When a nonprofit leader asks me about writing grants for their organization, this is how the conversation ends:
“Can you work on a contingency basis?” We can pay you when we get the grant.”
“Can we pay you out of the grant funds? We don’t have the money to pay you right now.”
“We’ll pay you a percentage of the grant when it is awarded.”
The answer is “NO!” and here’s why:
1. It’s unethical to pay a grant writer on a contingency basis or to pay her a percentage of the grant.
The Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association both define the practice of working on a contingency basis as unethical for the grant writer and the nonprofit that hires her.
2. Everyone deserves to be paid for the work they do.
I’ve spent years learning to be a good grant writer. I’ve spent thousands of dollars paying for conferences and advanced training. An organization is not only paying me for a completed proposal, they are paying me for my expertise in guiding them through the process.
I work long and hard to put a grant together. I usually meet with the nonprofit several times to gather information, collect the required attachments, and help them organize their ideas into fundable projects.
I also have to read and re-read the grant guidelines and translate them into laymen’s terms for the nonprofit. I do all this before I ever start writing the proposal. I expect to be paid for my work.
3. Using grant funds to pay the grant writer for work already done is often grounds for revoking the grant.
Paying a grant writer out of the grant is almost always against the policies of the granting agency. Unless specifically stated in the guidelines, the granting agency will not pay for work that occurred before the grant was awarded. The funds from the grant should be used for activities promised by the grant proposal.
4. A winning grant is not contingent on good writing alone.
There are many factors that bear upon whether an organization receives a grant. Many of these are out of the control of the grant writer. The most well-written proposal may not always be the winning one.
Other factors grantmakers consider are:
- Do they need to place a grant in a specific geographic area?
- Were there selection criteria that they did not disclose in the RFP?
- Do the board members prefer one type of charity or project to another?
- Does the funding agency see a need for this project?
- Did other applicants have a greater need than yours?
- Did the funder decide that your organization was not grant-ready or grant-worthy?
An experienced grant writer will be able to steer your around some of the factors listed above, but neither she nor your organization can control them all.
5. Paying a grant writer a percentage of the award may work against your organization.
Suppose a grant writer completes your grant and charges you $1,000, based on hours worked or on a project fee basis. If you receive the grant for $250,000, and you had agreed to pay 10% of the grant funds to the writer, her pay would be $25,000. You’re better off agreeing on a price up front that’s fair to both sides.
But, you ask, what if we can’t afford to pay a grant writer up front?
If this is the case, your organization may not be ready to handle grants at this time. Look for other means of raising funds to pay the grant writer. Consider grassroots fundraising ideas like pancake breakfasts, silent auctions or other special events, start a membership organization or use your local connections to get donations or sponsorships.
These are great ways to build relationships in the community, raise awareness and acquire additional funds. With funds raised from these activities, you can hire a grant writer to bring in additional money.
Just remember, it is unethical and often illegal to pay a grant writer out of funds received from a grant.
As a grant writer, I ask to be paid for the work I provide. I never guarantee that an organization will receive a grant. I do, however, guarantee that they will be satisfied with my work before we submit the proposal. That’s about as much as any grant writer can honestly do.