How Do We Get Into Grant Writing?
November 29, 2009 8:40 AM   Subscribe

How can we get into grant writing for other people? I've had good luck getting money out of the Canadian government for my screenwriting, I've done successful book proposals, and my wife has done all sorts of other successful applications. I am told a grant writer can claim 30-35% of a successful grant. How do we get into this line of work?
posted by musofire to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am told a grant writer can claim 30-35% of a successful grant.
You're told that by whom?
posted by craichead at 8:51 AM on November 29, 2009

In the US, the grant writers I know are either salaried employees, or are consultants paid by the hour. I've never heard of anyone getting a percentage of the grant.
posted by kimdog at 9:08 AM on November 29, 2009

Yeah, that 30% figure does seem a bit high, but one good way to get into this could be to approach nonprofit organizations near you and volunteer your services as a grantwriter. Ideally, of course, you should know something about what the nonprofit does and should be able to compellingly explain what the 'problem' is and how the work of the org addresses that problem.

The idea is then that your services as the grantwriter get written into the budget as a line item. Of course you don't actually get paid unless the application is successful, and grant applications can be very long processes, so it may take awhile before this approach is fruitful. Also you should be aware that although your free labor sounds like a good deal in theory, the reality is that collaborating with volunteer grantwriters still takes a fair amount of staff time and resources for the nonprofit, and in my experience, it can be difficult for outsiders to come in and write a proposal that will ultimately get funded.

Check out the Foundation Center for some good resources and information for grantseekers, including online classes on grantwriting that may be helpful.
posted by KatlaDragon at 9:21 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Most of the grant writers I know make around $20-$45 an hour, because they're doing work for non-profits. I don't know many (any?) who get a percentage and I think it would be risky to work on contingency, since you have no control over the timing, outcome, etc. You could do fantastic work, but not quite fantastic enough, and then end up with no pay.

Most grant writers build up relationships with non-profit organizations. It's often word of mouth. Lots of referrals and so on.

If you're looking for a more lucrative way to be a grant writer, consider getting into application writing for businesses. Many companies need writers to put together applications for awards. This can pay more like $75 to $125 per hour. Some of those companies are social enterprises, by the way, so you can make a living while making a difference. (And, depending on the company, you may be making a difference by helping to provide green jobs, non-resource economy jobs, skilled jobs or jobs for an ethical company and so on through your work)

And, if you still really want to help, you could donate back a percentage of your earnings. I'm currently working in marketing for a non-profit, although I have many corporate clients. Instead of discounting my pay, I donate some of the pay back. I end up with a tax receipt, everyone's clear on the usual value for my services, and the organization is no worse off than if I did the work for free.

My profile has a link to my website on becoming a consultant. While I would not discourage you from working as a grant writer, I do encourage you to look at the full breadth of your skills and the many ways in which you could earn more money from those skills. I like to see people earning $75 to $150 an hour (or more for solution-based fees that rely on value, not time), as opposed to eking out an existence at $20 an hour. In my books, it's better to make $75 and donate some of it back or volunteer some of your spare time, once you know you can pay your mortgage and grocery bills.
posted by acoutu at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing that most grant writers seem to be salaried, not commissioned.

"I am told a grant writer can claim 30-35% of a successful grant."

My understanding was that being paid a percentage of grants raised was actually considered outright unethical by most professional associations for fundraisers. That makes sense given that you typically submit a budget with your grant application, and the budget states that the money will be spent on the program, not on your commission.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2009

Yeah, the whole percentage thing isn't true, generally. The ONLY time I've seen this sort of arrangement is on fairly sketchy craigslist ads where a non-profit start-up (i.e. no money whatsoever) are trying to hire a grant writer who they will award a percentage of the grant if they get it. Now, this sort of approach, I would guess, rarely results in the NPO actually getting the grant. The other shitty thing about it is that, contrary to popular belief, if the grant is not awarded it is generally not the fault of the grant writer - i.e. the grant writer should get paid no matter what, as they have put in the hours. FWIW, I'm a grant writer on a salary for a small NPO.

As far as the $20-$45 and hour - this is pretty close. It depends on where you are and what NPO you might be working for, obvs, but that's a pretty accurate range.

acoutu's advice is spot on. build relationships, do some volunteer work, get to know the org and their mission. NPO's are ALWAYS looking for free help, and a lot of them can't afford grant writers proper, so doing a little free work on this end is a good way to get your foot in the door, get some shit on your resume, etc.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2009

My understanding was that being paid a percentage of grants raised was actually considered outright unethical by most professional associations for fundraisers.

Yes, this is why orgs that use such practices rarely get any significant funding from any reputable sources. Don't take any job that offers you a % of the grant award.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:40 AM on November 29, 2009

I am told a grant writer can claim 30-35% of a successful grant.

Unless things are very different in Canada than in the US, this is hogwash. As Jacqueline says, the US professional associations for fundraisers specifically preclude this in their codes of ethics. And as Lutoslawski says, that stigma means that the only clients that offer that kind of compensation are, at best, hapless or naive. 35% of nothing is nothing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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