specifically used?
  • What difference will it make?
  • What will you do if we give you half?
  • What will you do if we give you nothing?
  • Will you be back again? If so, when?
  • Why do you think we should make this grant?

Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on TumblrDigg this


  1. I scanned this because I just came off a two-week grant writing marathon. Its a killer submitting for federal grants and trying to find out what they are asking for. What I may have missed here is that grant writers have to know various elements of project management.

  2. Hi Tony! Great article. I do have a question. I’m a development director and it’s been a bit of a challenge trying to “sell” the organization’s leadership on the need and value of a grants consultant a part from my role. They feeling is that this is MY job and I should be able to deal with the bulk of this work. Generally speaking, I’d have no qualms with this seeing I’ve been in development over a decade and have consulted for a myriad of orgs in various capacities. However, I oversee a department of 3 that is responsible for marketing and volunteers and my all things fundraising. All things fundraising includes literally ALLL things fundraising from events, to major giving, to annual giving, to planned giving, to membership giving circle, to corporate giving to online giving etc. There is no way to work in a solid and effective grants program without the support of a consultant especially for an org whose grant program has been dormant for nearly a decade until my hire. Can you offer anything to these points? Again, I’ve been on the end of sketching the case for an outside grants person but I truly don’t have the time to continue to sell them the value of retaining someone else’s service.

    • Kay,
      To my way of thinking, you have made an excellent case for the hire of a skilled full time writer — your Manager of Communications.

      Someone to handle all grant writing opportunities as they develop, write all other solicitation communications, compose brochures, fliers, press releases, etc.

      In short, any and all marketing, development and volunteer communications.

      Think of what you and your two colleagues could do, directly and personally, working with your constituents and the general public, with your activities relieved of sitting at a desk writing such material.

      The part-time grant writer, not necessarily being the same person, is brought in sporadically, as needed, and as such would not be close to the core values and the general operation of the organization enough to bring full value, as would a full-time staff person

      Easy for me to say, but the blinders must come off from those of your leaders who simply do not know know better.

      You must develop an effective communications strategy of your own in general, with the specifics of the value added to the organization with the hiring of a Manager of Communications.

      Then, you and your colleagues would be able to be more out and about to meet with, organize and guide fund-raising and volunteer committees, and work up close and personal with the media to better get the word out about your organization.

      I know my suggestion is a quantum leap, especially considering how your leaders are balking with the engagement of a grant writing consultant.

      If the latter position is positively the only path you can travel, then please look again at my article above to take from it the rationale you can develop, using the skills such professionals can impart to an organization’s fund-raising program.

      Listing as many of those skills, and the resources and tools necessary for you to provide, should present a compelling case for the need, since those leaders are obviously not fully apprised of what it takes to prepare even the most basic and simple grant proposal.

    • Tony: you haven’t made your case. I totally believe with Tony below. I don’t know about the profession’s standard – I’m wary of associations – all too often their #1 goal is protecting their turf. GAAP certainly provides a clear precedent and parallelism for CP and that’s sales commissions. Certainly a project grantor doesn’t want to pay for fundraising or any other form of admin, but even for strictly project grants, there’s usually some overhead allocation. And as for the concept that NFPs should somehow fund 100% of their overhead by individual donations – where and why is that written in stone? In this day and age, when more and more wealth is shifting to the 1%, and a greater proportion of public expenditures shifts away from education, health and other public programs, in short, at a time when we need NFPs more than ever, you are sticking to some 1950s view that for NFPs to be considered viable, they should somehow fund their own overhead! It’s absurd. The only way people with good ideas and empathy can get their ideas funded is through the professional community, i.e.foundations! Where they get to talk to other trained professionals who can evaluate their programs. The middle class doesn’t have the money any more to chip in. They’re too busy surviving. What you’re basically advocating, in order to defend your profession, is that everybody else in the organization but the grant writer be volunteer. Well, in essence, that’s what the CP model is about. It’s about people who are so passionate about helping people that they’re willing to take the risk of not getting paid. You may not like it because it makes them a tough competitor for your job. But don’t tell me it’s unethical. And don’t tell me it speaks poorly of the NFP’s long term viability. If anything, paying only for grants as opposed to grant writers speaks well of their business sense.

  3. Tony, this is a great article. The only part I wish you’d added was in the section” How do You Pay a Grant Writer?” You discussed the matter of ethics as it relates to the grant writer themselves, and whether or not grant writers should be viewed as unethical for accepting contingency-pay. However, you did not mention the ethical matter of the Non-Profits who seek to pay on a contingency basis to begin with. It seems to me that the actions of the NPs in this regard is more relevant to the discussion of ethics than is the discussion of the writers. I wouldn’t hold anything against a writer who accepts CP but I definitely would against an org that wanted to pay writers that way, because they are trying to push the responsibility for getting the grant off onto the writer. You make a great point by saying that all the writing in world can’t overcome a poor case for funding.

    • Reynardo, we are pleased that you are finding good use for our free material.

      Your point is well taken, but note that I am not so much concerned with the ethics aspect of contingent-pay as much as are the for-the-profession associations and most grant writers themselves.

      I believe that very few of those who work for contingent-pay are truly unethical, rather they are guilty of bad judgment.

      I believe the same holds true for the hiring organizations. It is more ignorance of consequences and being cash-strapped that has those new and smaller organizations looking for grant writers to, in effect, earn their own fee with payment-upon-grant awards.

      The larger organizations—academia & health—have their own staff grant writers. Of course, they do not work exactly in that contingent-pay way, but most work to what I think are even more unfair and unrealistic requirements. See what I mean from an article written by colleague, Joyce Braun:

      — Metrics Can Be a Grant Writer’s Nightmare

      While the “contingencies” imposed by the organizations enforcing metric-drive production on their grant writing staff are not unethical, to me, they oftentimes are downright cruel.

      By the way, earlier, I had treated the topic of contingent-pay in depth with my article:

      —- The Argument Against Paying Development Professionals Based Upon The Amount Of Funds Raised For Non-Profit Organizations

  4. Hi.  Love the article and appreciate all the information!  The only thing that got my attention and bothered me, however, is the constant links to the AFP.  The Grant Professionals Association (GPA) seems like it should've at least been mentioned as a place to search for grant writers, and a place for grant writers to gather and network, too.  As a grant writer, the GPA offers more and costs less ($200+) than the overarching AFP ($300+).  I hope people will search there as well, and not just at the AFP (and no, I'm not affiliated with the GPA in any other way than being a member).

    • Vickie–Thank you for your welcome and appreciated words of support and suggestion.

      I do have a mention of GPA in the article. Note the direct link to its website, along with two other grant professionals' associations. See the section, "Additional Job Opportunity Resources," — "Professional Associations."

      When next we write and post a grant writer/grant writing article, I promise to give deserved billing to such worthy services to the profession.

  5. This is an awesome article and much needed. As a grant writer myself, I seem to attract clientele that want me to write grants for free or "write my fee" into the grant funding proposal.  Thank you for providing links to better equip myself as a successful grantwriter.

    • Hello Vera,

      Thank you, and a congratulations for your most excellent website. "Vera" well done, indeed.
      Lots of good luck in your career.

      By the way, yet another grant-writing-related article on our website may be of good use to you. There may a time when clients will expect you to work to an unreasonable output and success rate "metric." The article should help you to make a strong argument against such a practice.
      — Metrics Can Be a Grant Writer’s Nightmare


  6. Tony,
    You make it seem that the non-profit fund-raising profession is populated by the “sharks” we more often find in the for-profit business world. I know the difference, being twenty years in the former, and nineteen years prior in the latter.

    I have come to know countless thousands of individuals in our non-profit fund-raising profession during my total forty years in the “business.” Sure, there is “competition” of sorts, as non-profits vie for donors’ money, and consultants do interview competitively to provide counsel to non-profits.

    But, unlike any other business—and I have seen plenty—these same professionals are always ready to give (donate) support and advice to their colleagues. There is more “clan” than “competition.”

    There is nothing unusual about my history as such, but my Cleveland Orchestra Director of Development “door” was open many hundreds of times in that way during my twenty years there. And, from being in the local AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) chapter, I know from firsthand, that my experienced colleagues did the same thing.

    So, respectfully, in my opinion, your view is not clear in the regard that we protect our profession from competition. That is simply not true. (See our website, for example.)

    The issue here is not one of you being sorry to disappoint “all” the professionals here, that being the broadest of broad brush indictments, the reality is that the arguments against contingent-pay do stand up, and stand the test of time, time and time again.

    It’s one thing for an attorney, CPA, or other such professionals to donate, pro-bono, some time and services to your non-profit. They have other paying accounts, and obviously, in quantity and fees paid, to be in position financially to donate some services to you. Otherwise, were they not so profitable, chances are you would not enjoy those generous In-Kind donations.

    But, a grant writer, by nature and profession, is working in that way to make a living serving non-profits, and you cannot expect them to donate the services they rely upon to help them make their living.

    You say new non-profits need as many people to work for free as possible.

    Who supports those new, budding, struggling, even those with experience, grant writing and other non-profit professionals, who as well need money?

    From one Tony to another Tony, remember, yours is not the only worthy cause out there.

    I can tell you that many thousands of other charities can make the same claim and have the same expectations of having things handed to them.

    The attorney, the CPA, and others in commercial businesses, have paying customers and clients which, for the most part, are successful businesses themselves, and can afford to pay, so that’s why you do get some pro bono services. It’s what successful business people most often do—to do some good in their community.

    But a grantwriter, serving all, or mostly, non-profit clients, would never be able to make a meaningful living if the non-profits, in the main, expected those professionals to donate their services, or worse, to work on a continget-pay basis.

  7. Sorry, guys it is clear that your are protecting your profession from competition. I agree a paid fundraiser or grant writer is the best way to go. However, paying people on commission in the early stages maybe essential. New non-profits need as many people to work for free as possible. Our organization has a attorney who believes in the cause donating his services even though he regular rate is $700 an hour. Several high paid professionals also donate their time. However, grant writing and fundraising takes a special kind of person. Those willing to take commission, do it because they want to contribute to the cause, but will be able to give it more time if there is some kind of compensation. I think this is completely acceptable for a smaill startup organization. sorry to disappoint all the professionals here. Best, Tony

  8. Layne: Thank you, and best wishes from Cleveland.
    I am delighted that you think enough of the article to send it on to your clients. With your experience and capability going for you, at times it helps for a colleague's views to be presented to clients who need further convincing when there is a sticky issue.
    It would please us greatly to have on your website a reference to the article—and any of the others which may serve your needs.

  9. One of the best articles on grant writing ever! Thank you so much for your insight and the way you presented your case. I have copied your article and I am going to send it to my clients. Would it be okay to reference it on my website too? Please tell me what I need to do so as not to infringe on your copyright.
    Best wishes for 2012 from Houston!

  10. Jodene: Thank you. Glad to help. My wife, and colleague, Joyce Braun, has a recently- posted article on our website which exactly focuses on the issue of grant writing “success rates” and other such unrealistic benchmarks. I am sure it will be of use when you next need to convince someone that such a “metric” is not possible to set at any level.
    — Metrics Can Be a Grant Writer’s Nightmare

  11. wow, thanks so much for writing this.  I agree with all of your points (perhaps most with what grant writers should be paid… sadly, I've found reality to be a lot less attractive.  one question:  when interviewing for new positions, I am inevitably asked what my success rate is.  I am loathe to answer, as you point out, it could easily set one up for failure.  What is your suggestion for how to tackle that question?
    thanks very much.

    • One way I have handled the "What is your success rate" question is to give a total that I've helped bring in over the past 2 or 3 or 5 years. That's a good picture of your overall activity. When I first started and had only worked as a volunteer for organizations I believed it, I had to honestly say, "I've landed two grants this year for xyz organization that totaled $52,000." But as I've worked full-time in the profession, that number keeps going up, even if every one isn't funded.

      • Valerie, Your system has been working for you, and I hope you can continue to stay clear of fixed goals of any kind, be they numbers of proposals out the door in a given time, and especially a success rate. It can, and does catch up sooner or later, even if you used (correctly) the word helped to obtain the grants. That position can easily be thought at a later time to relate to only what you have done. I know this to be true. The bad experiences of so many is why we have posted the following article on our website:

        Metrics Can Be a Grant Writer’s Nightmare


    • But, Tony, why shouldn't a prospective employer find out about your success rate? I wouldn't hire a plumber without references; I wouldn't hire a PR person with knowing his or her placement rate on articles; I wouldn't hire a heart surgeon without knowing how many surgeries he's performed (and how many the patients pulled through!) Having been a professional proposal writer for several years, I know that numbers aren't the only thing and that there are times when the best-written proposal in the world isn't going to make it because of many circumstances. However, I do feel an employer is within his or her rights to find out what kind of success you've had as a proposal writer.

      • Valerie,
        In response to your first question:

        For all of the good ten or so reasons I cite in my article above. A “success” rate of say, 80% in the past, could be a 40% “failure” rate the next time.

        Good plumber references indicate the quality of the work. Just as the good quality of your work can be a reference. But the plumber has a sure, and consistent, outcome. The washers do fit, the pipes do not leak, the water runs at the proper rate, etc.

        The PR person’s placement rate may be more consistent because of his or her relationships, contacts, and associations which can gain favor and priority. Charitable organizations are rarely favored in that way.

        You don’t hire a heart surgeon. You simply find the “best” available at the medical facility of your (and the insurance company’s) choice.

        That you agree, “… numbers aren't the only thing and that there are times when the best-written proposal in the world isn't going to make it because of many circumstances,” prompts the question as to why, then, lean so hard on such a success rate number?

        The “right” of a prospective employer “ … to find out what kind of success you’ve had as a proposal writer,” sounds to me as being all-encompassing: that you are a good interviewer, compiler, researcher, writer, and that you follow-through every step of the way the grant proposal writing process takes you.

        On the other hand, a prospective employer cannot be within his or her rights to know the unknowable, and a grant writer should take the greatest care to avoid being put in such an arbitrary and precarious position by what she or he claims.

        Prospective employers who see (or who are led to see) the success or failure of grant-getting as residing in the hands of the grant writer are failing to take into account something even more important than the grant application—the purpose of the funding. Poorly delineated projects, "soft" budgets, and a host of other weaknesses cannot be overcome by a well crafted grant proposal. The awarding of grants has more to do with function than form, and grant writers are not usually the ones who make the policy and practice recommendations that lead to a search for funding.

        So, you can choose to stand by a statement of your “success” rate, but you put yourself at great risk when you hinge a job and even a career on so many conditions which are totally, or mostly, out of your control.

      • Valerie,

        I’m going to weigh in a bit on this discussion that you and Tony have been having. I think I may be somewhere in between the two of you on this although leaning more toward Tony’s thinking.

        I think that there are three main reasons not to place undue weight on numbers when judging someone’s ability as a fundraiser.

        1. The scope of the organization and its expectations are not likely to be known with the intimate detail necessary to determine where those numbers fall on the scale of success.
        2. The factors beyond the control of the specific fundraising person being judged by the numbers will be unknown.
        3. Numbers are an easy reason for not hiring someone. Far greater diligence needs to be applied in the hiring process that relying on the numbers.

        Regarding the first point, it is easy to make numbers look good. I once looked like a winner at an organization by getting a $4-million grant from state government. All I did was file the paperwork. My organization had an in with the governor’s office. Conversely, the work I did once to acquire a gift of $10,000 dollars was absolutely stellar. The reason was because it was the first gift of any real size from a donor capable of becoming a true angel of an organization. After I left that organization he went on to wear his halo for years and to the tune of a few million dollars. Without the surrounding details each of the examples would have given a far less than accurate picture of my successes. And, I hasten to point out that no one would have ever disclosed the inside info on the $4-million grant.

        As to point two, I once was brought in to run an organization that desperately needed to improve its fundraising results. My credentials looked like just the thing to do it. I failed because the organization’s board was unwilling to reinvent itself as a board capable of raising money. So how would I handle that failure in an interview for someplace else. I would have had to point my finger at the board if I were to be honest in trying to explain my failure, and I would have had to do this to the board of a new organization.—not a good idea to blame failure on a board when being interviewed by a board.

        I think numbers matter, but they have to be viewed with perspective. Remember, in this day and age that you can’t go to a previous employer and expect to get a candid answer about a job applicant. Also, it is important to remember that the numbers that may matter in one set of circumstances may not hold value in another.

        Point three: Finally there is the question of whether the person choosing the metrics to verify knows enough about the profession and the skill set involved to even ask the right questions. I’m going to use your example of judging PR success by press release placement to make my point, and I mean no disrespect in doing so. Having been a PR person, a newspaper editor, a magazine editor, and a website content officer, I would never use press release placement as a tool for judging a person’s ability as a PR professional.

        However, I have known nonprofit CEOs who would do just that. The reason is because they did not know what was required to produce results supportive of the actual business goals of the organization. As a result, they would take the easy way out and look for something that they could quantify in order to make a decision. And if it were the wrong decision, they could simply say, “The numbers looked right. What are you going to do?” and brush off their failure to do the real work necessary in determining whether someone was up to the job.

        One more point about ability to judge the numbers. You mentioned heart surgeons for an example. Some of the best heart surgeons have lower rates than other who fall below them in the estimation of their collegues. That's because they have the skill to take on the toughest challenges. The prognosis for success in their cases is far less than what it woould be for other, lesser, surgeons. Conditions beyond their control limit their ability to succeed. I only know this because I used to write for healthcare publications.

        So, yes look at the numbers, but don’t read them on a piece of paper and then decide to eliminate a candidate. Look a person in the eye and ask what the numbers mean. See how the person handles seemingly good numbers and seemingly bad ones.

        I’d be far more likely to hire a person who downplays his/her successes and is able to tell me in detail what caused his/her failures than the reverse. And if someone says that there were circumstances beyond his/her control that were major contributors to a numbers shortfall, but feels he/she should not talk about it. Honor that request and then make a determination on how positively you feel about that person’s overall veracity.

        My comments have been angled from the point of view of someone doing the hiring, but they can be flipped to serve someone looking to be hired. I have always used the take-the-high-road approach when interviewing. It pays off. I have never gone to an interview as a supplicant seeking to be hired. I’ve always told people what I can do for them and what I am not equipped to do. I know this approach works because in the many interviews I have had for opportunities, I have only twice had an organization fail to offer the opportunity to me. That’s twice in a career spanning more than 40 years.

  12. Jenny: Thank you. Good luck. Do let us know how your grant writing job search worked out.

  13. Thank you for this. I’m seeking a job that entails grantwriting though I’ve never done any— this article was so helpful to me!

  14. I agree with Tony’s view of the relationship between a grant writer and THE development director–emphasis on the THE. I know that the title of development director is being given to more than one person in an organization these days, most notably at colleges and universities. The person I am referring to here is he or she who is in charge of the overall process of obtaining contributed income from any source. As Tony says that process needs to be coordinated and managed to be balanced and to maximize potential gifts. These days, that manager is often called the director of advancement or some such other title–sometimes executive director of…, vice president of…, even president of the foundation or such. No matter the title, he or she is THE development director of the organization, and it is appropriate that the grant writers of the organization report to him/her. Actually in larger organizations, I have seen situations where there are a number of grant writers reporting to someone carrying the title of director of foundation support, or some such title. That person then reports to THE development director.

  15. Deborah: Thank you. Coming from an experienced professional, having your impressive credentials, pleases me greatly.

    I am as well pleased that you agree with my strong argument against any form of contingent-pay compensation, in any shape of form, for any staff of a non-profit organization. While the for-the-profession associations, and grant writers in general, do cite such agreements as being unethical, I prefer to list the true and serious consequences which could befall the professional and the organization when they enter into such contingent-pay agreements.

    Along with my admonitions in the grant writer/grant writing article above, I expand those consequences in another of my articles, geared to other development personnel:
    — The Argument Against Paying Development Professionals Based Upon The Amount Of Funds Raised For Non-Profit Organizations

    The consequences cited work better than simply citing the ethics issue. I have found that most writers engaged in contingent-pay practices, or seeking to be so engaged, were not unethical, as much as they were unenlightened, or needed employment even at the risk of not being paid.

    Organizations mostly claimed they had no money upfront to pay for services rendered. They needed a grant proposal writer to do the work, then to roll the dice to see if they obtained the grant, to pay for its organizational use, and to pay the grant writer.

    But I do have a totally opposing view regarding what you wrote about the grant proposal writers’ position relative to the Director of Development.

    The Director of Development is responsible for all the contributed income an non-profit organization needs to carry out its mission and to balance the budget. The grant proposal writer should not be engaging in fund-raising on her or his own. What they do is work a process to seek funding based on the attractiveness and fit to a prospective grantor of what the organization has to offer as it works to fulfill its mission. That’s what the D of D’s associate development professionals do as well.

    Those decisions to award grants come from either the owners of the funds (family foundations), or stewards of other people’s money. It is strictly contributed income, and falls in exactly with the responsibility of the D of D.

    The grant proposal writer cannot, and should not, be unsupervised by the D of D. Even if the grant writer worked only on government grants, working to fulfill requirements for appropriated tax-sourced money, or responding to government RFPs, nonetheless, the office of the D of D must keep up its usual cultivation and relationship-building with the government officials important to the winning of those grants. And all of the donor relations, cultivation, retention, etc., activities must be led by the D of D.

    Perhaps some believe that grants somehow emanate from impersonal entities when we come to think of “foundations.” But, foundations are operated by, and the decisions are made by, individuals. And those individuals are just as much a part of the development donor cultivation and retention process as are individuals.

    As a matter of fact, with granting foundations, we know that only about 13% of the total funds given to non-profits annually comes from foundations, and about half of that 13% is from small foundations that are essentially giving mechanisms for individual donors. Think family foundations and those set up by individuals to further the causes in which they believe. So that makes about 7% of annual charitable giving coming from independent, grant-making foundations. Thus, there is no need, nor use, to have the grant proposal writer considered to be dealing with a special, fixed, source of contributed income, somehow alienated from all other such activity.

    Being equal, will not work. Crossed purposes and crossed lines, would result. The grant proposal writer is a valued and essential professional in a staff of professionals, all led by the D of D, who is responsible, and accountable, for all sources of contributed income.

  16. Interesting article with alot of great comments and advice. I am a nationally credentialed grant professional with more than $100 million of grant awards behind me. My 30 years of experience has taught me alot. But it is imperative to remember two things. Grant writers should NOT be subordinate to Development Directors. They should be equal partners. Grants should be the matching dollars to the development director’s hard work. Next, its imperative to never compensate a grant professional on a contingency. That is unethical behavior. Would you compensate a development director on a contingency? Only pay them when they get the donation? Same difference. My advice is to join a local association involved with the GRANT PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION. Everyone should strive to qualify for and obtain a GPC credential. Its not a workshop or one week training class to attend and then pass a test. Its a requirement for each participate to have credentails, recommendation and experience PRIOR to taking the test. Then the testing requirement involves 2 days of testing materials. Its an impressive process.

    Everyone should think about getting their GPC!

  17. Tony,

    Thanks for your comments.I’ve followed you for many years, and most of what you teach and the suggestions you offer I use often.

    Several of the larger non-profit hospitals in my geographical area have had staff grant writers in the past. One I can think of in particular dropped the position, and after several attempts to migrate the duties to someone else in the organization and then to a local firm in their town, started prospecting for grantwriters out of the area. I’m sure that is not true everywhere though.

    My comment re: who should do the final and interim reporting was meant to be slanted at the actual financial part of the process (sorry, it’s my bookkeeping background coming out), but I concur completely with you regarding what should happen and who should do it within the organization. Have I seen a little gilding of the lily? Yes, not from an organization with which I was personally involved but two that approached me to help them get funding after it happened. It was more a case of inexperience with one, and a lazy and disinterested CEO on the other, than an actual attempt to cover up anything, but it does come out, and it does destroy credibility. That is the only reason I would suggest a set of external, but related eyes on the project. It should definitely be someone who knows, understands and supports the mission, whether internal or external. Just a subset of internal controls, really.

  18. Rebecca: You are correct. No. 8, and for that matter, No. 7, should be (and will be) distinguished as only “internal.” An external grant writer does not manage the total process. That outside professional would not maintain personal contacts with grantors on behalf of the client organization. One such contact is simply one more relationship-establishing-building contact lost for the organization’s best use for the future.

    I have not seen the trend to which you refer. To me, it is not only more practical for non-profits to hire outside grant writers due to budget constraints, but perhaps an even more significant factor is that grant-getting opportunities are not always available in a quantity sufficient to justify a full-time grant proposal writer, no matter the size of the organization.

    When fund-raising is conducted properly with volunteer solicitors making the calls on individuals and corporations, granting foundations of the type we know in our area which would give to our organization, are relatively few in number. I hired my first full-time grant writer fifteen years into my stint as D of D for a major organization. Even then, she was given additional total writing responsibility for all campaign brochures, letters, newsletters, etc. It was more the limited granting foundation opportunities, than a budget problem.

    I do not agree, however, that the progress and final report process belongs elsewhere than in the hands of the staff grant writer manager. Otherwise, the person responsible for the project, or the staff CEO does the reporting work for a proposal and grant stemming from the work of an outside writer.

    Your comments imply agreement with my other points. That being the case, consider the quotes of the first two:

    1. Through interviews and other means, gather information that will easily allow him/her to grasp the concept of a project or program for which funding is sought as defined by the person responsible for carrying it out.

    2. Acquire and maintain sound knowledge and understanding of the organization, and use that knowledge and understanding to better comprehend all projects and programs for which grants will be sought and to recommend the seeking of grants.

    It seems to me, that if we entrust the staff professional to craft a proposal from those endeavors, being certain that writer would not paint a rosy picture from what she or he was told, then it would make it even far less likely that she or he would present a rosy picture at any time later regarding progress and final report.

    Those professionals are funding proposal managers. They tell the story as told to them. They do not create projects. They do not create budgets. And they do not create progress and final reports as they see them—only as they are. The CEO, at least, would see to that. Besides, a less than honest (rosy) presentation to a smart and discerning grantor, would only happen but once, and the organization is through. And then, the risk is even greater, when one tricked grantor tells another—and they surely do talk among themselves. Thus, no prevailing and continuing rosy picture-painting can be possible.

    But, it may be so there where you are. My guess is that you are experiencing an uncomfortable and unacceptable situation which leads to thinking that the finance or accounting professionals will make it right. If so, it is not the process which is the problem, it is the way the management is allowing the situation to persist.

    The grant proposal writing process is a living and breathing process, telling a true story of the good a grant can do, and formed by the dedicated people operating the project, and the writer charged with writing the story as it is told at the beginning, the middle and at the end.

    This is definitely not a financial exercise or function. There is a big difference between focus on numbers and focus on mission fulfillment.

  19. I have only one quibble about your list of qualifications, specifically #8. That falls under the mantle of grant administration, and has nothing to do with grant writing. Moreover,I have the feeling that the list is assuming an in-house grant writer, and more and more this is a field that is moving to off-site contractors, as small and medium-sized nonprofits find themselves unable to afford the salary and benefits of a full-time grant writer.

    I have a particular problem with the grantwriter issuing the progress reports, because it behooves the grant writer to present a rosy picture of the use of funds. This more properly belongs in the financial management section of the nonprofit or their accounting firm.

  20. Hello Scott: First, there is absolutely a direct and clear application of your business writing skills to those required for non-profit grant proposal writing. I hired a “technical writer” from the health industry, and she was at home on the first day on my staff as our grant writer. When consulting later, I helped non-profit clients to hire a number of others with for-profit writing experience.

    Just another glance at the eight points in my “Positioning” article above (beginning with: The grant writer will:), should encourage that your skills and experience fit right in with what a non-profit grant proposal writer does.

    The AFP connection is a very good one. Plus, scroll down farther in my article and do follow the suggestions in the section, titled, “How To Find Grant Writing Jobs.”

    Taking those suggestions will have a good chance that open up a course of action, leading to a staff job, going freelance, or having you as a member of a consulting firm

    Best of all good luck.

  21. This is a great article! I’m making a presentation to our Houston Grant Writers’ group (in October) about hiring a grant writer.

    There are so many parts of your advice I’d love to include in my PowerPt presentation. Would you mind if I used some of your information, and, if so, how I would you recommend I acknowledge that it’s yours?

    Thank you in advance.

  22. Hi Tony….

    Thanks for this article. I am transitioning over to grant writing from the construction industry. Through the 2012 edition of “What Color Is Your Parachute?”, I found that grant writing and business planning are the most compatible careers for me (given my overall skill sets). I contacted my local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. I am excited to see what kinds of opportunities exist in my area for grant writing.

    Not sure at this point if I want to work as a grant writing consultant or for a non-profit. What would you advise for someone who has very good writing skills but doesn’t have the experience with grant writing?

    Thanks, Scott

  23. Dawn: Thank you. For what you can do to get the word out in Atlanta regarding your grant writing skills, begin by scrolling up this page to the section, How to Find Grant Writing Jobs.
    Work on the most likely, beginning with the contact to your local AFP Chapter. Then, to make those phone calls to non-profits as described.
    By the way, remember that your good writing skills can be employed in the for-profit sector as well. Looking to the Chamber of Commerce and Small Business rosters for contacts may turn up jobs writing business plans, requests for bank and other investor loans. As well, writing their newsletters, brochures, press releases, sales letters, etc., can be only a part of the writing opportunities you may find in business and industry.

  24. This is a fantastic resource. I have just transitioned from a full time executive position with a non profit and am, as a seasoned grant writer, am looking to do some consulting work by providing my services to all sorts of agencies needing grant writers. I see so many development and grant writing positions similar to sales positions in the past. Is there a large market for grant writers? Seems to me that if you’re good-excellent writer, the only challenge may be being in the right place at the right time. Could you give me some insights into the grant writing/fundraising market in Atlanta? Thanks.

  25. Thank you. We worked to make the article as concise—and all inclusive—as possible. The grant proposal writing operation, in total, continues to be among the top fund-raising topics of interest and concern in the non-profit world.

  26. This is indeed the most concise article on Grant Writers that I have read in 5 years! No kidding. It covers every aspect of the profession.

  27. Chuck: Thank you, and good luck to you. With your extensive grant proposal writing experience, you have a lot more going for you than luck. St. Louis should be a good and ready consulting “market” for you. I do have a few suggestions to help with your search for clients:

    (1) The St. Louis area chapter(s) of the Association of Fundraising Professionals would be perhaps the best way to “get the word out” with its great networking opportunities:

    AFP: USA

    (2) You read my article above, “Positioning Grant Writers For Success.” Do take another look, and scroll far down to the Addenda, and note the section, “How to Find Grant Writing Jobs.” The AFP suggestion is there, along with a few other ideas which I believe have real potential for you to make contacts.

    (3) Research through the AFP, and by other means, some non-profit consulting firms at work in the area. Often, such firms, or even an individual consultant or partners, need to add to the team a grant proposal writer. In my consulting days, our firm had such a person, and she was kept quite busy, writing not only proposals for those of us managing clients’ fund-raising campaigns, but she wrote the brochures, letters, and most any other types of communications we needed. You may want to expand your services in that way with such an opportunity, or otherwise on your own.
    Best of all good luck to you and to your wife in her new job.

  28. Your overview of both the challenges of being a grant writer and the basics are very good, consise and accurate.

    I have been a grant writer for more than twenty years in local government, nonprofits and higher education. Every work setting has its own unique requirements – but every organization in the public sector is interested in securing external funds to do more or offer enhanced services, to advance the mission.

    I would like to seek your specific guidance –

    The bulk of my professional grant writing in recent years has been as a consultant in northeast Ohio, and I have just moved to St. Louis, following my wife who has taken a faculty position in this new market for me. I have no professional history or ties in our new home, St. Louis.

    Do you have any specific suggestions for a seasoned grant writer making connections and contributing in a new and different regional market following a relocation like mine.

    Thank you,

    Chuck Schuller, M.P.A.
    dba Great Grants and Programs
    291 McCullough Avenue
    Kirkwood, MO 63122
    440 865-1769 mobile

  29. This was great, Tony. Thanks so much for sharing your abundant insight!

  30. Hello Christine: I am pleased that the article is of good use to you as you begin your grant proposal writing career. Best wishes for success.

    Success can me measured in a number of ways, but two of the foremost, are that your work is well done and well received, and secondly, that you are fairly and promptly compensated for your good work.

    The latter is not the case, as your good hard work could very well go for naught should the grant not be awarded. And, as you know, I feature that argument against any form of “contingent-pay” in the article.

    Frankly, if the organization is not in position to pay you for your time and effort to produce work for them prior to any grant decision, then I would not worry so much about burning any bridges behind you while explaining to them why you cannot be so engaged. There is a good chance that the organization’s “bridge” is shaky in the first place, and nothing you can do via your grant writing work is going to fix their internal problems.

    To repeat from the article:
    “In the end, grant writers should be paid for their time and efforts by the hour or project, whether or not the grant is received. I question whether an organization unable to pay a fair fee for work done is likely to survive. Few non-profits forced to operate in ways not fully in accord with accepted professional standards flourish and grow.”

    By any other name, or in any other form, contingent-pay arrangements are definitely not in the best interests of the grant proposal writer, nor, actually, are they good in the long-term for an organization.

  31. Mr Poderis:
    Thank you for a great article! I have been trying to break into grant writing for some time and am finally going to write my first grant proposal (as part of an internship I’ve just started). I will definitely keep this handy.
    My question: The nonprofit said they would pay me a “project fee” if a grant is awarded. How do I convey my reservations of this arrangement without burning any bridges?

  32. Just continue to review the “Tool Kit” material just above this Comments section, the tips and guidelines will be useful.

    And, do look in on a current Internet discussion hosted by the Foundation Center and begin some useful dialogues with grant writer colleagues.


  33. This is so Awesome! I truly appreciate this post and I will be using it as I seek out grant writing opportunities. THANK YOU!!! I have an additional question:

    Are there any keywords that should be included in a proposal??? Also, Are there any Red Flags that writers should stay away from?

  34. Dear Mr. Podaris,

    I’ve heard that an excellent way to learn grantwriting is to become a grant reviewer. Can one get paid in this endeavor, and what do you recommend in the way of looking for reviewing jobs?

  35. Isabelle: Good for you to distance yourself from any form of contingent-pay for your good work, and in fact, the organization would be better off. I expect you did see in my article above the several real consequences of such agreements. They are in the section titled, “How Do You Pay a Grant Writer?” Add those contingent-pay ills to what you learned from your grant writing course, and you will always be firm to hold to an hourly or project rate.

    In addition, look again at the first section in the article, and from where you see — The grant writer will: — ask yourself how you would do with each of the eight points as you would being working with the organization. If you feel you can meet those objectives with certainty, then the only real barrier to you getting the job at the $50 per-hour rate, will possibly come from the organization, should they insist on some measure of previous experience. However, being able to explain the grant writing process you will employ for them with assurance, should be convincing.

    The hourly rates charged by grant writers ranges far and wide. I gave a middle-ground figure. What you can do in two hours, may take someone else four or more hours. Or even the other way around, until you get more work experience. The efficiency varies greatly as well due to factors out of the control of the grant writer, regarding how much of the material given you is writing-ready, the availability of the staff and others you need for proposal material, etc. Thus, you are the best judge to know what you can bring to the organization in all of the best ways at the hourly or project rate with which you feel comfortable.

  36. Hi Mr. Poderis,

    Thank you for this information! I’ve just been asked to write a grant for a new NP and they offer 20% of the awarded amount as my payment. In a perfect world I’d jump up and down, but as an MA student (MA in Non-Profit Management) having just completed a grant writing course, I shied away. However, they did ask me to provide a more appropriate compensation option. As a beginner grant writer, I am not sure it would be appropriate to ask for $50/hr. Any suggestions on an appropriate compensation method?

  37. Suzy: Best wishes to you beginning your grant proposal writing career. I am pleased the article is of use to you. Another tip is to suggest you read a newly posted “Short Takes” on our site as written by wife, Joyce Braun Poderis. What Joyce has written may be of help with future clients/employers who could have unfair expectations regarding what they think you can do with a never ending flow of grants. Keeping their business, and keeping them in the real world of where the money is, could be another good service for you to provide.

    — Foundations: Are They Really Where the Money Is?

    P. S. Keep looking in to our website for new material, especially regarding grant writing. Joyce is now working on a draft of an article which deals with the serious and erroneous way many non-profit clients and employers insist that a specific number of proposals go out the door monthly on a purely arbitrary (scatter shot) basis, and when they impose on a grant writer, a severely flawed and unfair, “success rate,” of proposals presented, to grants awarded.

  38. Colleen: Thank you. Good luck to you as a grant writing professional. I am pleased that the article helped with your ability to propose and present your compensation needs to prospective clients, and that my tips about how to get started as a freelance professional may be a way for you to get the clients.

    Though the following article deals with an overall fund-raising development consulting career, do look it over and perhaps some of the elements and issues can be adapted as well to your grant writing profession:

    — Beginning A Career In Non-Profit Fund-Raising

  39. Mr. Poderis,
    Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge on this topic. As a beginning grant writer, it is so helpful. I’ve read this article three times and am keeping it close by for reference.
    Best, Suzy

  40. Mr. Poderis,
    Reading your article is very encouraging, and, like the writers above, I’ve listed it among my “favorites”.
    One of the biggest questions I had was in regard to grant writing fees. Previously, I wrote grants as part of multiple responsibilities of a full time job; the question didn’t come up. Now I wish to begin working on my own. This decision brings me to the second question I had: How do I get started as an independent grant writer? Thank you VERY much for sharing your expertise and insights. Colleen

  41. I absolutely agree with Alex! Thank you for such clear, concise information. I’ve already put this on my “Favorites” bar.

    As someone new to the field of grant writing, a appreciate the detail you’ve given in your article.

    Thank You,

  42. Dear Tony Poderis –

    This is perhaps the clearest, and most comprehensive article that I’ve read on grant writing. Actually, I am still reading the article and I am certain that I will return to it again and again for information and kernels of knowledge.

    Thank you –
    Alex Duncan

  43. Katherine: A Google search, typing simply — nonprofit grant writing books — will turn up many sources for books for you to review. Read again my “Positioning Grant Writers For Success” article and follow the suggestions. Plus, beneficial networking is possible when you engage in dialogue with other grant proposal writers. One such forum is hosted by the Foundation Center. Check in, and ask away. There are a number of helpful grant proposal writing professionals whom are regular posters.

  44. Books for new grant writers and how to become more proficient.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *