Puzzled About How To Pay A Grant Writer?

by Mandy Pearce

This question pops up a lot in the nonprofit world, and honestly, the answer varies. It depends on what that grant writer is doing for you. Are they just writing proposals? Are they researching grants? Are they taking care of the reporting for each grant? Are they building the relationship with the foundations? There is a great deal a grant writer could do, depending on the needs of the individual organization. You must first look closely as what you are doing, what you have time to do, and then what you are asking a grant writer to do for you. Rates will vary based on these variables, as well as experience level and history of success. If you are working with a writer who wants experience because they are new, obviously this person might not be able to charge as much as a tenured writer with 10 years of great experience under their belt. Additionally, your location will pre-determine ‘going rates’ for grant writers as well. If you are in a major metropolitan city with lots of competition among grant writers, the pricing will be different that if you are in a small town where there are few writers, but also, less of a need. There are websites that exists specifically to inform folks of the average rate of an occupation based on geographic location. You should visit one of these sites and compare grant writing salaries for those areas around you, and your specific area.

Commission-based grant writing versus fee-based grant writing is another topic that will likely come up in your conversation with professionals. Many organizations exist to protect the professionals in our field with a code of ethics. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is one such organization. As a member myself, there is a code of ethics that I must abide by, which includes not working for commission. Some grant writers don’t mind working and only being paid if an organization receives a grant, but there are numerous issues with this train of thought.

1) If the grant is not funded, the grant writer does not get compensated – even though they did the work

2)It is not many grants that let you write in the salary of the grant writer, so it can seem a little unethical to pay a writer out of the grant funds, when they are often not an actual line item and

3) The practice of commission based grant writing continually devalues the actual skill and experience many grant writers have.

My favorite analogy of this situation is this:

If you go to a medical doctor because you are sick, do you say, “I’m only going to pay you if you cure me”? I think not. We understand, as a society, that doctors’ work is not an exact science. They may or may not be able to ‘fix’ you on-the-spot. But, no one would think of saying they weren’t going to pay the office visit or fees associated with medicines that ‘might’ cure the problem, right? So why in the world do folks expect grant writers to write quality applications and not be paid for that work? No one has control over what a board decides concerning grant funding, so how can grant writers be held accountable if a grant is not funded?

As a nonprofit, you need to educate yourself enough on the process of grant writing to have the ability to review an application and determine if it has covered the questions, answered them thoroughly, covered all your bases and ultimately given you a quality product. In short, there is no set amount grant writers should be paid. I encourage you to educate yourself and interview several potential candidates prior to making a final decision.

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