“How much should we pay a grant writer?”

Questions around grant writing fees pop up a lot in the nonprofit world, and honestly, answers vary.

One of the first questions we ask is, “What responsibilities will this grant writer have? Thinking through this will help you advertise for the right person and budget for the appropriate grant writing fees. Consider these questions:

  • Will this person simply be writing proposals? (lower grant writing fees)
  • Will they be researching prospects?
  • Are there other duties like grant management through data tracking and reporting to a foundation?
  • Is this person building relationships with the foundation(s)?
  • Are they creating grant templates for other staff to use?
  • Are there meetings with community partners to create MOAs/MOUs?
  • Will this person develop measurable goals/objectives or are those being provided to them?
  • Does the grant writer help create budgets?
  • Is there work on foundations grants only or will there be work on state and federal proposals? (Grant writing fees for writing state/federal proposals are often 3-4 times higher than foundations grants…for a good reason. State/federal proposals have more moving parts and require an intense work schedule in a short time.)
  • When are the grants due?
  • Will the grant writer need to rush to complete a proposal in an unrealistic time frame? (We at Funding for Good always required a 4-6 week window before a grant is due.)

There is a lot a grant writer could do, depending on the needs of the organization. Therefore, consider what you have time to do so you’ll know what you need a grant writer to do and what grant writing fees are appropriate.

In addition to the required duties, grant writing fees are based on experience and history of success. New grant writers want experience, so grant writing fees are less. Similarly, a veteran grant writer with 10 years of experience and a history of success will charge more.

It’s important to understand Success Rates. For example, if I tell you I have a 90% success rate, that sounds amazing. What if I told you that I write the same 10 grants every year? What if 5 grants are to Wal-Mart Community Giving Programs, or family foundations who fund my organization every year? Suddenly 90% success rate doesn’t seem as impressive. In other words, Context is important when evaluating a grant writer. 

Furthermore, consider how many grants a person has written and to who. How often are they writing these grants? Are the grants for general operations (gen ops) or for things like programs/projects/capital, etc.? Are these $500 grants or $250,000 grants? These are key questions when evaluating the experience and success of a grant writer.  Likewise, this information will help determine the grant writing fees they will command.

Another consideration is someone’s title. In other words, they may not have “Grant Writer” on their resume. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a solid candidate. Many nonprofit organizations have an amazing leader (Executive Director or Founder) who writes all their proposals. While they may not identify themselves as a grant writer or development person, they certainly have the experience.

In addition to duties and experience, consider your location. Are you in a big city with lots of qualified grant writers competing for jobs? Conversely, are you in a small town where there are fewer experienced writers, but also less demand. In other words, location will play a key factor in determining the right grant writing fees.

Luckily, there are websites that exist to inform people of the average salary range of an occupation based on geographic location. You can visit sites (ex: Glassdoor.com) and compare grant writing salaries for your location and surrounding area.

Let’s transition to a debate you may encounter when dealing with grant writer fees: Commission-based grant writing versus fee-based grant writing. That is to say, pay based on the work of writing the grant versus pay based solely on the award of the grant. Some grant writers don’t mind being paid only when an organization receives a grant, but there are things to consider:

  1. If the grant is not funded, the grant writer does not get paid – even though they did the work and submitted a high-quality proposal.
  2. Very few foundations allow an organization to write in the salary of the grant writer. It may be viewed as unethical to pay a grant writer out of the grant funds when they are not an actual line item in the application.
  3. The practice of commission-based grant writing devalues the actual skill and experience of grant writers.
  4. Note: 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. AFP’s Code of Ethical Standards includes not accepting compensation or entering into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions: nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees.

For example, consider this analogy:

If you go to a doctor because you are sick, do you say, “I’m only going to pay you if you cure me”? No, of course not. We understand that a doctors’ work is not an exact science. They may or may not be able to cure you. That said, no one would think of saying they weren’t going to pay for the office visit or fees associated with medicines that ‘might’ cure the problem.  So why expect grant writers to write quality applications and not be paid for that work? No one has control over board grant funding decisions. Therefore, a grant writer, submitting a complete and compelling proposal, should not be penalized if a grant is not funded.  

Building on this idea, a manager or supervisor of a grant writer should understand the basics. They will review a completed proposal and determine if it has fully addressed the questions. Most importantly this will validate that the proposal covers the need in a compelling manner. This additional review ensures the highest-quality proposal for consideration.

Other things you will want to consider when seeking a grant writer for your organization:

  • Are you seeking full-time, part-time or contract staff? Will this person work at your office or be remote?
  • Do you need a grant writer for a project that has an end-date, like a capital campaign, or a one-time state/federal grant?
  • Are you looking for a long-term relationship with ongoing writing needs?
  • Do you have someone in-house that would like to learn to write grants? Could this staff member use a coach or learn alongside a contractor to eventually take on the role?

Lastly, I encourage you to explore working with a professional or consultant. There is no harm in a free initial consultation. Working with professionals will increase your organizational knowledge and experience. In addition, a consultant can save you valuable time, thus save you money. Professional consultants offer various services and strategies. I’ve outlined 3 of Funding For Good’s services below. This will give you specifics to look for as you explore ways to enhance the grant writing capabilities of your organization.

Template Creation – Save time and money by working with the pros at Funding For Good to craft a grant template customized to your program, project, or organization. Templates ensure that you are prepared to submit quality proposals. The basic elements of most grant applications are incorporated into each final product.

This service is perfect for organizations that want hire a professional grant writer but want to avoid the hefty fees associated with individual grants. We walk you through the process so you gain valuable skills in grant writing. At the end, you walk away with a product that you can use for numerous submissions. This is not project design, rather a “word-smithed” final product to be used for competitive proposals once a completed project design has been established.

Project/Program Design – A well-executed program design is the most important component of a competitive grant proposal. Our experts walk you through the program design process to ensure you have addressed key questions, budgeting, and program impact goals. A well-designed program raises more money. It is also a resource to leverage diverse community partnerships and enhance capacity building opportunities and community impact.

Program/Project design services begin with the completion of a needs assessment. Then there is a one-page program/project abstract. Lastly, there is the creation of a comprehensive program/project description that will guide messaging, marketing, and fundraising. This is not template creation but is an essential first step to the template creation process. 

Document Review Services – Messaging is critical to building a fully-funded organization.
Your mission must be stellar and your vision amazing in order to captivate the community and potential donors. That’s a lot of pressure. Worrying about your writing expertise takes your focus away from more important tasks. Sign up for Monthly Document Reviews to have our 20+ years of experience on your team for less than $3,000 a year (no joke). It’s the most cost-effective way to make your documents shine and get closer to sustainable funding for good. 

It is always our hope at Funding For Good to provide you with resources to help grow your capacity for good. We don’t want to be your grant writer for life, but we do want to provide you with the services and education that will help you succeed and grow now while providing you with tools to sustain that growth in the future.

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