“How do grant writers get paid?”
“How much should I charge for grant writing?”
Questions around grant writing fees pop up a lot in the nonprofit world. Nonprofit organizations want to understand how much grant writers charge. Freelance grant writers and grant consultants want to know how to set their own rates.
Today, we want to take a deep dive into this question to help nonprofits and consultants alike.
The Basics: How Grant Writers Get Paid
Grant writers are paid in one of several ways. As salaried staff members, some grant writers are paid through their salary and any standard benefits and bonuses an organization offers. As consultants or freelancers, grant writers may be paid through hourly rates, project fees, or monthly retainers. Grant writers do not get paid through a percentage or commission-based fee.
What Does a Grant Writer Do?
At the most basic level, a grant writer writes grant proposals, also called grant narratives. But some grant writers and grant consultants do much, much more.
Successfully landing a grant requires more than simply writing a proposal. That’s why, in determining grant writing costs, you’ll want to start by understanding the full scope of what the grant writer will be doing.
Understanding scope is critical whether you’re a nonprofit hiring a new grant writer or a grant writing consultant talking to a new nonprofit client.
Here are some examples of what may be included in a grant writer’s role, whether they are on salary or a consultant:
- Writing grant proposals.
- Writing grant reports.
- Guiding program staff and leadership in project design, including developing measurable goals and objectives.
- Helping create budgets and writing budget narratives.
- Advising on and/or developing grant funding strategies.
- Building relationships with foundations (or coaching principals to build these relationships).
- Tracking and managing grant deadlines.
- Researching and vetting grant prospects.
- Creating grant proposal templates for other staff to customize.
- Working with community partners to develop joint proposals.
- Managing and writing state or federal grant proposals, in addition to foundation grants.
In short, there is a lot a grant writer could do. But not every grant writer will do all these things.
It’s important for nonprofits to understand what set of services they need and for grant consultants to be clear about which services they offer. Because yes, the scope and type of services provided will affect how much a grant writer gets paid.
A nonprofit’s internal clarity also affects grant writing costs. For example, fundraising is easier with a strategic plan. That’s why Funding for Good recommends all nonprofits should have a strategic plan.
Breaking it Down: How Much Grant Writing Costs
If you search for grant writer costs online, you’ll see a huge range of potential rates. These rates can correspond to the services provided, the individual grant writer’s experience, geographic location, and even the type of nonprofit organization the grant writer supports.
Grant Writing Salaries
According to Glassdoor, in 2023 the average grant writer salary is around $50,000 per year. Salaries can range as low as $33,000 and as high as $90,000. When it comes to salaries, the range will depend heavily on the organization and the services they seek.
Nonprofit salaries vary significantly based on where an organization is located (imagine New York City versus rural Arkansas), how large the organization is, the organization’s internal salary scale, and the role the organization is trying to fill. For example, if the grant writer will be the only full-time development staff member, an organization may be seeking a candidate with several years of prior experience.
When it comes to salaried grant writers, there is also an upper limit to what organizations are willing to pay. Many grant writers ultimately grow into fundraising strategy and leadership roles. As fundraising leaders, they receive higher pay and may be responsible for training and managing a team of newer, less-experienced grant writers, as well as writing especially important grants themselves.
For those who prefer to focus on grant writing long-term, a career as a grant consultant or freelance grant writer can be an excellent and higher-paying option.
Grant Writing Consultant Fees
As consultants, professional grant writers are generally paid through three approaches: hourly, project-based, and retainer. Overall, consulting fees are affected by a grant writer’s experience and track record, the type of services provided, and the length of the proposed engagement.
If you’re new to grant consulting, learn how Funding for Good can help you build a successful nonprofit consulting business.
Grant writer hourly rates
Hourly rates for grant writers tend to range from $25 to $150—sometimes more. It’s a wide price range but there are a few general trends that can help you set the right rates for your needs:
- $25/hour: Charged by those who are new to grant writing, including grant writers looking to build a track record and gain testimonials.
- $50-$75/hour: A common rate for intermediate grant writers—those who have several years of experience.
- $75-$150/hour: Charged by grant writers who have extensive experience, proven track records with multiple clients, and additional skills, such as program design and budgeting.
For grant writers, hourly rates have pros and cons. On the one hand, you know what you’re getting per hour. On the other hand, the more efficient you become as a grant writer, the less you will ultimately make. In addition, hourly rates produce less consistent income. A nonprofit may need 30 hours of grant writing one month, but only 3 hours the next.
Because of these downsides, many experienced grant writers prefer to charge by project or by retainer.
Grant writer project-based pricing
Project-based fees are exactly what they sound like. A nonprofit submits a desired scope of work, and the grant writer quotes a one-time cost for that scope. No hours are tracked or reported in invoices. Usually, grant consultants will ask that at least 50% of a project fee be paid up-front.
With project-based pricing, top grant writers can deliver an incredible product while also benefiting from the efficiency they’ve honed over the years. For full-time grant consultants, project-based pricing also provides more stability and certainty for their income. Nonprofits reap similar benefits: no surprise invoices with unexpectedly high hours!
Like hourly rates, project-based grant fees will vary based on the grant writer’s experience, track record, and the specialized work involved. For example:
- Writing an important proposal for a brand-new program or project for a new foundation funder: $2,500 to $6,000 (average range).
- Developing a “template” grant proposal for an organization or project/program that can be easily adapted for different donors: $3,000 to $6,000 (average range).
- Managing and writing a large and complex federal grant: $8,000 to $10,000 (average range).
Project-based grant writing can be especially valuable for organizations that have some internal fundraising capacity but lack specialized grant writing expertise. It can also be helpful for newer nonprofits that are pursuing their first grant funding.
Project-based work will have a clear and defined scope—and it does not necessarily imply a long-term engagement. For example, you wouldn’t expect a grant writer crafting a template proposal to also guide you with grants management or advise on donor cultivation.
Grant writer retainers
If a nonprofit is looking for long-term, hands-on grant support, that’s where retainers come into play.
A grant writer working on retainer commits to holding a certain number of hours each month for a nonprofit client. In exchange, the nonprofit agrees to pay a grant writer a set fee each month. Most retainer agreements are for 6-12 months.
A retainer can benefit both consultants and nonprofits:
For nonprofits, a retainer can help with budgeting and getting a broader range of grant funding support. Most grant writers working on retainer are proven professionals. As a nonprofit, you’re getting access to expert writing and fundraising advice at a fraction of the cost it would take to hire the same person full-time. Depending on the agreed-upon scope, grant writers on retainer may also be open to providing other fundraising support, such as managing grant deadlines, conducting prospect research, and reviewing and editing materials written by staff members (such as grant reports or donor emails).
For consultants, a retainer provides steady, reliable monthly income and a long-term commitment. A retainer also allows consultants to work more closely with one steady client—which means they can often complete the work more quickly. Because a retainer is a set monthly payment, as a grant writer becomes more efficient, they don’t lose income (as they might when charging hourly rates). Many grant consultants value the opportunity to help organizations grow through grant funding.
Tips for Grant Writing Services Pricing
If you’re a grant consultant, pricing is paramount. You need to consider your market, your experience, and the type of work you do.
- Decide in advance what grant consulting work you want to do and how you prefer to work with clients. Otherwise, you may end up pulled into work you do not enjoy.
- Consider timelines for grant deadlines. How much do you ideally need for a grant proposal? At Funding for Good, we realized early on that we needed a 4-6-week window before a grant was due. For tighter deadlines, it’s perfectly reasonable to charge rush fees.
- Value your work—and others will too. A lot of nonprofit consultants focus first on what the market will bear, rather than the value our services provide.
Working with Grant Writing Consultants
Many nonprofits choose to hire grant writers as consultants to supplement their internal fundraising capacity. Grant consultants often bring many years of experience and can deliver high-quality grant proposals for far less than an organization would spend on a more junior salaried position.
Consider this scenario, which many of us in the nonprofit sector have experienced before.
A foundation program officer asks a nonprofit to submit a grant proposal for a new program. The funder says the grant amount may be up to $250,000—which would be the organization’s largest single grant ever. The organization’s current fundraising capacity consists of one development associate who handles grants tracking, donor data entry, acknowledgment letters, and grant reporting.
Usually, the executive director and program leads work together to write proposals. But this proposal is important, and staff are already stretched thin. The organization has a choice: hire a contract grant writer or write the proposal in-house.
Let’s see how each choice might play out:
- Someone suggests hiring a grant writer, but the executive director says it’s not in the budget. They decide that the development associate will keep the grant process on track and help with writing, and the executive director and program director will do drafting and editing. But as they start writing, everyone quickly realizes they need far more details about the program—especially measurable goals and objectives! It takes three staff working nights and weekends to get the proposal ready in time. In all, these staff members, including the executive director, each spend 25+ hours working on the grant—a total of 75+ staff hours. After submission, the funder awards the full grant amount of $250,000. But the program officer notes that they had to advocate hard internally for the grant award and explains that: “In the future, a clearer and more concise proposal will make my job much easier.”
- Instead of making do “in-house,” the organization decides to pay a highly skilled contract grant writer $6,000 to craft a new grant proposal. The grant writer not only drafts the narrative, but guides program staff in crafting compelling and achievable goals, metrics, and strategies. The grant writer has written several grants for this funder and offers valuable suggestions on framing the proposal and metrics. The grant writer also helps prepare the budget and budget narrative. In all, the grant requires about 10 total hours of staff time, mostly focused on honing the program strategy and reviewing proposal materials. The funder loves the project and awards the full $250,000.
In the first choice, the organization has invested tens of thousands in staff resources—and still needs to scramble to improve the grant proposal before sharing it with other funders.
In the second option, the organization walks away with a stellar proposal that can be shopped around to other interested funders—all for only $6,000 and minimal staff time.
This is the value of an expert grant writer.
About Grant Writer Success Rates
One thing both grant consultants and nonprofits might mention is a grant writer’s “success rate.” After decades of fundraising experience, Funding for Good has found that “success rates” should be taken with a grain of salt.
For example, if we tell you we have a 90% success rate, that sounds amazing. What if we told you that we write the same 10 grants every year? What if 5 grants are to Wal-Mart Community Giving Programs or family foundations that fund the same organization every year? Suddenly a 90% success rate doesn’t seem as impressive.
Context is more important than success rate statistics when evaluating a grant writer.
Other points of context to consider in addition to success rates:
- How many grants a grant writer has written.
- The grant amounts ($500 vs $500,000).
- The funders they have written grants to (small family foundations vs Ford Foundation vs federal grants).
- Experience writing grants for different sectors (say, national climate advocacy vs local arts programs).
- The existing relationship an organization had with a funder before submitting the grant.
About Commission-Based Grant Writing (and Why You Should Not Do It)
Finally, let’s cover 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.
Experienced grant writers will not work on commission.
Why? Because commission-based grant writing is considered unethical and is not part of grant writing best practices. Here are some reasons why:
- 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.
- Most funders do not allow organizations to include grant writing costs in proposal budgets.
- The practice of commission-based grant writing devalues the actual skill and experience of grant writers.
- 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 states that: “Members shall not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees.”
To break it down further, 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 doctor’s 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 medications that “might” cure the problem. So why expect grant writers to write quality applications and not be paid for that work? Applicants do not have final control over funding decisions. Therefore, a grant writer who has produced a complete and compelling proposal should not be penalized if a grant is not funded.
When we set out to write this article, we figured it would be a few hundred words and a couple of bullet points. But the truth is that understanding the cost of quality grant writing can be complex. Whether you’re a nonprofit or a grant writer, there are many factors at play when determining grant writing fees.
But one of the great things about grant writing is that both grant writers and nonprofits have the same goal in mind: preparing compelling and winning proposals to support important work in our communities!