can I make a living writing grants?
May 9, 2016 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I offered to write a grant application for my friend, who runs a small foundation. This is my first exposure to nonprofits, and I know there's a lot I don't know, but so far I'm finding that the grant application writing work is a great match for me, and I'm wondering if there's a way to parlay this into steady, paid freelance work.

I basically have these skill sets: research, persuasive writing, interviewing people, and informal cat-herding/project management. They have all come into play in this grant writing project already, just in the short time I've been working on this. I'm good at it! I like it! I'd love to get paid for it.

How might I go about marketing a grant-writing service, with the ultimate goal of making a living at it? How do grant-seeking entities typically find freelancers and pay them?

I saw this thread from 2009, but thought I'd ask again in case the field looks different now.

Thanks!
posted by fingersandtoes to Work & Money (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know about writing them, but for what it's worth, many (usually state and federal) government agencies are going to have some kind of grant assessment group or unit, where you will get to read plenty of the damn things.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:03 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I was a high school teacher our district had a paid grant writer. That sort of position isn't unusual in education. Good luck!
posted by mosk at 5:25 PM on May 9, 2016


I know someone who does this. You should write to her and ask.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:30 PM on May 9, 2016


As far as I understand it from trying to find a freelance grant writer when I started my non-profit, it is considered unethical to hire a grant writer as a freelancer. The reason behind this is that grant writing is a very time-consuming process, and if the grant isn't accepted, you wouldn't get paid for all the work you did (ie, they wouldn't have the money to pay you). And it doesn't make sense for the company either -- if the grant writer gets paid a fee either way, they have no motivation to write successful grants, and the company has no real recourse to improve their skills or take action if their grant writing isn't a good fit. Thus, the vast majority of grant writers are salaried, where their income isn't tied to whether or not the grant is successful, since grants can be very hit-or-miss.

However, coaching people on how to write their *own* grants, that's a solid business model.
posted by ananci at 5:35 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Absolutely, I worked somewhere that used one and was on the board of another. More often, nonprofits want this capacity in-house because getting grants is a lot about relationships. But you can find small to mid-sized places where either the executive director or the development director is handling the relationship side of things but just doesn't want to do the actual writing. Another instance when organizations want this filled by a consultant is when the main development staffer is temporarily absent (on leave, or left and another not yet hired).
posted by salvia at 6:59 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


More often, nonprofits want this capacity in-house because getting grants is a lot about relationships.

Exactly. Fundraising is about 40% what you put on the page and 60% building a personal relationship with the donor and getting them to like you. When I worked in fundraising, I also preferred, and was better at, the writing part of the equation but as I became more senior and the amounts requested became bigger I realised that there was comparatively less grant-writing to be done and comparatively more going out and talking to people and making presentations or brokering meetings between the project leaders and the prospective donors. if that sounds like something you'd enjoy, you could be a good fit.

Regarding the ethics of paying a freelance fundraising consultant or grant-writer, see here. As long as you're not getting paid on commission, you should be ok (IANAYL)
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:33 PM on May 9, 2016


I've run an arts non-profit for 13 years and we work with a handful of freelance grant writers. For an organization of our size it's not realistic to have a full time person on staff. Obviously we pay the person if we get the grant or not and they seem perfectly motivated to do a good job and succeed. In the arts, freelance grant writers are in demand (directors from other orgs ask me for recommendations often) and well paid, at least in comparison to the rest of the field.
posted by puppy kuddles at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2016


As far as I understand it from trying to find a freelance grant writer when I started my non-profit, it is considered unethical to hire a grant writer as a freelancer. The reason behind this is that grant writing is a very time-consuming process, and if the grant isn't accepted, you wouldn't get paid for all the work you did (ie, they wouldn't have the money to pay you). And it doesn't make sense for the company either -- if the grant writer gets paid a fee either way, they have no motivation to write successful grants, and the company has no real recourse to improve their skills or take action if their grant writing isn't a good fit. Thus, the vast majority of grant writers are salaried, where their income isn't tied to whether or not the grant is successful, since grants can be very hit-or-miss.

I was a freelance proposal writer for many years. This is... not really accurate.

Good grantwriters/proposal writers (grantwriters do not write grants, they write proposals to acquire grants) will NOT work on commission for the reasons that you point out: because compensation for their labor should not depend on things outside of their control (programmatic factors affect whether a program is funded or not). And, because commission-based work sets up the wrong incentives - short term gain over long term viable funding. And, because, often a rejected proposal is the first step to a successful grant! Rejected proposals are not worthless work.

That logic does not mean that a grantwriter cannot be a freelance grantwriter. Of course they have motivation to write good proposals that get funded. Any freelancer worth their salt is interested in long-term relationships with clients, not just in short-term, one-off tasks.

In fact, freelance is pretty common in this field because, well, a lot of nonprofits cannot support a full time grants acquisition experts. And trust me - this field requires expertise.

Aaaaaanyway -
OP - you're welcome to message me. I'm happy to answer some of your questions one on one.
posted by entropone at 3:27 PM on May 10, 2016


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