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How to Work with a Grant Writer

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

Hooray! You've done your due diligence. You've visited GPA Directory. You have selected a grant writer, you've interviewed candidates and reviewed writing samples and references, and you've agreed not to pay them a percentage of the award (more on this later). They are qualified, retained, and ready to go. But why do some of these business relationships fail?

Here are four tips on how to work with a grant writer to get the greatest impact and bang for your buck:

#1. Be grant ready.

I am a member of the Grant Professionals Association and dedicate a lot of time to help nonprofits get what we call "grant ready." Being grant ready means being financially and operationally ready to receive grants. More here.

If your organization is not grant ready, take the time to get grant ready before hiring a grant writer. Many existing and emerging nonprofit organizations find they may need to develop an active fundraising plan, be better organizationally structured, and have the right accounting systems in place before applying for and receiving grants. You also have to be in prime position to execute the grant and manage and report on outcomes.

#2. Don't offer to pay a grant writer a percentage of the award.

Grant writers are professionals just like any doctor, lawyer, or educator. Would you pay a doctor only if they can save your life? No. So why would you for a grant writer?

This form of payment is what we call "contingency" payments, and they are a big no-no in our field because it's against the code of ethics for both the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association.

The short answer (well perhaps the long answer) as to why it's against the code of ethics is because a grant writer should not be compensated based on the success of the grant is because there are so many other factors that play a role. The goodwill of the organization, the strength of the Board, quality of programs, etc. are all things the nonprofit built over time. Should a grant writer be compensated for ALL that? No, just their part of telling your story and providing support, which is fair, reasonable, and expressed in the form of a fee.

Another big reason is most funders plain don't allow it. Even if there is a salary component in the grant, it's generally not for contracted help but for staff.

Additionally, the nonprofit ends up overpaying if the grant is won. A $5,000 flat fee sounds much better than 10% of a $1 million grant ($100,000). The flip side is a grant writer can invest over 125 hours on a federal grant and not get paid if the grant is not won. If this were the case, no one would write grants professionally, and no one wants that.

Could you find a grant writer that will accept a contingency fee? Maybe, but I'd be curious to know about any other shadiness that is going on. And it's completely, 100% UNETHICAL by not just one professional organization, but two.

#3. Fight against the hands-off syndrome.

Did you think once you hired a grant writer that you don't have to do anything at all? I think this may be one of the biggest reasons relationships with grant writers fail.

You still have to participate in the grant writing process. The load is much lighter if you've hired a grant writer, but you still have to do things like sharing a budget, attend meetings, share current and proposed future programs, and build relationships with potential funders. These things are necessary to write a proposal.

A grant writer can't do their job without it. If you thought a grant writer could sit in their office and magically come up with this stuff, I hate to be the one to break the bad news. It's not possible. A grant writer can be instrumental in designing an impactful program, improving organizational structure, creating a meaningful budget, and telling your story to submit a competitive proposal. Still, it takes a ton of collaboration, working together, talking, and more talking to get it done, and you have to be committed to the process.

#4. Schedule a complimentary consultation

If you are considering a grant writer that offers a complimentary consultation, then you are in luck. It is a great opportunity to get to know them and for them to get to know you. At the end of your consultation, you will know if you will work well together.

Did you know my firm, Think and Ink Grant Consulting wants to learn more about you and your organization? Learn about us too during our 15-minute complimentary consultation.

Talk soon,


Shavonn Richardson, MBA is Founder of Think and Ink Grant Consulting™ She is a grant writer, nonprofit consultant, speaker and an active member of the Grant Professionals Association.

Read this and other blog posts at Think and Ink Grants™ Blog or LinkedIn

Follow her on Twitter @shavonnrichson and LinkedIn

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